Make Way For Zara Larsson, Sweden’s Latest Weapons-Grade Pop Export
Every four years, at the midway point between World Cups, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) holds the European Championship, a massive tournament in which all of Europe’s top national teams square off for continental domination. In terms of prestige, the Euros are second only to the World Cup — and like the World Cup, the tournament always commissions an official song from some international superstar. Euro 2016 kicked off last Friday in France, and who do you think they chose to perform the official song? The selection of superstar DJ/producer David Guetta will not raise many eyebrows, but among American audiences, the singer attached to Guetta’s EDM anthem “This One’s For You” may elicit looks of genuine confusion. On the other hand, 18-year-old Zara Larsson just scored her first genuine Stateside hit, so maybe, like me, you’ve already hopped on the bandwagon. If she hasn’t become an inescapable component of our pop cultural atmosphere yet, she probably will soon.
The hit in question is “Never Forget You,” a duet with rising British singer/producer MNEK that does nothing new but does just about everything right. The production is contagious, a frenetic controlled onslaught of clicks, whirs, and piano chords that makes me feel like I’m losing my breath and my heartbeat is racing out of control. The verse melody is a sharp vertical spiral that unspools outward into grandeur when the chorus hits. Larsson’s neon-bright pop vocals contrast pleasingly with MNEK’s lithe, soulful delivery. What “Never Forget You” lacks in genuine emotional pull, it more than makes up for in over-the-top pop spectacle. Bolstered by radio airplay and a Fallon performance, it peaked at #13 on the Hot 100 singles chart, and its video has racked up more than 175 million views worldwide.
That’s an impressive number, but it’s nothing compared to the 236 million views accumulated by “Lush Life,” the dancehall-tinged synth-pop hit Larsson released last summer. That one hit the top 5 in more than a half-dozen countries and elevated Larsson to stardom all over Europe, though she’d already made a name for herself in Scandinavia — first by winning Talang! (essentially Sweden’s Got Talent) in 2008 at age 10, then with her 2013 debut EP Introducing, which went triple-platinum in Sweden and spawned “Uncover,” a #1 smash in Sweden and Norway that made major headway in Denmark as well.
Larsson’s got the voice, face, and charisma of a traditional pop superstar. GQ called her “a huntress of attention.” She pumped Guetta’s doofy utopian soccer anthem full of so much life that it’ll almost make you forget how very not-utopian Euro 2016 is turning out to be. And judging by “Never Forget You” — her first writing credit — like so many Swedes before her, she seems to preternaturally understand the mechanics of big-budget pop music, the vacuum-sealed dynamics and melodic math that made the country one of the world’s foremost hit-making hubs.
The big question now is whether Larsson will be able to transition to US superstardom in earnest. There have always been pop singers who rule Europe but can’t establish a proper foothold in the US, even after scoring a breakthrough single. You’d think a #13 single (and #1 on the dance chart) would amount to a fine runway for Larsson’s upcoming album, but Rita Ora soared way higher with Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow” and even splattered herself with paint on The Tonight Show, and most of us still see her as a Lemonade-related punchline. For all we know, “Never Forget You” might be the last we ever hear of her over in the States.
I think Larsson’s going to make the leap, though, because she’s fearless. I can’t think of another musician who’s managed to become this famous while wearing braces. Regarding her feminist blog posts, which have resulted in threats of rape and murder, she told Fuse, “It doesn’t hurt men if I hate them.” Oh, and she went viral last year by stretching a condom over her leg to disprove the notion that some men are too well endowed to be contained by latex. Please excuse my use of a slang term that seems to be withering into cliche before our eyes, but: This woman is her own special breed of “woke.” Come to think of it, that fiery social awareness itself is becoming another core ingredient of 21st century coalition-building — yet another component of the modern pop-star playbook that Larsson has on lockdown.
