Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
With the release of Poster Girl’s original lead single “Ruin My Life” nearly three years ago, Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson gave us the impression she was setting the stage for a third album of glittery pop escapism, one that would surely be an improvement over the overly hooky and heavily processed So Good from 2017. “Ruin My Life” was followed by the superior “All the Time” in 2019, a picture-perfect pop song if there ever was one for a balmy summer night. But by the time Poster Girl would ultimately be completed, “Love Me Land” had replaced “Ruin My Life” as the lead single and “All the Time” was inexcusably exiled as a Japanese bonus track. We should have known right then and there: the album was destined to be a lunchbox letdown.
Larsson is a talented performer and her voice has a natural knack for inescapable hooks, but historically speaking, her albums have a tendency of never living up to the hype of their singles. (The only exception would be her debut album 1, which was never released internationally.) On an aptly titled pop record like Poster Girl, one would expect more than a few memorable moments, or at the very least one. But every song sounds like filler, each more forgettable than the last.
It’s rare for an album whose hype essentially breathed pop escapism to not have a single moment that catches one’s attention in 38 minutes. The only new song worth mentioning is “Need Someone,” whose lyrics offer somewhat of an escape from the grim reality we’ve all come to know: “I been living days like they’ll never be over / As long as the sky is blue / But if I saw you side of the street, I’d pull over / Do things I thought I’d never do.”
Poster Girl’s central issue is that, much like Larsson’s overall sound and image, it promises female empowerment but never manages to fully deliver. She fell into the same trap with songs like “Lush Life” and “Ain’t My Fault” on So Good, merely serving a version of empowerment that looks and feels manufactured. On Poster Girl, she sings about not needing a man but knowing it might be nice to have one anyway—hardly a revolutionary or original feat over 30 years into the rise of third-wave feminism.
Not that all pop music has to be both glittery and escapist while also feministic and empowering, but it’s just disappointing when artists like Larsson—who could easily accomplish an empowering, escapist pop record—continuously releases music that sounds more like what her label wants as opposed to what she wants. In an era bookended by learning to listen to women’s experiences of sexism and abuse, perhaps a pop album titled Poster Girl could afford to go a bit deeper, in the vein of Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Poster Girl: “Need Someone,” “Ruin My Life,” and “All the Time”