SXSW: Zara Larsson Talks Upcoming Work With Max Martin, Clinique Campaign

Zara Larsson at SXStyle Clinique event - Getty - H 2016
Sasha Haagensen/Getty Images

The Swedish singer's song "Lush Life" got remixed into four stylish music videos for Clinique’s Play With Pop initiative.

She looked reminiscent of a young Grace Kelly at first — the Texas sun pouring over her wavy platinum bob, a glamorous shade of terracotta on her lips and a bouquet of magenta roses beside her. But Zara Larsson, the 18-year-old Swedish singer who just made her Hot 100 debut for “Never Forget You,” wasn’t familiar with the late Princess of Monaco and Hitchcock muse. 

“She’s so gorgeous,” Larsson said Saturday upon a quick Google search. “This shade of lipstick I’m wearing — it isn’t something I normally go for ... I guess it’s working.”

In Austin to make her SXSW debut, the rising pop star has been experimenting with both her look and sound in big ways this year. Larsson landed her first major beauty campaign, Clinique’s Play With Pop initiative, which included four Hiro Murai-directed music videos for her hit “Lush Life” (each remixed in a different genre) that corresponded to four different beauty looks (bare, bold, sweet and vixen).

In its own way, the interactive video, which users can seamlessly toggle between, sets forth that same notion of makeup as a medium through which an artist’s persona can shift — a notion that Beyonce emanated in a big way when she dropped 17 transformative music videos with her 2014 album.

"I’m still so young, so I feel like people have wanted to keep me in a ‘no-makeup’ fresh type of look — sometimes artists are a little afraid of really putting the makeup on me,” she says. “But especially when I perform, I love putting falsies on, I love a brighter lip, heavy contour, heavy eye makeup — drag makeup: I love that.”

Stateside success, however — the beauty campaign, the crowd that would line up around the block at Cheer Up Charlie’s hours later to catch her set for Clinique’s party — isn't something that surprises Larsson.

“It’s just like, 'finally,'” she says. “It’s not that I take [these accomplishments] for granted, I’m so grateful for it but this doesn’t feel super shocking — it feels like it’s part of a progression. And that’s the funny thing: it’s like does Beyonce ever wakeup and think, ‘I’m Beyonce'? Maybe I’ll wake up five years from now and it will hit me.”

Clinique celebrate in SXStyle as Zara Larsson tests out the Play it with Pop station at Cheer Up Charlie's on March 12, 2016 in Austin, Texas. (Photo: Sasha Haagensen/Getty Images)

Larsson's self-assured attitude has been the result of her nearly decade-long pursuit of music stardom. Born and raised in Stockholm, she landed on Sweden’s radar after winning the 2008 season of Talang (i.e. Sweden’s Got Talent) when she was only 10 years old. The audition footage, which shows a pint-sized Larsson belting out Whitney Houston’s “The Greatest Love of All,” as well as her performances throughout the show are scattered across YouTube and the Internet like breadcrumbs of her journey.

“It’s what pops up when you Google my name, so people are always asking me about it,” she says of the experience. “It seems like a big thing and it was a big thing — I wanted people to see me and I was too young to be on Idol.

But then nothing happened. “I was too young to be signed, so I went back to everything — back to school and normalcy and at 10, I just thought, ‘Oh my God, my career is over!'" she laughs. “I was devastated, but looking back it all makes sense. Life is a chain of events and maybe it helped people recognize me later on.”

Larsson signed with TEN Music Group in 2010 and released her debut EP, Introducing, in January 2013. Her single “Uncover” became certified platinum by Universal Music Sweden a month later and ultimately landed her a “Song of The Year” win at the Grammis (Sweden’s version of the Grammys). That success led to a three year contract with Epic Records — and as Larsson climbs the charts stateside for the first time, she’ll continue working on a forthcoming full-length debut which will include studio time with fellow Swede, Max Martin next month in Los Angeles.

Asked if she was nervous when meeting the powerhouse producer for the first time, Larsson cracked a sly and confident smile. “My label was nervous. They were like, ‘Comb your hair, wear your prettiest dress, take a bow,’” she laughs. “But me? No way.”

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