‘Intimidating? Yes. Enthralling? Absolutely'
Matty Pywell
17:39 14th April 2020

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Sawayama is your essential guide to the mind of Rina Sawayama. Being born in Japan and moving to London at a young age, Rina’s parents separated, leaving her in the care of her mum. Her family and relationship with the two countries associated with her life, shape the path of Sawayama, an introspective record that takes time to explore wider themes within society.

Billed as a pop artist, you may be surprised to hear searing electric guitars, the cacophony of noise that is associated with stadium rock and the maniacal screams of nu-metal. The musician has not aimed for a middle of the road, standardised pop album. Instead, she has opted for eclecticism, embracing rock, R’n’B and electronic influences. The monolithic caricatures of pop and rock collide into a hybrid breed of beast. Intimidating? Yes. Enthralling? Absolutely.

‘STFU!' starts off with a scream and Rina’s hysterical laughing, preluding the next few minutes’ insanity. The song a blatant fuck you to western fetishisation of Asian women and seeing them as something attainable and “exotic”. “Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? ‘Cause I have many times,” she sings on the chorus, reeling off her pent up anger. It is a shock that the track was previously rejected by record labels, as it is a powerful resentment of subtle racism.

The pinnacle of rock’s influence on the record is during the track ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’ Where you’re suddenly sat in the middle of a packed stadium, with thousands of cheering fans, as Rina is illuminated on stage, her vocals projecting her to pantheon proportions above the crowd. The stadium rock experience is simulated, Rina wanting to catch something nostalgic and powerful, inspired by watching A Star Is Born.

The relationship between the singer and her family is explored deeply throughout the album, ‘Dynasty’ has her open up about conflicted feelings around her heritage, “the pain in my vein is hereditary”. Growing up with her mum, they clashed often. Rina spending time away from home, her mum unsure of where she was, had to hack into her MSN to ask her friends.

That carefree attitude is expressed on ‘Paradisin’’, with a beat that sounds like an old school arcade machine, before morphing into a running drum track and pop dayglow, that accentuates the hectic ignorance of Rina dodging her mum during adolescence.

The wider topics covered range from toxic masculinity standards for men within fashion on ‘Comme Des Garcons (Like the Boys)', an industry Sawayama understands well having modelled previously for Versace and Uniqlo. There’s also talk of pointless material gain and consumerism, climate frustration, gender expectations and privilege. The inner mechanisms of Sawayama’s thought processes exposed, her worldview condensed and processed over the entirety of an album. 

She identifies with the bisexual and pansexual communities, the song ‘Chosen Family' reflecting the sense of unity within the LGBTQ+ community. “We don’t need to be related to relate,” Sawayama sings on the chorus, a unifying message that is not exclusive, as it can be interpreted to celebrate anyone looking for a sense of place. On an album with a lot to unpack, Sawayama is boldly eclectic and a statement piece from an artist not willing to conform, instead dedicated to nudge the boundaries of pop music.

Sawayama is released on 17 April 2020 via Dirty Hit.

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