On the tour bus with Zara Larsson
The young, opinionated Swedish pop star reveals what makes her nervous, why she surrounds herself with an all-girl crew – and what the Justin Bieber rumours were all about.
The blinds are down on the silver-coloured tour bus that's parked right by the entrance of Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 Club. It’s a legendary venue that has hosted some of the world’s biggest bands and artists – from Nirvana to Adele and Justin Timberlake – in the 35 years since opening. It's early in the afternoon and a group of teenage fans are sitting on the pavement outside, leaning against the brick wall while covering their bare legs with blankets. We knock on the bus door, the blinds open and Zara Larsson's tour manager lets us on board.
Zara is tired. She's half way through her North American tour and has just returned to the bus – also known as her temporary home – after visiting a children's hospital downtown. "I don't get any sleep on this bus," she says while lying down on a brown leather sofa: “But I’m good at taking power naps!”
She’s been on the road for a bit over a month, travelling the continent together with her all-girl crew. The opinionated artist is a feminist if there ever was one, and she loves to surround herself with strong women.
“Honestly, it wasn’t a plan or request from my end to have only girls with me on this tour, it just happened. Most of the people I work with are women and I’m comfortable with that, but I have no problems working with guys either,” she says.
It's only been a few years since I was waiting outside concerts to see my idols.
This is a small and short tour that she shares with the British electronic group Clean Bandit.
For Zara it’s still just the beginning, and she’s very vocal about her musical goals and ambitions.
“I have the world’s best dancers with me and I love to hang out with them, so I never feel alone here. Sure, I miss my family and my close friends, but I’m doing what I love and it’s easy to be on tour, everything is routine.”
The pop star rubs the sleep out of her eyes and steps out on the concrete to the glee of the teenage fans waiting for her. She hugs them, leans in on photos, and receives a hand-written letter that she promises to read later. “I always read them! If there’s an address, I try to send back autographs or an album.” She compliments the young fans and lets them know how much it means that they're here.
"It’s pretty surreal,” she comments once inside the venue. “It's only been a few years since I was waiting outside concerts to see my idols, and now people like me in the same way as I like other bands and artists," she says while holding her phone that’s covered in pictures of Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and, of course, Beyoncé.
Zara Larsson's rise to international fame hasn’t happened overnight, but transcending from a young Swedish pop singer to a global star has definitely gone fast. Her music has been played over two billion times online, and regardless of where you live it’s impossible that you haven’t heard one (or all) of her monster hits Lush Life, Never Forget You, I Would Like or Ain’t My Fault. Despite all of her recent success, and being a singer on the verge of superstardom, life on the road is far from as glamorous as could be expected. She has no hair stylist, no makeup artist, and sleeps in a bunk-bed.
WHAT’S THE GOAL WITH YOUR INTERNATIONAL PROMOTION?
“To become super famous,” she says, smiles, and continues: “No, the thing is that I want as many people as possible to listen to my singles, see me in concert and stream my album, and if my music gets that wide an audience, I want to have a stadium tour, to win a bunch of Grammys and have Billboard number ones.”
IF YOU COME BACK TO AMERICA IN A YEAR OR TWO, WILL YOU BE PERFORMING IN STADIUMS?
“No I don’t think so, that’s too soon. But maybe in three or four?”
My biggest investment is buying my grandmother an apartment. She really deserved it
WHAT IF IT DOESN’T WORK OUT?
“I want all of this so badly, and I love to dream big. But I’m not naïve and I know that things don’t always pan out the way I’ve thought in my head. Whatever happens, I’m never going to stop singing and I know that I will be doing this for the rest of my life. As long as I have good people around me, continue to like what I’m doing and work hard, it will work out.”
She steps inside her dressing room in the club, betters her makeup and slips into an oversized pink hoodie from her collection for H&M. When she steps out of the dressing room she’s talking to her mum on Facetime.
"Are you picking fights with the whole world?" we overhear her mum asking about her most recent Twitter controversy. Then their conversation moves on to high school, which Zara is graduating from this summer. Zara is cool, doesn’t seem concerned with other people’s opinions about her, and doesn’t come off as a person who wants to instigate a Twitter feud with anyone, she just wants people to know where she stands and that she’s not afraid to say what she thinks.
Zara has a tight bond with her family, and although she thinks it’s irrelevant to share how much money she makes, she doesn’t hold back when it comes to spending it on the ones close to her.
