"On the album cover, I am channeling the birth of Venus, and, in a way, it does feel like a rebirth of me," the Swedish pop star tells PEOPLE
Zara Larsson is baring it all on her new album.
On Friday, the Swedish pop star, 26, dropped her fourth studio album Venus, which finds her in a creatively free zone, singing about real-life experiences in the first full-length release on her Sommer House record label.
"When I got signed at 14, I was just like, 'Put me on the f---ing stage. I don't care. Just give me good songs, whatever.' But now that I've been doing this for a while, I also realized that it's actually so much more fun to be involved in what you're doing," Larsson tells PEOPLE. "It gives me more of a purpose."
The musician, who rose to fame upon winning season 2 of Talang (Sweden's version of Got Talent) in 2008 and has scored global hits with songs like "Lush Life" and "Never Forget You," crafted her new album with a small team of writers and producers — resulting in more true-to-life lyrics than ever before.
Venus is an extremely personal and passionate album, but not in a soul-searchingly vulnerable sense. "Personal doesn't always have to be sharing all the details about the fights you had with your parents growing up or this specific thing when someone broke my heart," explains Larsson, noting that she wanted her "humor and personality" to shine on the project.
"I am a person who has a really close relationship with laughter," she quips. "I'm a very unserious person, so even just to get a little bit of that in there, I think, elevated the songs."
Larsson's playfulness comes through on tracks like "You Love Who You Love," inspired by the painful experience of watching friends endure relationships with lackluster men. "I'm quite desperate. I'm just telling my friend, 'Get the f--- up. What are you doing?' And that's a strong emotion," she says. "It's not necessarily super sad or what we would think an emotional song would be, but there's a lot of passion in it."
The album also includes "On My Love," a collaboration with David Guetta that features heartfelt lyrics about Larsson's tight-knit relationship with her sister, Hanna. "One of my deepest loves in life is for my sister," she says.
"When we were kids, of course, we had our fights, but we are very close. We share everything. We slept in the same bed every single night. We moved in together, still slept in the same bed," adds Larsson of their sisterhood. "It was so sad when she moved out, because you realize, 'I'm never going to live with my sister again.' Our childhood and that time of our life is over. It's a new chapter."
"On My Love" also marks a reunion for Larsson and Guetta, who previously joined forces for the official UEFA Euro 2016 song "This One's for You" — released back when she and Hanna lived together at their parents' house. Looking back on that time, she realizes how much her approach to stardom has changed.
"I now look back at that, and I'm like, 'Girl, that was f---ing huge.' That was in the very beginning of when my career took off, and I just never felt like it was a big deal. Nothing is a big deal to me," explains Larsson. "I'm like, 'OK, what's the next thing? What's the next thing? What's the next thing?' But I feel like I'm getting better at like, 'Oh, have fun. Let me live in this for a little moment.'"
Such shifts in Larsson's outlook and creative style partly inspired the title of Venus. "On the album cover, I am channeling the birth of Venus, and in a way it does feel like a rebirth of me," she says. "I feel like I'm getting back to myself in the sense of just doing whatever I feel like musically and in my personal life. I feel very just happy and very much like me."
The album cover wasn't always a revealing photo of Larsson in the nude with long, flowing blonde locks covering her breasts and a shell over her nether regions. In fact, Venus initially had a different title and artwork — but after finishing the album, she went back to the drawing board.
"I just called my friend up, and I said, 'Let's do a shoot on Wednesday. Don't tell the label. I'll pay for it, and let's just f---ing do it,'" she recalls. "It turned out to be quite beautiful, I think."
Stripping down for the album cover wasn't nerve-wracking for Larsson, who's in a relationship with dancer Lamin Holmén. She frequents nude Korean spas and often got reprimanded as a child for refusing to wear a shirt at family dinners.
"Honestly, I am so comfortable being naked," she says. "It's just not a thing for me. And even though I do think the album is quite sexy, there's something quite liberating about being naked."
The only downside of having risqué album artwork? There's a good chance it'll be heavily censored in certain areas. "I do wonder what that cover's going to look like in the Middle East," quips Larsson. "It would just be a very beautiful beige wall with the shell."
Larsson is proud of Venus and excited to see fans' reactions — more so than she's concerned with how it'll fare on the charts, another marker of her personal evolution. "I still want a number one. Don't get me wrong, I still have that ambition," she says. "But I would say that I feel way more just confident."
"Once it's out, it's just like [when] you release your kids to college. You don't know what they're going to be up to. Are you going to study? Are you going to go party all year? I don't know," adds Larsson. "I just wish you the best, and I hope that people treat you well."
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