One of my favourite things to do is listen to music with friends. In a car, hanging out on their couch, or just working together with some songs on. There’s a communality to the act of sharing favourite songs, or listening to albums for the first time together. This is one of the things stripped away by the ongoing pandemic that has really gotten to me. I just miss listening to music with people. I miss telling a friend about a song I’ve had stuck in my head all week, and playing them a snippet through my phone speaker, careful not to have it too loud in public.
I can only imagine how incredible this experience would have been with Rina Sawayama’s debut album, Sawayama.
I first heard of Rina Sawayama when I caught wind of this EP that was being hailed as one of the best of 2018. After listening to Rina, I understood that this was someone to keep an eye on.
To try and describe Rina’s music in the conventions of genre is a fruitless venture; rather, it is easier to describe her music as an evolution. An evolution of 1990s diva pop by way of Britney Spears, early techno, hyperpop, 2000s nu-metal, and countless other inspirations. Rina and her producers, namely Clarence Clarity, simultaneously wear their influences on their sleeves, while blending these pre-existing musical ideas into something forward-thinking.
From the first swell of compressed instrumentation in the intro, Dynasty, Rina and co. announce the manifesto of Sawayama: this album is an odyssey. It’s a narrative of identity, relationships, and commercialism, and it does it through perfect music.
Sawayama effortlessly swings from genre to genre, both from one song to the next, and even within songs themselves. XS is a microcosm of the album’s identity through its structure; diva-pop critiques of commercialism and the glamour culture, separated by downward chromatic scales through a shredding guitar that breakup the production and push the energy of Rina’s performance. An unconventional production choice, but the right one.
That’s the shining centre to Sawayama’s success; at every opportunity, Rina and co. swerve at the traditional decision. The instrumental swell in Bad Friend comes in more than halfway through the track, recalling the production choice of Rina’s label-mates The 1975 on Love It If We Made It, a cover of which can be found on the Deluxe edition of Sawayama.
In the Disturbed-influenced nu-metal track STFU!, the production pulls away from this dirty, heavy mix to this softer instrumental as Rina repeats the mantra of the song’s narrative to all the asian-fetishizers: Shut the fuck up!
What makes it all work is Rina’s performance. She is an infinitely-addicting performer to listen to, who morphs like a chameleon to match whatever style she is working with, while simultaneously maintaining her musical identity. Somehow, throughout the whole album, there is not one moment of inauthenticity. Rina is singular even in multiple styles.
I could sit here and go through every track, and praise every musical idea on this album, but there are countless other music journalists and critics who have said everything I could say better than I ever could. I just want to talk about what I believe this album could mean for the future.
Though snubbed by the Recording Academy, I believe Rina put out the album of the year. Sawayama is endlessly re-listenable, never getting old but only growing in stature in my mind. It’s a perfect album, and for it to be her debut is nothing short of incredible. I truly believe that Rina Sawayama is the future of pop music. Sawayama will be one of the benchmark albums to come out of 2020, one that will influence younger artists who connect with its themes, its musical ideas, and the way it synthesizes its influences to craft a wholly-unique experience.
I cannot wait for the chance to listen to this with friends, and to hear it again with people who don’t know that they’re about to experience something special.
Favourite Tracks: XS, STFU!, Paradisin’, Tokyo Love Hotel, and every other song