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21st February 2024

Zara Larsson live in Manchester: Bringing ‘VENUS’ to Manchester’s Academy

Swedish pop sensation Zara Larsson returns to Manchester to headline the Academy after the release of her newest LP, ‘Venus’
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Zara Larsson live in Manchester: Bringing ‘VENUS’ to Manchester’s Academy
Ailish O’Leary @ The Mancunion

Words by Samuel Chamberlain

Despite only being 26, Zara Larsson has had an extensive, admirable career in music, filled with highlights and hits. After winning the second season of Talang, Sweden’s answer to the ‘…Got Talent’ franchise, she quickly achieved international recognition with early hit ‘Uncover’, before amassing six top-10 hits in the UK by 2018 and building a fanbase of all demographics. Her fourth LP, VENUS, alludes in its title to Earth’s closest planetary neighbour, and fittingly its songs are infused with both escapism and introspection. However, there is also an underlying reference here to the Roman goddess of love and beauty, an element which translates particularly well when the album’s tracks are performed live.

Supporting on this tour was fellow Swedish artist Yaegar, who describes her music as “emotional rave pop.” To say that this was her first time touring, her confidence and stage presence was impressive: her infectious personality shone through as she debuted songs from her 2023 EP Jaguar.

One visible change to Manchester Academy was the platform and stairs placed there specially for Zara, with pods beneath to hold band members. As two additional blocks were pushed together, she seemed to appear out of thin air, arriving in true diva fashion to an ecstatic crowd ready for an hour of elation. Introducing the live debut of the VENUS track ‘Escape’, Larsson invited her audience to do just that, and the 80 minutes she performed for were subsequently an unadulterated combination of emotional release and joyful diversion from daily life. As this was the tour’s opening night, few expectations were in place: with no previous setlist to study, the audience wasn’t to know what would be played, nor how laudable the show would be.

Ailish O’Leary @ The Mancunion

Early into the set, Larsson seamlessly segued from 2016’s ‘Girls Like’ into 2022’s ‘Words’, which not only showcased her own versatility but also felt like a tribute to her previous collaborators (Tinie Tempah and Alesso, respectively). These two tracks also gave the show’s sultry backing dancers their own time to shine as they effortlessly moved around the stage while Zara delivered her own remarkable performance.

Stellar vocals, breath-taking choreography, and impressive performativity quickly revealed Larsson to be the perfect triple-threat, evidently in her element during the many dance breaks laced between tracks. Throughout the set, the Swedish star rarely paused for breath, other than to introduce selections from her ever-growing array of hits, displaying incomparable stamina particularly when belting out longer notes. At times, however, the setlist did cause a certain musical whiplash: jumping from emotional deep cut ‘The Healing’ to the euphoric dance-pop of ‘Symphony’ was quite the mismatch, though it only served to enunciate the star’s proficiency in both solemnity and exultancy.

From the offset, the crowd were instantly won over by Larsson’s infectious blend of bubblegum pop and EDM influences. While her latest record may have only spawned one top-20 hit, its highlights such as ‘Ammunition’ and ‘You Love Who You Love’ were received just as rapturously as the well-known ‘Ain’t My Fault’, which followed them. Before a brief departure preceding the encore, Larsson dived into early VENUS single ‘End of Time’, making a declaration of love not only to a lover, but to her adoring audience also.

Ailish O’Leary @ The Mancunion

The euphoria of 2016 hit ‘Lush Life’ can’t be denied. Its opening notes were greeted by a bouncing, screaming audience during the show’s encore, and every crowd member seemed enthralled throughout its three joyous minutes. Larsson finished her set with album opener ‘Can’t Tame Her’, the perfect closer for a perfect pop show. The song could be likened to a younger sister of The Weeknd’s ‘Blinding Lights’, borrowing influences from the same vein of 80s synth pop and adapting them just as effectively.

Backed by four dancers, a full, all-female band, and various costume changes, the opening night of VENUS tour had the perfect formula for a flawless performance: and that it was, other than a humorous moment in which its star, admittedly unnoticed by many, used the wrong stage exit. The joy of Zara Larsson, overall, is that she outright refuses to keep it PG, but does so in a way that is not tasteless, but liberating. Many critics would suggest that her brand of pop music is stuck permanently in the 2010s, but if that’s the case then perhaps we should never have left.


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