SAWAYAMA, the debut album by Rina Sawayama, a project which we have all been waiting for since her EP Rina was released back in 2017, since then she has been keeping us fed with incredible pop singles such as Cherry, but when SAWAYAMA came along she changed the game. SAWAYAMA sees Rina carry on pushing political and social messages through her music, but some times they could almost be missed by almost too clever lyricism and blurred production.
The album opens with Dynasty, lyrically the song speaks of Rina’s family, a topic which she has often brought up in her music and public opinion. She speaks so openly of her family matters there’s nothing you can do but respect her for it, albeit the lyrical content sometimes lacking, sometimes it can become a bit word vomit and the soul of the song can be lost- overall it’s a decent opening to the album and it really allows us to see just how open and raw Rina can be with her music. Bonus points for the gorgeous melody at during the intro which sadly did not appear throughout.
STFU! sees Rina tackle the microaggressions she faces in… the most delicious way possible. The stand out line(s) being “Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? ‘Cause I have, many times, many times” simply because of the cutesy, almost patronising delivery. If you’re gonna be patronised, Rina says do it back. The song is dripping with attitude, opening with a massive guitar-rock sound and then flying into pop laden production, the bounce back between the two, especially in the chorus adds to Rina’s sound. That delicate balance of having massive attitude coupled with heavy rock/metal production and then going into a cutesy, pop sound is something she excels at, it’s shown prior to STFU! on XS. A song that lyrically pokes fun at the capitalist society we live in and how consumerism has completely overtaken us and how blind we are at the imminent downfall of our society and planet. However, the production is so strong and fierce, that sometimes you may find yourself completely skipping the message in favour of the song’s production. The heavy guitars snapping your attention and then going into a sexy hand clapping / pop guitar driven verse, it’s almost like you have to force yourself to pay attention to the lyrics because you’re so caught up in the sublime production.
Comme des Garçons again opens with such a strong commanding beat, this time it’s a funk induced baseline which is present throughout the entire song. Lyrically the song speaks about taking the elements of what makes men act so confident and applying it to herself and how women should be able to feel just as confident as men do. It’s boastful, and incredibly well done.
Akasaka Sad is a bit monotonous in sound and production, especially during the chorus- however the actual meaning of the song is actually quite sad. Rina sings about how she feels distant and lonely when in Japan, her native country, and again she brings up the topic of her family- this time it’s wondering if her parents felt the same way when they came to London. The song is a lot more lyrically transparent and you really get a feel for her sadness and longing to belong, but is torn between several places, she has such discomfort and it’s raw. It’s just a shame it can be a bit drone-y at times.
Paradisin again takes us back to a point in Rina’s life, this time her childhood. It’s a stand out on the album. It’s production is fun, fresh and poppy but has elements of techno music that is crafted to sound like an arcade and retro video games. Up to now the album has been quite sad, it seems Rina has had a lot to fight against and overcome in her life so it’s refreshing to hear such a playful and pop song after all the upset and angst she has put into the album.
Love Me 4 Me is a tricky song. Whilst its 90s R&B production is incredibly fresh sounding and fun, I cannot stand the line “If you can’t love yourself, how are you gonna love somebody else?” but it’s only said once, so I can forgive her. It’s a very relatable song about finding self love and that despite what’s thrown at her by other people, her own word and opinion of herself should be what is most important. Bad Friend is a sombre song that really paints a picture and again, is probably another stand out on the album, she trades in nu-metal and heavy rock guitars for lowkey instrumentals and choosing to flex her emotional range, also the song would not sound out of place on a Carly Rae Jepsen project, who actually gets a shout out in the song! She reminisces about a friendship where it was the happiest of her life, but then cutting back to the present she talks of herself as a bad friend because she hasn’t been around- but given her career maybe she shouldn’t be so hard on herself. I hope that on her next album that we get a sequel to this song where she’s forgiven herself.
Fuck this World (Interlude) has an important message and again finds Rina pointing out the flaws in our society and how we’ve treat our world, if we keep going like this we won’t have long left. She longs to leave this world or we change our attitude. Whilst I adore the melody and her gorgeous “girly” upper chest voice, I wish the production on some parts wasn’t as blurred, a song with such a strong message and a lot of emotion was sort of swept under the rug in favour of blurred production.
Who’s Gonna Save U Now? sees Rina bring the attitude again, and she’s living her best life. “Rina! Rina! Rina!” is chanted at the start and the entire song is essentially performed to an arena of 20,000 people. She’s the rock star we all want and need and one day she will absolutely reach that goal. Whilst the song is primarily a pop-rock song with a metal influence, pop overtakes a lot of the time with her delivery. Also, we’ve known for a long time that Rina can sing but… she can sing! The climax gives us a strong belt with a few strong runs, she also keeps up over a heavy production chorus and really puts everything into this. A song filled with so much angst is also incredibly fun.
Tokyo Love Hotel is yet another song… about Tokyo. (Her words, not mine) It’s strange how she feels the need to call it out and check herself, as its more interesting to hear a song about fetishization and appropriation of a singers culture as opposed to the same old topics. It’s also a very interesting topic for a pop song, she asks people to check their fascination with other cultures that aren’t theirs, remember to appreciate a culture and not appropriate, it’s incredibly refreshing to hear, especially as Asian culture is often appropriated without much backlash and sometimes takes a backseat. However the meaning can come across muddy, but once it clicks, it’s brilliantly done.
Chosen Family is an ode the Queer community. She sings about how Queer people do not need to stick with their birth families, as they can be homophobic and toxic. Queer people get to choose their families and Rina makes the sentiment into a gorgeous, sombre moment. Her voice drips in emotion as she sings about the people around her who aren’t her blood family, but they’re her family all the same. Genes, DNA, and blood do not mean anything. It’s a cheesy moment for sure, but cheesy doesn’t mean bad. It’s a beautiful and vulnerable moment which means a lot to Queer people. And again, she can SING. Snakeskin closes the album, she has shed her entire album to us, the emotions, the love, the vulnerability, the throwbacks- all of it. And it’s ours to enjoy. The chorus is heart racing, it almost feels as if its building to something… and it leads to the Final Fantasy victory battle theme of all things, which is entirely brilliant and such an unexpected ode to her own Japanese culture. Whilst she’s happy she’s given us the album, it does sound as if she’s a bit regretful of what she’s given us, which she shouldn’t be.
SAWAYAMA is a strong debut, a very strong debut. She allows to see her vulnerability in its rawest form. At times it feels like Evanescence meets Carly Rae Jepsen, and at other times, it feels just completely fresh. She does cover a lot of topics, although it’s to be said that women go through so much scrutiny in society, add on being Queer and a Woman of Colour and you end up with a lot of songs that cover social justice and the current state of the world. Sometimes I hoped she would just give us a bit more fun, like she covered in Paradisin. It feels almost unfair that so much should fall on her shoulders. However that being said, the social justice doesn’t dampen the album at all, it shows passion and how incredibly smart she is to weave all of these issues together into stunning pop music.
Stand Out Tracks: Who’s Gonna Save U Now?, Bad Friend, XS, Love Me 4 Me