What are nominations when Rina has her Pixels? 
Hannah Browne
13:55 3rd December 2020

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This week, we named SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama our number one Album of 2020. Hannah Browne wrote about the album that changed pop:

If you haven’t already, then get attuned to hearing Rina Sawayama’s name. The British-Japanese singer’s debut album SAWAYAMA, released in April via Dirty Hit, carved out her own space in the alt-pop landscape, casting her as a bonafide popstar of the new decade. 

For reasons unknown, SAWAYAMA only peaked at 30th position in the UK Album Download Charts, and 8th in the UK Independent Album Charts, despite being met with widespread acclaim from industry critics and her adoring fans (dubbed Pixels). Still, with Elton John declaring SAWAYAMA as “the strongest album of the year so far”, we think you can still say that you’ve made it.

A follow up to her self-released EP Rina in 2017, SAWAYAMA was described by Rina as being “about family and identity”. Lyrically, she explores personal experiences with breathtaking honesty atop the guise of a love letter to pop music, which often reflects the Top 40 at the turn of the millennium – crammed with influences from Gwen Stefani, to Evanescence, to Korn, to NSYNC. It’s an astonishingly complex and anxious exploration paired with ballsy nu-metal riffs and a partiality for R&B production – and it works.

No other artist could’ve made this album but Rina, who audaciously sways between bubbly Y2k pop and metal guitar stabs. ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’ – a synth-pop nightclub bop – and ‘Bad Friend’ both see Rina struggling with outside feelings in her homeland Japan, whilst the latter reminisces over a former platonic relationship. Elsewhere, ‘Fuck This World (Interlude)’ poses Rina in the superstardom of a stadium stage whilst feeling highly dissociative.

The most glistening song on the album, though, is ‘XS’ – a takedown of the extravagant lives of the well-to-do. Intermittent riffs zoom past like a speeding car on a Formula One track, whilst she notes “I want it all, don’t have to choose / And when the heart wants, what it wants, what can I do?”. 

From start to finish, each song on SAWYAMA pulls together a hundred tiny pieces to create a wild collision. Not to mention that the strength of her lyricism is one of Rina’s greatest assets. She deftly challenges societal issues from capitalism, to male privilege, to generational trauma over 44 minutes of sound that re-imagines pop music entirely. We could place this album in any era from 2000 to 2050.

She might have been snubbed at the Grammys, the BRITs and The Mercury Prize – where Japan's ban on holding dual citizenship bafflingly exempted Rina from nomination – and yet Rina still dominated 2020 in so many ways. What are nominations when Rina has her Pixels? 

SAWAYAMA has been named Gigwise’s Album of the Year - but Rina isn’t finished with this flawless work. Along with a deluxe edition of the record - to feature new tracks like the kaleidoscopic BloodPop collaboration ‘Lucid’ - touring is at the top of Rina's agenda for the new year, including her largest headline show to date at London’s Roundhouse. Despite the tribulations of 2020 and all the things it will forever imply, Rina Sawayama has secured her status as a pop auteur for a new age. 

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Photo: Press