“What could I possibly spend money on?” she asks. “I still live with my parents in Stockholm and it’s not very expensive to be on this bus! I take a lot of taxis and – okay – I like to buy expensive handbags, shoes and accessories. If I see something I really want to get, I tell my mum and she transfers money to me. She looks after my finances. But my biggest investment is buying my grandmother an apartment. She really deserved it, and I see that as an investment and not a waste of money, obviously. I would love to spend more on things like that, on the people I love.”
While walking on the streets in Washington, D.C.’s hip U Street neighbourhood, it’s evident that Zara Larsson is a force to be reckoned with. Heads turn, traffic stops, and she strikes up random conversations with strangers wherever she goes.
Back on the bus, Zara’s dancers have returned from a day of sightseeing in the US capital. They show pictures of themselves in front of The White House, the Lincoln Memorial and other monuments and landmarks. During the month Zara has been in America, she hasn’t seen the country she’s been crisscrossing through. Most of the time, the blinds are down on the bus and when they stop in a city there’s always an interview to do, a television show to perform at, or a concert to play.
“America is swooshing by and I hardly see any of it. This is my first time in D.C. and I haven’t even seen The White House. I always think to myself that I will come back and see all of it the next time.”
Neither she nor the dancers are 21 so they can’t go to bars or clubs, and since Zara is still Stockholm-based she hasn’t established a squad of Hollywood celebrity friends to party with. But the most important thing are the shows, which she plays in new cities every other day. If she were out partying she wouldn’t be able to ace every performance.
DO YOU HAVE GROUPIES OR FANBOYS?
“Ha ha, not yet! But no, I’m good.”
ARE YOU DATING ANYONE?
“No I’m super single right now. Or, I’m not dating just one person, to put it that way.”
SO YOU HAVE TINDER?
“No, on that one too…”
WHAT ABOUT RAYA [THE SO-CALLED ELITE TINDER]?
“Oh God no! I would never! That’s so elitist and gross. I don’t like the idea of it, it’s like ‘hey we’re the popular and pretty people, want to go on a date?’ A relationship really isn’t a priority for me. If I meet someone, I meet someone, but I’m not actively looking.”
WHAT ABOUT THOSE JUSTIN BIEBER RUMOURS?
“I wish!,” she says and laughs. “That’s completely unfounded, but I would be interested to talk to him if we met again. We’ve said hello in a restaurant once, but definitely nothing more than that,” she says and continues: “It’s strange with the mythology around famous people, because once you meet them you realise they’re just regular people. The only person I want to keep on my superstar pedestal is Beyoncé.”
It’s dusk when Zara and her dancers take the stage. The venue is sold out and the crowd is ecstatic. It’s an eclectic mix of old and young that sing along to the hit parade Zara delivers from the stage. When I ask a young couple in the audience who they came to see – Clean Bandit or Zara Larsson – they answer the latter with vigour.
“She’s such a star!” they say.
Zara aces every move, lyric and note, all the while feeding the audiences hunger to dance and sing. She’s never been better than this. Her strong confidence shines through the entire show, especially when she’s teasing one of the final songs of the set.
“Do you know what’s my fault?,” she shouts out to the wild crowd. She holds the suspense for a few seconds before answering her own question: “Nothing!”
The audience is not ready to let go when she exits the stage after performing her 2016 hit song Nothing Without You, and welcomes Clean Bandit up.
It’s always been natural for me to take a lot of space and I’m confident in my talent.
After the show, Zara makes a guest appearance with Clean Bandit before heading back to the bus. It’s close to midnight and a six-hour drive to New York awaits, where she’s performing on a news show at 8 am. While getting ready for bed, Zara goofs around with the dancers, always with a joke, an impression or a theatrical reaction to a question.
YOU’RE VERY CONFIDENT.
“Yeah, I am and I always have been. It’s always been natural for me to take a lot of space and I’m confident in my talent, that I’m great at what I do. I’ve always loved singing and I’m really happy about this. That all of this is happening,” she says waving her hand around the bus.
WHEN ARE YOU NOT CONFIDENT?
She pauses and thinks for a little bit.
“When I’m being interviewed on TV because I’m not really used to that. But I’m especially nervous when I’m releasing new material – I’m never fully confident that people are going to like it or listen to it, it’s scary. But again, in the end it doesn’t really matter because I’m proud of what I do and I’m working with the thing I love the most in the world.”
ARE YOU LIVING YOUR DREAM?
Zara cleans her face and brushes her teeth, says goodnight and closes the door to the section of the bus where her bunk-bed is.
The Zara Larsson >< H&M collection arrives in selected stores and online on 18 May.