One of my most highly-anticipated album releases of 2020 was Rina Sawayama’s debut studio album SAWAYAMA. The album is a dynamic medley of Rina’s unique vocals and strong instrumentals, all of which toe the line between pop, contemporary R&B and rock, to create a masterful blend of genres that’s sure to leave you breathless.
Rina was born in Japan and grew up in London. Her songs explore her experiences with this hyphenated identity. From racism, misogyny and her reckless youth to her relationship with her divorced parents, SAWAYAMA is an intimate outpouring of aspects very personal to Rina. Her sound is genuine and her fierce vocals slap you in the face in the best way imaginable.
Rina underwent a difficult childhood and rebellious teenage years prior to being admitted to the University of Cambridge, where she graduated with a degree in politics, sociology and psychology. After graduating from Cambridge, an institute Rina said she hated “with every cell of my body,” she worked several odd jobs before releasing her first EP in 2017.
SAWAYAMA, per Rina in an interview with Pitchfork, helped her understand and unravel the trauma of her upbringing. “Making the album so dramatic helped satirize the whole thing and make it feel a little bit lighter, in a weird way,” she said. “It’s kinda like drag, where you’re making so much light and humor out of something that is so painful.” While making this album, she flew to Japan to interview her mother and spent months researching her father, who was, and still is, largely absent from her life.
Though none of the tracks on SAWAYAMA are skippable, my personal favorite is “XS.” Rina describes it as “a song that mocks capitalism in a sinking world.” In it, she sought to “reflect the chaos of this post-truth climate change denying world in the metal guitar stabs that flare up like an underlying zit between the 2000s R&B beat that reminds you of a time when everything was alright.” To make sense of the previous sentence, you have to listen to the track, but when I first heard it, my jaw dropped.
Per Apple Music, Rina said that with “XS”, she wanted “to write something that’s really abrasive, but also pop that freaks you out.” In my opinion, this track achieved that and more.
Rina Sawayama is a name the music industry and listeners alike will not soon forget. With the release of SAWAYAMA, she has created a heartfelt and brazen musical narrative sure to captivate listeners worldwide.