One of my favorite new trends that has been prevalent in the music world over the last couple of years is the tendency for pop music to incorporate late 90s Alternative Rock and R&B sounds as well as the glitchy and futuristic Y2K Pop era sounds. Quite a few of today’s best and most innovative Pop artists, such as Charli XCX, Grimes, and Dua Lipa have embraced the Y2K era sound and made it more futuristic to create some of the coolest pop music that has come out in a while. One artist that has embraced all of these sounds in the biggest way over the last couple of years is Rina Sawayama. Ever since I heard her debut EP, Rina, a couple of years ago, I knew she was special. She makes music that sounds so perfectly futuristic and retro at the same time, and she has one of an incredibly strong singing voice that sounds so much like some of the best R&B singers from the late 90s and early 2000s. Rina’s debut album, Sawayama, has easily been one of my most anticipated albums to come out this year. All of her output that I have heard so far has been so great, and I’ve been really excited to see what she can do on a full-length record. She has this ability to incorporate so many sounds and styles of music into her own unique sound and is one of the most complete yet most innovative artists making Pop music today. With all of that being said, here’s how I feel about Rina Sawayama’s debut record, Sawayama. Let me know how you feel about this record in the comments down below, as well as what your favorite songs from the record are!
Sawayama gets off to a very grand and bold start in a way that only Rina is able to do with the opening track, which is called ‘Dynasty.’ This very big and exciting track starts out as a sort of slow, acoustic R&B track with bells in the background that kind of give the track an ominous feel. I like the fact that the beginning of the album is low key in this nature, because it makes you focus on how great of a singer Rina is. ‘Dynasty’ is not low key for long, though; about a minute into the song, it turns into a sort of 90s Grunge/Alt-Metal Pop track that I have to say is just awesome. It reminds me of a lot of bands like Evanescence or tAtU. This late 90s Alt-Metal sound is a big staple and theme of this album, which is one of my favorite elements of the record because I love that sound and have always wanted it to come back. The second track, ‘XS,’ is like a perfect combination on late 90s and early 2000s R&B and the Alternative Metal music that was popular at this time as well. Most of this song that will remind the listener a lot of artists like Jewel or Christina Aguilera; Rina never does anything that is completely typical or normal, though, as there are some Alt-Metal riffs randomly thrown into the instrumental around the chorus. ‘XS’ is about how vain anyone can be when they get a taste of the good life. Now that Rina can start to get and afford fancy things, she wants it all, even if she knows she does not necessarily “need” it. The extremely catchy chorus from ‘XS’ explains this sentiment perfectly: Gimme just a little bit more. A little bit of excess, Oh me! Oh my! I don’t wanna hear “Oh, no!” Only want a “Yes. Yes!!” Oh me! Oh my… ‘STFU’ is the first single that was released in anticipation of Sawayama; none of her fans necessarily knew what direction this record was going to go in(because her output to this point has been so diverse), and the intense Alternative-Metal nature of ‘STFU’ was the first hint of any sort of sonic theme for this record. On ‘STFU,’ Rina is obviously getting rid of some pent up anger that has been bothering her for a while. Specifically, this song is about when people incorrectly appropriate someone of color’s culture on a date or during a social event. Lots of people will start talking about someone’s culture to try to impress them without actually knowing that person yet, which is just very rude and should not be done. Of course, in true Rina fashion, the song is not fully Alternative Metal, as the post-chorus bit is actually really sweet acoustic guitar Pop. Following this track, we get ‘Commes Des Garcons(Like the Boys),’ which was also released as a single and has quickly become a fan favorite. This track has a very fun instrumental that is sort of a combination of glitzy Y2K era Pop music and early 2000s House music. This song actually reminds me a lot of early Swedish House Mafia music, and the atmosphere of this one creates such party feeling. ‘Commes Des Garcons(Like The Boys)’ sounds like the theme song to any super cool and exclusive underground fashion show, and it will make any listener just want to dance and strut their stuff.
Sucks to be me. Sucks to be so lonely. Egyptian sheets, unravelling slowly. Don’t look at me. Fragile, I bruise easily. You make me Akasaka sad...
