Rina Sawayama’s debut studio album Sawayama was released in April this year, fairly early on in this global pandemic. The Japanese/British singer did not postpone the release as some other artists did, in order to keep providing entertainment to society. The artist is known for the eclectic range of genres in her music, from pop, to rock and nu-metal to R&B – Rina doesn’t care what box she’s in, because she’ll use whatever box feels right for the specific song she writes. Although Rina is yet to be recognized by the British music awards due to outdated nationality restrictions, she has managed to get in contact with British Phonographic Industry to review the rules. The singer is an inspiration to children of immigrants who are not afforded a stable sense of identity and belonging in the country they were born in.
I was first introduced to Sawayama in the summer, when I came across her song; Comme des Garçons on Spotify, which I absolutely loved straight away. I liked what I initially heard to be ego-centric lyrics only to discover Rina Sawayama is really fucking cool and learnt she’s exploring the idea of adopting male tropes in order to appear confident. The song is multi-faceted in providing a catchy dance hit whilst satirical incorporating gender politics in the lyrics. After this I heard STFU, which took me left-field even further to the point where I realized I had a lot of research to do on this artist to figure out what she’s about.
STFU was the lead single off the Sawayama album and it is genuinely a work of art. It is sonically reminiscent of Evanescence and the heavy guitar almost shares centre stage with the songstress. They song says everything you want to say to that one person in your life that you just want to tell to shut the f*** up. The accompanying music video is absolutely amazing as well. It involves Rina on a date with the most ignorant excuse of a gentleman to roam the earth, dropping racial micro-aggressions into every single sentence – a perfect intro for this rager of a song that says what we’re all thinking, while suffering through the dialogue at the beginning.
I love listening to the album in it’s entirely from beginning to end, it’s tell tales of Rina’s childhood family, friends whilst also commenting on politics, philosophy, mental health. The album begins with Dynasty, an almost pop-opera if you will, a great intro to the album. Rina talks about the origin of her pain using regal metaphors to elaborate on the idea of an unbreakable chain, of how pain and suffering is passed down through generations.
In October of 2019, Sawayama supported Charli XCX on the European leg of her world tour; Charli Live and what I love about both artists is the palpable passion that emanates from them both. They share the creative process, welcoming their fans into the world in which they live in creating the art that is then consumed by the fans. From sharing Youtube vlogs of Instagram video about shooting music videos, recording instruments in the studio, mic placement, scheduling, admin – these artists hone their craft every day and take their fans on the journey with them.
The song, Fuck This World (interlude) details the fears Rina has surrounding global warning and the inevitable downfall of the state of the earth. Its an challenging topic to write a pop song about, I would imagine…and not make a very depressing song. Somehow I imagine Rina watching a few documentaries or reading up on the topic and being so burdened by the potential unfixable problem and singing ‘Fuck this world, I’m leaving’ – day dreaming about taking off to Mars to get away. There is something incredible sweet and vulnerable about this song that is so relatable.
I find the album’s balance on introspective subject matter juxtaposed with issues of global proportioned very representative of the demands of today’s society. Sawayama’s vocal range is impressive, with a staccato vibrato and haunting falsetto, heard especially in the last track Snakeskin together with fantastic songwriting skills such as in the song; Akasaka Sad. The fluctuating speed is reminiscent of 90s’s R&B such as in Destiny’s Child’s world, whilst the tribalistic delivery of the lyrics in the chorus emphasize the depth of meaning in the song. Rina’s voice is very unique in that it can deliver breathy and fast-paced melodies, such in Love me 4 Me, which gives me 90’s Mariah vibes and then strong, bold delivery in songs like STFU and XS.
Sawayama’s producer Clarence Clarity’s ( @CLARENCECLARITY on Instagram) influence and collaboration on this album is epic and can be seen first hand in Rina TV, the singer’s YouTube channel where she has uploaded ‘The Making of Sawayama’. It was Clarity who created the monstrous guitar of STFU of which Rina was not sure about at first as it was so left-field from the music she had previously released. The duo clearly click sonically and have produced amazing example of genre-blending music within this album.
There is an array of live instrumentation on Sawayama which provides a stadium worthy atmosphere. In the song Paradisin‘, there is a brass instrument – Sax if i’m not mistaken which reminds me of Clarence Clemons’ iconic rock -sax solo in Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory.
Rina made her US TV debut on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in late October, performing her song XS which cleverly mocks the rich and famous with jolting nu-metal guitar riffs paralleled with R&B melodies. Breaking America during a global Pandemic? Now that would be impressive!
Rina praises her creative team a lot on social media and its clear the tight knit group works excellently together. The extent of creative direction is unparalleled in a new artist, I’d say…since Lady Gaga.
Sawayama is my favorite album cover of 2020 and I couldn’t resist recreation of it myself. The work of 21-year old London-based Make up artist, Ana Takahashi (@ANATAKONYOURFACE on Instagram)_. The iconic and unconventional look is exciting direction for British pop and works perfectly for an unconventional pop star like Rina – I can’t wait what Rina does next!
Go check out Sawayama on Spotify and indulge in the philosophical, intricate lyrics as well as the big bold experimental sounds that accompany them.