Extravagant, confident and empowering. Rina Sawayama’s take on 2000’s era pop brims with personality to deliver one of the most compelling albums in recent years.
Today’s streaming era dictates pop songs be short and catchy to see success in the charts. Yet for every ‘Dance Monkey’ and ‘Old Town Road’, we have albums such as Lorde’s Melodrama or Charli XCX’s Charli which maintain staying power years beyond their initial release. These are artists who strive beyond infectious hooks and melodies to deliver their own nuanced takes on familiar subject matter, or redefine what the genre can offer sonically.
Joining this hall of fame is now Rina Sawayama’s debut self-titled album Sawayama. Not only is it instantly addictive and memorable through the Japanese British singer’s strong charisma and fascinating sound choices, it also stands to maintain its longevity by painting a deeply personal collection of struggles regarding family, identity, racism, capitalist culture and self-acceptance.
The album begins with ‘Dynasty’, sure to be an amazing concert opener through its extravagant arrangement of luxurious strings, bells and head-banging guitar riffs. Yet for all the song's grandeur, it sets the emotional tone for Rina’s anguished vocals regarding her broken familial relationships (“Fighting about money and this infidelity”) . It’s really hard not to feel some emotional response as she elegantly describes familial conflict as an aspect of her identity she has inherited no less than her parent’s genes (“I’m a dynasty / The pain in my vein is hereditary”). Overall, it’s incredibly evocative, especially towards the conclusion when Rina harmonises over a distorted guitar solo like some form of liberating cry.
Following 'Dynasty', is one of the most catchy and infectious songs on the album ‘XS’, as Rina transitions to tackling the addictive nature of capitalism. A repetitive and catchy chorus (“a little bit more”) sees Rina mocking our enslavement to the pursuit of material gain, while frantic acoustic guitar strums mixed with burst of chaotic guitar stabs invoke a sense of anxiety as somewhat of a warning against such overindulgence. This is made all the more clear in the music video featuring Rina as a slave to some big conglomerate, exploited for consumption. Yet how she manages to make this all sound like such a bop is beyond me.