Rina Sawayama’s debut album SAWAYAMA, released on April 17, is a genre–defying feat in introspection and identity presented as art. The album—produced by Clarence Clarity—sees Rina centering her identities as a queer British–Japanese person as the focal point of the record.
A danceable, erudite blend of stadium bangers (“Who's Gonna Save You Now?"), free–wheeling bops (“Paradisin'”), and soulful ballads (“Chosen Family”), SAWAYAMA stands apart from its peers in it effortless ability to switch genres on a dime, serving all the sides of a multi–faceted, relatable, thoughtful pop diva in the making.
Take, for example, the third single and one of the many highlights from the album, “XS,” which offers a socialist critique of capitalism and consumerist culture in the form of a sexy yet self–aware Y2K–era jam, as Sawayama begs the singer to give her “just a little more.” Namedropping Teslas and Calabas homes in the process, the song takes a prescient stab at celebrities showing off their wealth and makeup brands marketing new palettes in the midst of the impending doom of climate change, while still posting “‘sad about Australia Instagram posts.’”
This consumerist critique is complicated by the album’s second single “Commes des Garcon (Like the Boys),” which relishes high fashion while it thumbs its nose at the fragility of male confidence--which is often threatened by the presence of a strong female figure, such as Sawayama herself. Following its stated intention to empower the listener to “feel like that bitch,” the song is yet another tasteful throwback to the dance tracks of the early 2000’s.
Yet perhaps the most viscerally angry of the triplet of activist songs on SAWAYAMA, frontloading the album, is the lead single “STFU!,” which—as the title blares out in blunt capital letters—silences white cis men (or people, in general, really) who think they can appropriate or relate to Sawayama’s Japanese heritage and culture for their own gain. Following in line of recent pop–metal bangers from Poppy and Grimes, “STFU!” gloriously vents pent up frustration one may feel for having been silenced on a certain topic for a significant period of time.
Although the opening track “Dynasty” and “Love Me 4 Me” lack a certain eumph that the rest of the album has, the second half is full of songs that were strong enough to be singles themselves, especially “Paradisin'” and “Who’s Gonna Save You Now?” Those latter two songs are not just notable for their quality of songwriting but for their use of parasocial sound, heightening the listener’s senses and sending sharp chills down their spine. In “Paradisin,” one hears in crystal clear high definition the sounds of a door opening, a woman’s heels on the pavement, and a car unlocking before the begins in full—the sounds are sharp enough to sound as if they are coming from outside the listener’s headphones themselves. On the other hand, the hair metal thrasher “Who’s Gonna Save You Now?” places the listener in the middle of a packed stadium as a crowd cheers in the background. One can easily imagine Sawayama bleeding into a microphone amidst pyrotechnics and thrashing guitars on stage.
The album ends with the closing couplet of “Chosen Family” and “Snakeskin.” The former eloquently portrays and advocates the distinctly LGBTQ concept of chosen family in the form of a power ballad, while the latter adds an apt summation of the fluidity and dexterity of Sawayama’s debut album, brightly shifting itself into new shapes of pop before disappearing like a firework in the sky after a sold–out concert.