All the Views news you can use: Drake’s fourth official studio album remains atop the Billboard 200 album chart for a sixth straight week, racking up another 135,000 equivalent units. Only 32,000 of those units are traditional album sales, but we should note that Views has gone platinum by the traditional metric (that is, even if you don’t factor streaming into the equation), with 1,228,000 copies sold in the US. Billboard reports that Drake’s six-week run atop the albums chart is the longest streak by a man since 50 Cent did it with The Massacre in 2005, although Eminem’s Recovery did manage seven nonconsecutive weeks at #1 in 2010. The only albums in the last decade to endure longer at #1 include Taylor Swift’s last three LPs, Adele’s last two, and the Frozen soundtrack. Views also reportedly owns the six largest streaming weeks of all time.
At #2 is Beyoncé’s Lemonade, which has also surpassed the 1 million sales mark with 1,099,000 in total. This week’s figure is 69,000 units including 48,000 traditional sales. That’s juuuuust enough to slide past Paul Simon, who debuts at #3 with 68,000 units (67,000 sales) for Stranger To Stranger. So yet again, if Billboard didn’t factor streaming into the Billboard 200, we’d have a different #1. Art Garfunkel must be cackling right now. Other top-10 debuts include rock band Volbeat’s Seal The Deal & Let’s Boogie (#4, 51,000 units), country singer Maren Morris’ Hero (#5, 45,000 units), and country duo Dan + Shay’s Obsessed (#8, 33,000 units).
Guess what? Drake also continues to rule the Hot 100 with “One Dance.” The WizKid and Kyla collaboration tops the singles chart for a fifth nonconsecutive (and fourth straight) frame. Other top-10 singles action includes the Chainsmokers and Daya’s “Don’t Let Me Down” ascending to a new peak of #4, while Calvin Harris and Rihanna’s “This Is What You Came For” climbs to its own high-water mark of #7.
Usher – “Crash”
We can always count on Usher for a revelatory single every couple years. In 2012 it was “Climax.” In 2014 it was “I Don’t Mind.” And now it’s “Crash,” which is kind of like the chilly, fatalistic “Climax” rebooted as a warmly optimistic Frank Ocean outtake.
G-Eazy – “Saw It Coming” (Feat. Jeremih)
So conflicted about this one. On one hand, you’ve got G-Eazy at his most Macklemorean. On the other hand, you’ve got Jeremih doing his best impression of “SexyBack”-era Justin Timberlake. At least we can all agree on the all-female Ghostbusters reboot from whence this song came!
Bastille – “Good Grief”
“Pompeii” was like death to me, so Bastille’s attempt at a breezy, danceable follow-up is a lot more winsome than I want to admit. Turns out Frightened Rabbit x Foster The People is a sound I can live with.
Good Charlotte – “Life Can’t Get Much Better”
I can think of one thing that would make my life better, but I’m not sure Good Charlotte want to hear it.
Broods – “Heartlines”
It’s weird how time warps our experience of music. If this was released via “indie” channels in 2007, it would have seemed like boundary-pushing underground pop. Now it just sounds like every other alt-pop single gunning for crossover status. Compared to its many competitors, though, “Heartlines” is above average.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Hamilton won 11 Tony Awards. [USA Today]
- Lady Gaga appeared at a vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting and delivered an emotional speech. [YouTube]
- CBS and the Grammys renewed their partnership through 2026, setting a record for the longest continuous partnership between an awards show and broadcaster (54 years). [CBS]
- Miley Cyrus plays an ’80s superhero who fights misogyny in the workplace in this cut SNL sketch. [YouTube]
- Taylor Swift has launched a greeting card line with Papyrus. [HuffPo]
- Calvin Harris reportedly feels betrayed by his ex-gf Taylor Swift’s new relationship with Tom Hiddleston. He deleted the recent tweet that said he and Swift had “a huge amount of love and respect” for each other. [TMZ]
- Lemonade co-writer Ingrid Burley revealed that “Love Drought” is actually a diss track to Beyoncé’s label. [YouTube]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
maybe she just wanted something a little more loki
— Steve Kandell (@SteveKandell) June 15, 2016
i'm loki into this relationship
— lauren yap (@itslaurenyap) June 15, 2016