Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA

SAWAYAMA is an avant-garde celebration of noughties iconography, from shiny R'n'B to emo-pop

Album Review by Andrew Wright | 13 Apr 2020
  • Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA
Album title: SAWAYAMA
Artist: Rina Sawayama
Label: Dirty Hit
Release date: 17 Apr

Whilst MySpace may have descended from public consciousness, Rina Sawayama regenerates the sounds that once filled its servers on her 13-track debut record. But, despite looking through Anastacia-style skinny shades, pop’s new superstar has her eyes peeled firmly on the future.

‘I’m gonna take the throne this time’ declares Sawayama on opening track Dynasty, a grunge-meets-Disney fantasy show theme-song. The high drama, industrial electric guitars are reminiscent of t.A.T.u’s 2002 hit All the Things She Said, but the amoral pseudo-lesbian duo’s influence thankfully stops at the soundscape.

Album highlight XS follows, with Sawayama mocking plush, planet-killing ‘Cartiers and Tesla X’s / Calabasas’ lifestyles. The part-time sheeny pink R'n'B bop, with the sugar content of a bowl of Angel Delight, is full of sarcasm and satire. Slick guitar flicks and broken chords represent the ease of opulent, capitalist lifestyles. But the intermittent explosions of merciless metal guitars linger just like the indisputable gloom of the impending climate crisis.

Tokyo Love Hotel marks the most overt reference to Sawyama’s Japanese heritage. With lyrics rejecting the whirlwind neon lights of the capital and its no-tell love motels, she’s crying out to a lover to forgo the chaos of casual relationships, as she calls instead for commitment. Things wane slightly on Chosen Family, a pop ballad veers into banal, boyband-style territory. Album closer Snakeskin, however, is a camp celebration of the record's cartwheeling transitions between genres. Operatic vocals lead dip into a dystopian dubstep break, making for a closing track that wouldn’t be out of place at Eurovision.

Don’t be fooled by SAWAYAMA's plastic pop motifs and outlandish juxtapositions. This is a carefully crafted, complex pop record that benefits from the production contributions of industry heavyweights like Nicole Morier (Britney), but undeniably it’s the new-fangled delivery and star appeal of Rina Sawayama that gives this album its sparkling essence.  

Listen to: XS, Dynasty, Snakeskin