Rina Sawayama stands her ground on ‘SAWAYAMA’


Illustration by Kathleen Hetherington.

Rina Sawayama’s debut album, “SAWAYAMA,” pulls together nu-metal and early ‘00s R&B-pop to create a personal, fun, strong introduction to the Japanese-British artist.

Sawayama has achieved so much since her first song was released in 2013. Her 2017 eight-track EP, “RINA,” brought a lot of attention to the artist, whose music resembled Britney Spears’ early work. With lead up to her debut being hyped by standalone bops like “Cherry” and “Flicker,” Sawayama seemingly could not put out a bad song. “SAWAYAMA” stands to prove that, as each track creates this personal connection to Sawayama, whether it be through raging nu-metal or ‘80s-inspired stadium rock.

“Dynasty” is a great starter to the album and a great introduction to Sawayama’s influences and thought process. Sawayama compares her rich, absentee father’s family fortune to hereditary trauma on “Dynasty.” This mix of rock and pop has a clear nostalgia for the ‘00s, helping to touch on this personal issue in a fun and clever way.

The first three tracks of “SAWAYAMA” switch genres in strange yet effective ways. “XS” beams as an ode to the top 40 pop tracks sung by Willa Ford and DREAM. Accompanied with a video that parodies trashy infomercials, “XS” sets Sawayama apart from similar artists, as she is able to create something new out of the seemingly passé.

In yet another flawless genre transition, “STFU!” fully embraces Sawayama’s nu-metal inspiration as she demands to know why she isn’t being respected. The chorus quickly cuts to a lighter, airy pop sound with Sawayama repeatedly, almost whisperingly, asking, “[H]ave you ever thought of taping your big mouth shut? Because I have many times.” What completes “STFU!” as a powerful anthem against disrespectful men is its video, where Sawayama fights against and addresses the racist microaggressions she has faced. 

“Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” plays up another one of Sawayama’s inspirations with its glitzy, ‘80s-inspired stadium rock influence. Sawayama has said that she wanted this song to sound like something Ally would sing in “A Star is Born,” which comes across so effectively. “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” creates this powerful, strong feeling inside. While it might take influence from ‘80s stadium rock, “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” still sounds totally new. It is more like if an AI band made a stadium rock song with its futuristic undertones.

“Bad Friend” is a bop and hits a little too close to home, formatted like a Selena Gomez or Ariana Grande song in its lyricism. “Bad Friend” has Sawayama admitting that she has been a bad friend and that she knows she has not been checking in on her old, once close friend like she should be. This feeling of being so overwhelmed with life that you lose contact with those close to you is something that a lot of people can relate to and it is touched on in such a warm, fun way.

Sawayama really shines on her upbeat, dance-pop tracks like “Comme des Garçons (Like The Boys),” a bass-packed ode to the confident bops of the early aughts. Similar to the country-pop album track “Chosen Family,” “Comme des Garçons” is influenced by her queer community. Where “Chosen Family” is a slower take with Danny L. Harle production that is inspired by her chosen, queer family, “Comme des Garçons” is an intense club track that is inspired by the gay men she sees in clubs. 

“SAWAYAMA” is an incredibly strong debut for an artist who has had so much hype built up around her. Even on tracks that start off more somber like the closer, “Snakeskin,” Sawayama shows how capable she is with blending her influences into something totally new. Sawayama switches genres within seconds and every song is a roller coaster ride into a different part of her brain.