Interview: MNEK & Zara Larsson discuss their creative partnership

Super-producer and upcoming solo artist MNEK and Sweden's hottest pop star Zara Larsson have a chat with NOTION about their duet 'Never Forget You' and more.

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MNEK & Zara Larsson

In the wilds of Iceland lives a friendly monster. When the snow has melted, and the land is dark, he almost blends into the ragged folds and dank caves. If you happen to see him stepping into the light, don’t be perturbed by his towering bulk, his ginormous, gnarly hands, hunched shoulders and shaggy black coat. Flashing from wrinkly, white slits are his kind old eyes, and these eyes speak of his deep, fearless love for a little girl, his best friend and soul mate, for whom he cares for eternity. The girl loves the monster equally, returning to him through the years for laughter, adventures and the warmest, fuzziest, most tender loving squeezes she has ever known. Their story aches with purity.

Welcome to the most beautiful, heart-wrenching music video of the year so far. You’ll have heard bittersweet dance-pop smash ‘Never Forget You’ by now, the duet by super-producer and upcoming solo artist MNEK & Zara Larsson, Sweden’s hottest pop star. But if you haven’t seen the video, open your heart and expose yourself: it’s powerful stuff.

How was it meeting for the first time, having heard each other’s music?
Zara: The Rhythm’ went gold in Sweden, but I thought that was just some random people! Had I been meeting Beyonce, for example, I’d have been influenced by the impression I already had of her. But this was like meeting someone new; my first impression was the first impression!
MNEK: Yeah! Obviously, I’d listened to Zara’s music, I was like, ‘She’s sick!’ And then the song came about so quickly. It was a fun process, the song literally just wrote itself…
Zara: I was just vibing that day; you were just vibing that day.
MNEK: We’ve been doing a lot of stuff, producing for Zara’s album. It’s fun, and she’s still new to writing.
Zara: For real, he’s really good and super fast!

What have you learned about each other by working together?
MNEK: Doing promo is when we learn about each other. There are so many lols!
Zara: Oh for real. And as soon as I don’t know what to answer, I just look at him…
MNEK: Zara just gives me a look, like, ‘would you care to answer?’ It’s fun because we’re cracking jokes and learning about each other on the job. I’m sharing it all with my white Swedish sister!

MNEK & Zara LarssonZara Larsson Wears // TOP – Zara // JEANS – Topshop // MNEK Wears // JACKET – AKA // TOP – ASOS // SHORTS – Marks and Spencer 

Can you tell us a little about the contrast in the tune with the sad lyrics and the uplifting production; is this tension something which inspires you?
Zara: Yeah, I love it. One day when you’re really happy, you’re feeling the beat, you’re like, ‘Turn it up!’ Then if you listen to the lyrics, it’s like really sad, but hopeful…

It’s not bitter…
MNEK: That’s it, it’s not bitter! It’s not like, ‘Fuck you!’ It’s poignant.

And the video with the little girl and her imaginary friend is so beautiful…
MNEK: This is what we were looking for when we saw the treatment. It’s actually a dark song, and we needed a narrative that went with the lyrics, that was as intense as the song. Richard Paris Wilson directed it, and he was able to make it a story – it’s almost cinematic.

He balances both sides of the story and uses the changing light across the landscape to reflect each of your voices and your energies coming together. The song is about having to walk away from a lover, but also about losing a best friend.
Zara: Exactly, it’s about different perspectives of love – there’s more to love than that.
MNEK: That’s what the video evokes: unconditional love. And that’s the song, till the day I die…

Can you describe each other for us?
MNEK: Ladies first…
Zara: You always say that!
MNEK: Yeah, that’s ‘cos I’m a gentleman!
Zara: I would say that he is – ah, that’s so boring – I don’t wanna say like, ‘A great musician!’
MNEK: Sure…!
Zara: I think that you are very honest, very funny…not afraid to be real to say what you think. Sometimes I can be like, ‘Yeah, great, but not really!’
MNEK: I’d say funny, sassy in the best way. I like your sass; it knows what it is, some 17 year-olds, are like SASSY! But yours is like a moderated, like, ‘I know my sass!’

MNEK & Zara LarssonZara Larsson Wears // TOP – Zara // JEANS – Topshop // SHOES – Nike Huarache // MNEK Wears // JACKET – AKA // TOP – ASOS // SHORTS – Marks and Spencer 

Would you say that Zara is an old soul in a young body?
MNEK: We’re both young, but we’ve both been in the industry a long time, we know how it works, we’re always surrounded by older people…
Zara: I don’t think about my age or your age. I guess it’s a big thing for other people…
MNEK: Age is nothing but a number for me. I’ve been doing this since I was like 18 and see it as, ‘Right, if I’m 21 and you’re 35, I wanna be on your level; or if not, I wanna be above you. I wanna be working as hard as you if not harder…’
Zara: When people say, ‘Oh you’re so good, and you’re so young!’ It’s like, ‘NO. I’m good. Period!’

On a production level, it feels like two soundscapes colliding, how Scandinavian chimes give way to a deep London bassline.
MNEK: I tell you what, I didn’t think about that when I was doing it, but now that you bring it up, it’s definitely there! Subconsciously, maybe, but I was just like, ‘OOH, let’s have some bells in there!’ The drop, that was where I started off, I wanted the drop to just feel like, fat! I love my drops, so I just blended those two worlds together, and it works! (His phone rings) I just got word, and we just reached the Top 20 on the UK singles chart, it’s at number 19 now!

With that, it’s high fives all round and the poptastic pair spring apart. MNEK is off to the studio to work with his old mate Charlie XCX, while Zara is about to step in front of the camera for her shoot for NOTION. Taking ‘Never Forget You,’ as their cue, we hope that these two blend voices again on a future track: coming together, they bring a shedload of soul, and we love it!

‘Never Forgot You’ is out now and available to download here. Find both MNEK & Zara Larsson on Twitter.

Words by Lucy Wilson.

Art Director: Kiera Liberati // Photographer: Rio Romaine // Stylist: Kiera Liberati // Hair: Adam Garland using Balmain Hair UK // Makeup: Faye Marie Quinton using MAC // Nails: Sabrina Gayle @ LMC Worldwide using Only Fingers + Toes // Fashion Assistant: Kojo Hammond

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