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Zara Larsson: So Good

With So Good, Zara Larsson has cranked out an effective pop album with So Good, one that emphasizes her powerful vocals and implements a powerful slew of catchy melodies.  Unfortunately, it also betrays a shallow life philosophy, one that reflects the “live in the moment” impulsiveness of the broader culture.

It’s hard to deny Larsson’s talent.  In 2008, the Swedish singer won the competition Talang, the Swedish version of Got Talent.  At only 19 years old, Zara Larsson has nine years of experience performing on a wide stage.  But the cultural concerns that stem from the messages of this album overshadow the musical talent here.  “Lush Life” is a perfect example of this, with its strong musicality and shallow lyricism.  The combination of a bass lead and a strong sense of rhythm makes for a very catchy song, not to mention the smooth and catchy melody.  But the ideas that are in the song are hardly mature: “I live my day as it was the last/Live my day as if there was no past/Doing it all night all summer/Doing it the way I wanna.”  The whole idea of the song, as indicated in the title, is to make this life right here as enjoyable as possible.  That idea, like so many others in pop music, flirts with hedonism – the idea that you should pursue whatever feels good.  Usually, that means sex, which is referenced with varying degrees of explicitness.

That philosophy holds true, even if what feels good right now will feel very bad in the end.  This shortsightedness is on full display in “Don’t Let Me Be Yours.”  Despite the catchy brass instrumentation, what struck me most about this song was the unhealthy approach to relationships, when Larsson sings “I know that you’re bad for my health/But I don’t care, I want you anyway.”  Taking the same approach but in a different arena, “One Mississippi” applauds a life of chaos, even when the law gets involved: “We don’t get scared when the sirens come/A little f—– up ’cause we think it’s fun/We kiss just to make up, we love just to break up/We head for disaster, but live for the danger.”

Not that the album doesn’t have its bright spots, mind you.  So Good has a consistent sound throughout, and Larsson’s strong voice takes center-stage.  The album also manages to avoid copying wholesale other popular pop vocalists, although it isn’t doing anything ambitious enough to make her completely distinct.  The opening song, “What They Say,” has a positive lyrical outlook to its credit.  She tells the song’s recipient (presumably a romantic partner) “Whatever you do, just don’t believe what they say/’Cause they don’t believe you like I believe in you anyway.”  In contrast to the other highly conventional pop songs on the album, “Symphony” is an effective love song, using the metaphor of music itself to great effect, with a lyricism that’s as close to poetic as pop music gets: “Life was stringing me along/Then you came and you cut me loose/Was solo singing on my own/Now I can’t find the key without you.”

But ultimately, that’s too little to redeem what is mostly a conventional pop album with thick threads of sex and selfish pursuits weaved throughout. There’s also the profanity to note (present on three songs, two of them f-words), and there’s nothing quite interesting enough musically to take the attention away from the troubling lyrical content.

“I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. I said of laughter, “It is mad,” and of pleasure, “What use is it?”  Ecclesiastes 2:1-2

Rating: 4/10

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