Friday, November 06, 2020

Rina Sawayama “SAWAYAMA” Review

Whereas Rina Sawayama’s 2017 EP ‘Rina’ briefly introduced listeners to her world, ‘Sawayama’ proves that it really might just be Rina’s world that we’re living in. ‘Sawayama’ bends and merges genres, discussing a wide range of topics like family, friendship, consumer culture, self-love, identity and more. By the last minute of the album, it feels like Rina isn’t just a superstar destined to take over the music world and really make it her own - but instead a friend we’re rooting for, someone we can confide in. It’s Rina’s willingness to share her world with us that might be why it feels like we’re sharing secrets with a childhood friend rather than listening to an artist who created one of Elton John’s favorite albums of the year. 

The album starts off strong: loud drums with impressive vocals and personal lyrics are prevalent in the first few tracks before taking us on a ‘Lucky’ era Britney Spears retro popstar journey.

On ‘Dynasty,’ the album opener, Sawayama sings about lasting effects of hereditary pain and belonging - something that lurks throughout the entire album on tracks like ‘Akasaka Sad’ and ‘Chosen Family’ - and breaking away from it to start anew. Her family life and background as a British-Japanese artist is apparent throughout the entire album. In ‘Akasaka Sad,’ a thematic pop/rap track with impressive production by Clarence Clarity, Sawayama sings about feeling lonely and out of place in a hotel room in Japan and wondering if her Japanese parents felt the same way once they had moved their lives to London: Akasaka Sad / ‘Cause I’m a sucker, so I suffer / Akasaka Sawayama, just like my mother /

‘XS,’ ‘STFU!’ and ‘Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys)’ are probably the three most Sawayama-esque songs to date - both sonically and lyrically. Whereas ‘XS’ is a cheeky song about excessive consumer culture filled with loud rock guitars and a catchy pop chorus begging for more material goods, ‘STFU!’ is practically a dichromatic track about the discrimination and micro-aggressions Sawayama has faced her entire life as a minority. Loud guitars and Sawayama’s screams can be heard on the angry rock song but it’s the almost lullaby-like chorus asking Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? / Cause I have, many times, many times / that really gets her point across. ‘Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys)’ is a sleek pop track reminiscent of late 90s Cher about self-confidence and using this confidence to fit into - and maybe even take over - the “Boy’s Club.”

Rina Sawayama STFU! Music Video:

‘Paradisin’’ has a retro pop feel with video game-esque sounds that outlines Sawayama’s rebellious younger years as a teen running around London despite her parents’ concerns : Went against everything you said / Summer of drinking in Trafalgar Square / Then you threaten to send me to / Boarding school for the seventh time / I know we can’t afford that / So, I’m fine

‘Love Me 4 Me’ and ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’ are two retro pop songs with r&b influences - both about love, but different kinds. ‘Love Me 4 Me,’ a song about self-love with a glittery guitar solo has Sawayama asking : If you can’t love yourself / Then how you gonna love somebody else? / ‘Tokyo Love Hotel,’ finds us again in a Tokyo setting, as Sawayama compares wanting / Your love all to myself / to the love hotels commonly found in tourist destinations like Shinjuku Golden Gai.

Sawayama shares with us another personal story and life lesson in the melancholic track ‘Bad Friend.’ The song has subtle instrumentals and utilizes autotune for a chillingly honest chorus where Rina admits her faults as a friend : Been avoiding everything / Cause I’m a bad friend / before the song builds to a climax with its choir bridge and an abruptly lonely finish.

Rina Sawayama ‘Bad Friend’ Music Video:

The album finishes off with ‘Snakeskin,’ a fast-paced techno-pop inspired track that finds Sawayama confronting and accepting the album themes, including her need to pour her stories and lessons into upbeat pop songs. 

Although Sawayama compares her artistry to a snakeskin in the final track, it may be more realistic to compare her artistry to that of a chameleon. No matter what type of music she comes out with, it’s likely to be distinctly Sawayama - each sound and theme different from the last or next. It’s not common for artists to take us on such robust journeys under 45 minutes, but Sawayama succeeds - throughout the album, we’ve been lonely in an Akasaka hotel room (‘Akasaka Sad’), gone on a self-confidence tour from Paris to Shibuya (‘Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys)’), spent time running around Trafalgar Square (‘Paradisin’’) along with many more destinations and topics. Her music bends genres and expectations in a way that makes it suitable for anyone to listen to whether you’re already a huge pop fan or typically can’t be bothered with it. Her ability to come out with a plethora of different genre tracks that is actually coherent isn’t the only thing that makes Sawayama so special, but it’s also her willingness to share personal anecdotes from her life that makes us feel as if we really are sharing something special with a friend (who also happens to be a popstar).

Emily Savidge
@EmilySavidge (twt)

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