‘Akasaka Sad’ definitely breaks up the “dance party” vibe that the last song has; this song has a lot more of a dark and sinister vibe to it. Besides for the futuristic and glitchy production during the bridge of this track, ‘Akasaka Sad’ literally sounds like it could have come out in 2002. This song is so directly inspired by the R&B music from that time; I love all of the weird sound effects(clicks, bells, etc.) that help make up the melody that was so popular in the early 2000s. ‘Akasaka Sad’ is a song where Rina is expressing how she does not really feel at home in Japan or in England because she is kind of from both places at the same time. She is fully Japanese and spent a lot of her childhood in Japan, but has never felt very connected to that culture up to this point. She also does not feel like a true Londoner, because she obviously does not look like other true Londoners and just does not feel like she fits in. The next song, ‘Paradisin’,’ totally switches up the vibe again, bringing it back to an early 2000s EDM type of feeling. This song sort of reminds me a lot of early 2000s Euro-Pop, which is such an underrated genre that I really love. Lyrically, this one is a true story about how Rina used to sneak out all of the time when she was a teenager, partying it up like she was in paradise. Her mom would always try to find out where she was and when she would come home late she would threaten to send Rina to boarding school, but Rina would still go out and party because she knew they could not afford boarding school. ‘Love Me 4 Me’ is another song that combines multiple genres in a super unique and cool way. This track has elements of early 2000s R&B, Nu-Metal, and Y2K Pop all mashed together in a way that is unlike anything else I have really even heard. This is a track where Rina is trying to love herself in order to accept love from someone else; it is so cool and self-empowering. ‘Bad Friend’ is a very warm Pop track that has that sounds like it would lyrically be very sweet and loving, but does not actually have that lyrical sentiment at all. I like how the sound of the instrumental does really match up with how sad the lyrics are because it is just a cool and interesting contrast. ‘Bad Friend’ is a song about Rina growing apart from someone she was close to growing up. It is about seeing online that someone is doing well and realizing that they did nothing to help this person when they were previously in a very low state. The next track, ‘Fuck This World(Interlude),’ brings us back into that early 2000s sassy and dark R&B sound that has been prevalent on this record. It has a lot more of an otherworldly and ethereal feeling than most of the music on this record up to this point; it is sort of like a cyber-punk version of early 2000s R&B. It is one of the less experimental songs on the record and truly does work as an interlude because it is sort of a buffer from the intensity that all of the other songs on this album have.
So, you burned the bridges and drained the river. I can’t forgive you like I did before. Who’s gonna save you now… ‘Who’s Gonna Save You Now’ is a very bold and brash song where Rina is calling out her haters. This song is about how Rina was bullied growing up and was not treated right for having the big dreams that she had. Now that she is singing in music venues all over the world and so many people love her art, she is calling out all of those people who made fun of her who are still stuck in the same place they grew up unhappy with who they are. I think that very big and audacious Arena Rock sound of this song adds to the meaning of the song because it is as bold and in your face as the lyrics are. ‘Who’s Gonna Save You Now’ is such a cool Rock song, and is one that I would really love to see performed live. ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’ has a sound that is almost opposite to the sound of the one that precedes it; this song has a very glitzy and glamorous Disco-Pop sound that is very sweet and cute. I really love the keyboard riff of this song. It sort sounds like a Y2K era version of a Disco song that you would have heard at a club in the early 1980s. Of course, this song has to have some random genre-bending element to it because it is Rina; the bridge of this song has a chunk Nu-Metal style guitar riff come in that still follows the melody of the song and does not break up the warm and sweet feeling that it has. ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’ is just such a cool song that is unlike anything else you will hear today, and it is another major highlight of this record. After ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’ we get another song that was a very popular single, ‘Chosen Family.’ This track has a glitzy and sweet 2000s Pop sound that is a lot more low key than pretty much all of the rest of the record. It actually has a very cool Pop Rock sound integrated into it as well; it is sort of a mash-up of 2000s acoustic Pop-Rock and 80s Arena Pop-Rock. ‘Chosen Family’ is about how Rina has found a lot of solace with her close friendships she has gained from being in the LGBTQ+ community. As I wrote about earlier, she has never really felt like she fits in, and she has been shown love by this community because it is full of people who have never been accepted and feel like they do not fit in. The final song, ‘Snakeskin,’ probably has the most sinister and dark feeling of any song on the record, even more so than ‘STFU!’ This song is basically about the downfalls of being addicted to the fancy things and the life of fame and fortune and comparing them to a shitty person trying to snake their way into your life. The term “Snakeskin” is literally a metaphor for the material used in couture handbags. Sonically, it kind of reminds me of the EDM-tinted Pop that Britney Spears was making around 2010. I really love the Dubstep-style drop that comes in after the chorus. ‘Snakeskin’ is a very big and bold EDM-Pop track that is pretty dark lyrically and sonically, and in my opinion, it is yet again another highlight from this record.
Rina Sawayama’s Sawayama was easily one of my most anticipated records of 2020, and I have to say that she knocked it out of the park. She has always been known for taking retro sounds and making them sound modern, and this record is such a great example of her skills at doing that. Sawayama takes elements from all of the best types of music from the early 2000s, such as Y2K Pop, R&B, EDM, House, Nu-Metal, Acoustic Pop, and Rock and mashes them up in ways that is unlike anything being made today. It is amazing that she can incorporate so many cool sounds into the same album and make it sound natural, all while telling intimate stories about her life through the lyricism. Sawayama will definitely go down as one of the best albums of 2020 in my opinion, and it is one of the most unique yet most complete records I have heard in a while.