Zara Larsson Talks 'Can't Tame Her' and Tricking Mariah Carey's Fans into Thinking They Collaborated

Zara Larsson is feeling unusually calm in the days leading up to the debut of her new single, "Can't Tame Her," the first taste of her upcoming fourth studio album.

"I always freak the f— out before a release," the Swedish pop star, 25, tells PEOPLE. "But now, I don't know if I'm in a psychosis or a manic episode, but for all of 2023, I've been so confident in myself."

Larsson is feeling so calm, in fact, that she decided to tease fans earlier this week on social media, jokingly claiming the upbeat, '80s-inspired song features production from Elton John and backing vocals from Mariah Carey with a music video co-directed by James Cameron and Quentin Tarantino that features a cameo from Leonardo DiCaprio. Upon the single and clip's release on Thursday, however, they found out none of it's true.

"A lot of Mariah's fans were like, 'Oh, we will be tuning in,' and they don't really know it's a joke. Their replies were like, 'Wow, girl, you are so lucky. That's amazing,'" says Larsson. "Hopefully they'll just be like, 'It was great anyways. I'll watch it again.'"

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The musician's first solo release since 2021's Poster Girl album, "Can't Tame Her" marks a reunion between Larsson and British songwriter MNEK, whom she notably collaborated with on the 2015 worldwide smash "Never Forget You." Lyrically, the catchy new track finds the four-time MTV EMA winner stepping into an unapologetically confident space — about 15 years after she finished first place on Talang, Sweden's version of Got Talent, at just 10 years old.

"No, you can't tame the girl," sings Larsson on the track's explosive chorus. "'Cause she runs her own world."

While writing the song with MNEK, she set out to embody an optimistic woman who's "a little wild" and secure in her own skin. It's sung from an aspirational point of view, rather than an autobiographical one. "The listener might feel like, 'Ooh, she's talking about me,'" says the "Lush Life" singer. "I want to relate to her. I want to embody that for this year and the rest of my life — to just be carefree and not listen to what anybody says."

Larsson's self-assured outlook toward this new era, in part, stems from having lifted the expectations she felt while dropping Poster Girl, the follow-up to her massive 2017 album So Good, which spawned three platinum-certified singles in the U.S. "Even though I loved Poster Girl, I think I felt so pressured into having the album become commercially successful," she says. "I was so like, 'What do people think?' Now, I'm just going to have fun."

Zara Larsson
Zara Larsson

Courtesy Sony Music Zara Larsson

Another contributor to her renewed career perspective? Last year, Larsson gained ownership over her entire musical catalog from Swedish music mogul Ola Håkansson, the owner of her former record label, TEN Music Group. She then launched her own label, Sommer House, which will house her future releases. Both moves, while common in the music industry, are extremely rare accomplishments for such a young artist.

"[Ola] is a legend here in Sweden, and he wanted to retire. More than getting a few extra million dollars to sell it to someone else, he just wanted to not have a Taylor Swift incident and leave me being like, 'What the f—? Why didn't you sell it to me?'" she explains about her song catalog, which has been streamed over 9 billion times. "He also gave me the sickest price. It's a really, really good deal. It's my retirement."

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As the head of her own label, Larsson has more control over her career than ever before, which she recently flexed while auditioning dancers for several upcoming, heavily-choreographed dance videos. It was a challenge, she says, turning talented hopefuls away. "It was terrible. We were whispering in front of them, circling our favorites and saying, 'You and you can stay. The rest, thank you so much for coming,'" recalls the performer. "I'm a people pleaser and just want to say, 'Everybody got the job!' But we found some really nice amazing girls."

Set to arrive sometime in 2023, Larsson has been working on the upcoming album for about 18 months alongside MNEK, Swedish production duo MTHR, Danja and Rick Nowels — her "main man" for the record, who's introduced her to an intimate new working style. "He likes to sit in front of the piano, look into my eyes and jam," she says, noting that the pair work on songs in solitude, which is rare in the pop world. "I've been in sessions with like nine people in the room, and I'm like, 'What the f—?' Here, it's about telling a story."

Zara Larsson
Zara Larsson

Jack Bridgland Zara Larsson

The full-length project spans pop, rock, R&B and hip-hop sounds, according to Larsson, while remaining cohesive due to her "little bubble" of collaborators. Lyrically, she's been inspired by everything from the self-reliance of "Can't Tame Her" to the bliss of her romantic relationship with dancer Lamin Holmén. "I feel like we go a little bit all over the place, which is me," Larsson teases of the album. "It has higher highs in terms of the energy than Poster Girl, but also lower lows, in the sense of the stillness, emotion and sadness. It's very dynamic."

Going into the new era, she's looking forward to touring the world — something she didn't get to do for Poster Girl. "I wanted to do an arena tour really badly here in Scandinavia, which I did," says the musician, who's only performed for global fans virtually over the past few years. "I want to perform my songs live in front of people, so it'll be incredible to take this album on a big tour."

Larsson's no longer burdening herself with the stress of striving for massive success with "Can't Tame Her" and beyond. However, she's extremely proud of the new material and has faith in its ability to perform well and connect with listeners — which makes for a healthier and far less anxiety-inducing mindset.

"I just think this next album is way better than Poster Girl, and that's how I want to keep evolving, to be way better and prove myself," she says. "I'm definitely always working towards a commercial hit, but I'm not beating myself up as much because I know that I'm really talented… It's just a matter of time before people realize that."