Album Review: Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
Tilly Attrill reviews Rina Sawayama’s debut album.
On her debut album, Rina Sawayama doesn’t let genre restrain her sound, with influences coming from everywhere, like pop, nu-metal and R&B. With each listen you get the sense of an artist simultaneously drawing us back into nostalgia, whilst inviting us to her perfectly curated world of unapologetic pop music. Each track exudes the confidence of someone who knows they’ve released a critically acclaimed album and with each listen, this fact is solidified.
Each track exudes the confidence of someone who knows they’ve released a critically acclaimed album and which each listen, this fact is solidified.
The opener, ‘Dynasty’ sets up the themes of the album: family, identity and rebellion. With the album being named after Sawayama’s last name, it’s not surprising that the record centres around the theme of family and ‘intergenerational pain’. Speaking to MTV she explains that the process of making the album led her to get closer to and ‘find forgiveness’ with members of her family that she had previously had a difficult relationship with. In the final track, Sawayama announces that she is shedding her snakeskin – the perfect way to end an album where each track feels like a build to change and growth. The concept of family is also approached on the fourth track, ‘Chosen Family’, an ode to her extended LGBTQ+ family, with whom although blood isn’t shared, experiences are: ‘We don’t need to be related to relate.’ This track is much calmer and slower than others on the album, as it highlights different families that Rina and her fans are a part of, emphasising the importance of acceptance within the LGBTQ+ community.
The first single was released in 2019, before the album was formally announced. ‘STFU’ took a turn from the previously heavy pop influence of her first mini album, RINA, which was released in 2017. This nu-metal-influenced track and accompanying music video make reference to the micro-aggressions Sawayama experiences as a Japanese-British woman living in London. In the music video, Rina listens to her first date tell her just how good Wagamama is at making supposedly authentic Japanese food and acting surprised when he learns she sings in English. She asks; ‘Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? ‘Cuz I have many times!’ and uses her laughter and screaming as an experimental melody throughout the track.
This album is clearly highly personal, but it is also political. ‘XS’ provides a dance-able critique of mass consumption and capitalism, with the perfect music video to match, while ‘Fuck This World (Interlude)’ critiques governmental incompetence and reluctance surrounding climate change. On this track, Rina says what I think we’re all thinking when it comes to the climate crisis: ‘This is a mission impossible […] But least we’re trying’. This mix of personal and political works perfectly to create an album that can be both listened to in one sitting, telling a story of Rina’s teenage years, while also being the perfect album to dip in and out of throughout the summer. The constant shifts between genres being held together by Sawayama’s strong vocal performance mark this album as a strong debut, consolidating the fact that Rina is not only one to watch, but one to recognise as a bold force in music at the moment.