Album Review Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA

Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA

A smart pop record that’s doused in self-awareness.

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For Rina Sawayama, her Japanese-British identity has always been a part of her disposition as a singer-songwriter, whether she means for it or not. The Niigata-born, London-raised musician entered pop consciousness in 2017 with debut mini-album ‘Rina’, a masterful exploration into society as viewed through the lens of social media. An acute, sharp foray into anonymity in a world that doesn’t really let you be anonymous, its success paved the way for Rina’s stellar full-length follow-up in ‘SAWAYAMA’. While ‘Rina’ asked more general questions relating to the banality of human existence, the album has the star penetrate through more personal themes of social identity, racism, a sense of belonging (and lack thereof) and the difficulties of being raised by a single parent.

With the slick pop production of contemporary Charli XCX, ‘SAWAYAMA’ is centred specifically on Rina’s own personal struggles. It’s a smart pop record that’s doused in self-awareness but still direct in its assertiveness - and never not compelling. ‘STFU!’, a track that still contains the visceral pop elements of Rina’s music, incorporates an almost nu-metal instrumental and is Rina’s direct response to racist white men and their behaviour towards Asian women. Themes of Rina’s feeling of “otherness” are hinted across the record, and standout track ‘Chosen Family’ is about the queer community she has found for herself - a place where she is allowed to be herself, with no pressures of judgment. In ‘Paradisin’, a number about the struggles of being raised by a single mother in a Western culture is disguised in a bubblegum-pop song: “First kiss in 2003, making out feeling carefree / but then his phone rings and your number’s on the screen… oh, fuck.” She raises questions about pressures of having to mould yourself into what society expects you to be in ‘Love Me 4 Me’, and calls herself out during a time in her life when she was the antagonist of a relationship in ‘Bad Friend’. It’s refreshing to see a rising pop star like Rina speak openly about her own struggles relating to still feeling so ‘other’, just when you think they couldn’t be further away from how you feel yourself.

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