SAWAYAMA: A renaissance in modern music

Image Courtesy of Hypebeast

By Sergio Niblett-Morales

Following the release of her debut EP ‘RINA’ in 2017, Rina Sawayama’s first full-length album ‘SAWAYAMA’, released in April, cements her place as a pioneer in revolutionising modern music.

The cover perfectly encapsulates the concept of the album, taking influences from the past but blending them with futuristic sounds. This theme of blending is prevalent in the album as a whole with the different genres, such as the heavy metal in ‘STFU!’ to the New jack swing in ‘Love me 4 me’ that Rina experiments with. On an initial listen of this album, this fusion of genres can seem quite jarring but her lyrical content binds the songs into one very cohesive whole.

Furthering this idea of blending, Rina explores her own identity as a Japanese-born British woman and how this has impacted her life. The opening track ‘Dynasty’ details the familial issues that have been passed down, with Rina proclaiming ‘I’m a dynasty/The pain in my vein is hereditary’ in the chorus. This track is the first indication of the sonic path that the album takes, mixing in rock elements with a guitar being used for the majority of the song. Rina’s vocal agility also shines on the bridge, with a guitar solo backed by her vocals.

Whilst exploring her own identity, Rina also provides social commentaries on many of the tracks such as a critique of capitalism within ‘XS’, a fun pop song with short bursts of guitar solos throughout, sexist ideologies within ‘Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)’, a soft club-dance infused track, and micro-aggressions within ‘STFU!’, a heavy metal song that may require a few listens to be appreciated. The strongest commentary however, can be found on ‘Fuck This World (Interlude)’, a futuristic and relatively slow-paced track (until the stunning transition with a pipe-like instrument into the outro almost two minutes in) that details Rina’s hope to escape the current world we are living in, stating ‘Fuck this world, it’s dying/’Cause you people keep on lying’ in the second verse.

‘Akasaka Sad’, a track that details Rina’s feeling of displacement in Japan, is one of the more production-heavy tracks that can sometimes background her lyrical content. That being said, the production, whilst sounding messy at some points, portrays the displaced feeling of being in Japan for Rina as she has been raised for the majority of her life in the UK perfectly. Along with ‘STFU!’, this track requires a couple of listens, but is still a strong song.

‘Bad Friend’, a song detailing how Rina has lost friendships placed over a futuristic pop sound, is another strong introspective track. Rina details an incident in a karaoke club where her and her friends are kicked out of it. This parallels nicely with another of the stronger tracks on the album, ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’. This glittery and upbeat song production-wise analyses the fetishising of Japanese culture, using the metaphor of tourists treating Japan like a ‘Love Hotel’ where people go to have casual sex. Rina emphasises this is in the chorus, proclaiming that ‘I don’t wanna check into the Tokyo Love Hotel/I just want your love all to myself’. As stated on Genius by Rina herself, ’if we think back to Bad Friend I too was that Western tourist’, creating a thread between both of the songs.

Another of the heavy metal sounding tracks on the album, ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’, like ‘STFU!’, requires a few listens to get accustomed to if rock is not your favourite genre. Rina’s vocal ability also shines on this song, reminiscent of Christina Aguilera on the bridge. The live-sounding audience incorporated into the track, also cast the listener into the atmosphere of a rock concert, a great plus to the song that helps it stand out against the rest of the album.

One of the tracks that has not been replayed as much as the rest of the album is ‘Paradisin’, a nostalgia fuelled song about Rina’s adolescence with an arcade sounding production throughout. The song is fun but sounds relatively juvenile when compared to the other songs, but this is most likely what Rina was aiming for with the lyrical content. The saxophone on the bridge is a welcome addition to the song.

‘Chosen Family’ is the track that most closely resembles a ballad on the album, with Rina talking about friends that she considers so close that they are her family which many believe reflects her place in the LGBTQ+ community as a pansexual woman. This song is a refreshing change of pace from the many fast paced songs from the rest of the album, though there are a few rock flourishes embedded within on the bridge with another guitar solo.

The album closer ‘Snakeskin’ ends on a similar note to how the album begins, with Rina confessing that she is shedding her snakeskin to accept her own familial history. The song samples Beethoven and Final Fantasy, an unlikely combination that works very well for the closing track, neatly tying the introspective journey that the album takes its listeners on.

Overall, ‘SAWAYAMA’ is a very strong debut album, blending many different genres in a cohesive and organic way. The production is of great quality and Rina’s vocals do not disappoint in any of the tracks. If it doesn’t grab you on the first listen, replay the album a few times, it is a special one.

My top tracks:

1. Fuck This World (Interlude)

2. XS

3. Tokyo Love Hotel

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