Zara Larsson’s “Never Forget You” is an EDM-pop crossover monster: Currently at Number 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 and garnering a jaw-dropping 93 million YouTube views, she’s the biggest Swedish import since 2014’s Tove Lo explosion. Featuring British singer MNEK, “Never Forget You” has got the wistfulness of the best Swedish pop and hangs on the most au courant, bass-heavy electronica.
Larsson first entered public life as a 10-year-old singing sensation that finished first place in the 2008 season of Talang Sverige, the Swedish version of Got Talent. Instead of running with the mainstream momentum, Larsson instead retreated, taking some time to grow up —well, at least, reach her mid-teens. In 2013 she re-emerged as an independent artist with a new EP and a naturally more mature look and sound. After racking up millions of social media followers and bona fide pop stardom across Europe, she set her sights on the States, signed with Epic and dropped her US debut EP, Uncovered. “Never Forget You” became her first American chart success shortly after her 18th birthday.
Rolling Stone caught up with Larsson to talk about attempting to conquer the world’s most daunting pop frontier.
What drew you to starting your career on a TV competition?
When I was about nine or 10, I was on a few random talent shows in shopping malls. And I just thought that was so fun, and then I heard about the TV show thing and then I was like, “Wow, that’s what I want to do! I want millions of people to see me.”
How are those kinds of competitions perceived where you’re from?
We don’t really care, to be honest. I think the people who are watching TV are not the same people who are buying music, know what I mean? A lot of people are just happy sitting at home on the sofa with their families, watching TV every Friday or Saturday every year because there’s a new winner every year. So it’s never like, people deep down care about what happened to the artist or the person. I guess that’s just what those shows are.
I kind of knew that, of course. But I just did it because maybe it would give me something, and I feel like it did. I think life is a chain of events. But I mean, I didn’t do anything for five years after that show.
What was the most daunting thing about coming back to the public eye after five years?
First of all, I was 10 when I was on the show, so waiting five years is not that big of a deal. So I was still very young; I had just turned 15. I guess people thought I was familiar, but they didn’t connect me with that show. And I’m super thankful for that, because I feel like people have always looked at me like a “real” artist, and not like a singing cute kid or a child pop star. They’ve always seen me as someone who can really sing, and someone who has good songs, period.
You’re already a star in across Europe. What’s the most challenging thing about trying to break out in the U.S.?
I think that you just have to do the same things again, which I don’t mind.… I’ve done some songs in Sweden that are not my favorites, if you can put it that way. But now I feel like I know who I am, what I want to do, and I just need to do everything once again.
Now that “Never Forget You” is making radio impact, what do you think is the most unique thing about that song that reflects you?
I do pop, so pop is very broad. It could be anything from the Weeknd to Taylor Swift to Beyoncé to whatever is on the radio, basically. I feel like since it’s so broad, I love to let producers do their thing, because they’re so good.
With this song, I think the melodies are beautiful. I’m just a sucker for good melodies, and the feeling of the song is really special. I feel like it captures you, and I would say it’s super “me. “
I’m not really a bitter person. In my personal life, I would just feel like, I will always be cool with everyone. For example the song is really obviously about love, and about a guy I was with for a very long time. … Even though we’re not together any more, I will always have that love for him — and that is very much who I am.