- By Mark Savage
- BBC music correspondent
Two years ago, Swedish pop star Zara Larsson struck out on her own: she bought back the rights to her master recordings and created her own record label.
This week we see the first fruits of that enterprise, when she releases her fourth album, Venus, on her Sommer House label.
“I feel like I’m a boss,” the singer tells the BBC.
“I feel older and I feel like I have control over what I do in a different way.”
It’s been a long road to get here. Larsson first found fame at the age of 10, when he won the Swedish version of Britain’s Got Talent, singing a cover of Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On.
He later signed to Swedish label TEN, where he scored international hits with songs such as Lush Life, So Good, Ruin My Life and Clean Bandit’s collaboration Symphony.
Then, in 2022, the head of the label decided it was time to close the business.
Her name was Ola Håkansson, a Swedish music legend who had recorded with Abba’s Agnetha Faltskog and helped launch bands like The Cardigans and Icona Pop. But she was turning 75 and wanted to retire.
“Ola said, ‘You know what? I think I’ve done my time. I’m getting to the point where I just want to be with my family,'” Larsson explains.
But Håkansson had seen the consequences when Taylor Swift’s former label, Big Machine, went up for sale in 2019.
When an investment firm seized the company’s back catalog, Swift protested that she had been denied the opportunity to take possession of her master recordings.
“Ola saw what happened to Taylor and felt like it was going to be her nightmare,” Larsson says.
“If you’ve worked for so long in the industry, do you really want to come out this sad? Like some old record label guy who just wants to have a few extra bucks?”
“So the first person he approached about purchasing my master’s degree was me. Obviously I said yes because it’s an incredible opportunity.
“Now I know that the songs that shaped my career are safe with me. And if I ever want to do anything with them, it’s up to me, not an investment company that doesn’t even care about music.”
After acquiring the rights to his songs, it made “perfect sense” to create his own label, Sommer House, which distributes his releases through a deal with Sony Music.
Venus was released on Friday after a year-long run in which she released four singles, including the hit David Guetta collaboration On My Love and ’80s power pop anthem Can’t Tame Her, as well as a Christmas EP.
The 26-year-old says the ability to be your own boss is “a very rare thing in the music industry,” but admits it comes with some unavoidable responsibilities.
“If I release something and it doesn’t turn out well, I can’t just say, ‘Well, it was my label’s fault,'” he laughs. “But I have a great team and I’m still with a lot of people I’ve worked with for a long time, so we know what we’re doing.”
“That was so much fun,” he squeals. “When I was a kid, I ice skated a lot, so I thought, ‘I’ve got this. I’m going to make it.’ But when I got on the ice it was really hard!
“Thankfully, the team really helped me find my place.”
The video for On My Love also made headlines by pairing Larsson with her doppelganger sister, Hanna Christina, featuring childhood videos interspersed with delightful shots of them hanging out on an (undisclosed) tropical island.
The song, he says, is a “love letter” to his younger brother.
“She’s my oldest friend and my best friend, and I’m very lucky to have her,” Larsson says.
“She’s also the person I would play all my songs to first, because I know she’s honest. She doesn’t like to sugarcoat things, but she’s not mean, and I trust her tastes and style.”
The album arrives with a fourth single, You Love Who You Love, a bold club song that unexpectedly transforms into a sparkling, harmony-laden chorus.
“It’s a very special song because you don’t really know where it’s going and then the chorus comes in and you’re like, ‘Oh hello!’“
“I played it live once and I loved the way it felt. It’s like, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to sing that song for the rest of the year,'” says the singer, who kicks off her European tour at the Manchester Academy on next week.
But while his focus is on his own career for the foreseeable future, Larsson says he wants his label to be an incubator for new talent in the future.
“I want to hire my own artists, producers and writers, because now I have the foundation for it,” he says.
“Right now I don’t know if I have the ability, but life is long. I’m only 26 years old.”
And in 50 years, maybe I can give you the chance to buy the next Zara Larsson his own masters.