Album review: Rina Sawayama – Hold the Girl
Violet Berney reviews Rina Sawayama’s second album, Hold the Girl.
In Rina Sawayama’s sophomore album, childhood experiences are reframed through a lens of maturity; she considers her experiences with a newfound understanding – and anger – whilst cultivating a protective attitude towards her younger self. The title track – ‘Hold The Girl’ – demonstrates the desire to provide consolation for someone who is both gone and still exists within her. This album branches out stylistically, reviving her 2000s pop sound with tracks such as ‘This Hell‘, but also exploring orchestral elements and even incorporating rave.
Opening on an acoustic song with what Sawayama has referred to as a “triple entendre” title – ‘Minor Feelings’ – she refers both to the feelings of childhood and the way those feelings are disregarded, as well as the minor key. This theme of dismissal and mistreatment in childhood pervades the album as a whole. Here, she is “dreaming of the day [she’s] tall enough to save [her]self”; in this album, that day has come, with her ability to defend herself and the right she has to her own emotions – something she unapologetically explores lyrically, refusing to suppress so-called “minor feelings” any longer.
The album’s namesake track – ‘Hold The Girl’ – expresses the conflicting nature of feelings surrounding one’s past self. She feels a sense of “guilt / For the promises [she’s] broken to [her] younger self”, and yet expresses a desire to “leave behind that old me”. The acknowledgement of faltering in the pursuit of accepting who she used to be signifies a newfound unapologetic approach to her own contradictory humanity. She concludes that, with herself and her younger self being one and the same, she “owe[s] her the world”. In ‘Phantom’ – the penultimate track on the album – Sawayama reiterates these sentiments, and acknowledges how important her younger self remains to be, with the line “I don’t wanna do this without you.” This indicates a level of intertemporal symbiosis between her and her younger self – she does not only seek to comfort, but also to be comforted.
The acknowledgement of faltering in the pursuit of accepting who she used to be signifies a newfound unapologetic approach to her own contradictory humanity.
This wider theme of childhood and the experiences therein narrows with ‘Holy (Til You Let Me Go)‘, in which the church bells and religious imagery bring Sawayama’s days at an all-girls’ Catholic school to the centre stage. These elements are juxtaposed with the influence of rave music – something that in itself seems rebellious and also represents adult freedom. She counters the declaration of her “evil” by the institution with her protestations of innocence, taking on the role of a protective adult over her younger self. ‘Frankenstein‘ also refers to this desire not “to be a monster anymore”, while ‘Your Age’ appears to build on this experience, recognising her own loss of autonomy with the acknowledgement that her “decisions were not [hers]”. With repeating lines such as “not a villain, not a mistake, not in the eyes of God”, Sawayama declares an entitlement to her own existence and breaks free of the vices attributed to her as a child in the name of religion. The song overall holds the anger of someone who has realis there was no reason for the way they were mistreated. By drawing a comparison between Sawayama – now “your age” – and the “you” that she refers to, she highlights the needlessness of the mistreatment she faced.
Through the album she also works on building empathy with her mother and reconciling the differences in their perspectives – tracks such as ‘Send My Love to John‘ and ‘Catch Me in the Air‘ take on a mother’s point of view, mirroring and sometimes referring to her own mother’s perspective in relation to her childhood. Contrary to her feelings towards the institution that mistreated her without reason, this particular relationship formed in childhood is one she wants to heal – she believes they can “save each other in every way”, a far cry from her unwavering condemnation of the school.
The album comes to its conclusion with ‘To Be Alive’, an expression of liberation and euphoria; in spite of all the pain woven through the previous tracks, Sawayama ends the album with a celebration of the life she has come to have, finally belonging entirely to herself.
Overall, this album takes on a thematic consistency and permits the listener to an insight into Sawayama’s childhood and the retrospective thoughts and emotions she has encountered on her way through adulthood. She challenges what she was told, comforts her childhood self, allows herself to feel anger, and finds a way to move on.