One of my favorite ways to discover new artists is to randomly discover them online. This is how I have come across many of my favorite artists over the years. During my free time, I love searching Youtube and Spotify for music I haven’t heard, often clicking on lesser-known artists and seeing what they are all about. This is how I discovered Rina Sawayama. Shortly after her single ‘Cyber Stockholm Syndrome came out in 2017, I found it on Youtube and loved it. . Rina was able to take elements from the Y2K of Pop and R&B and make this kind of music sound so modern and fresh(she was doing this year’s before it got popular, as over the last couple of years Y2K Pop elements have slid into mainstream music). Shortly after this single came out, Rina Sawayama released her debut EP RINA. This project immediately hooked me in and made me a huge fan of hers; I still love RINA and listen to it frequently to this day. After honing her craft and putting in work for the next few years, Rina Sawayama released her debut record, SAWAYAMA, in 2020. This record is a masterpiece. Rina combines so many different kinds of music on this record; from 80s Hair Metal to Y2K Pop to various types of R&B and various types of Dance music, Rina Sawayama takes from so many genres to create a brilliant and one-of-a-kind Pop record. There’s nothing like it, and it was my favorite record from 2020(which is saying a lot because Charli XCX’s Charli, Lil Uzi Vert’s Eternal Atake, and Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red from that year are also great). Rina Sawayama is back again in 2022 with her new album Hold The Girl. It will be hard for this record to live up to the level of Rina’s debut, but based on how talented she is I know it will be high quality. With that being said, here is my opinion on Rina Sawayama’s Hold The Girl. Please let me know in the comments how you feel about this record, and also comment what your favorite tracks are.
Rina Sawayama starts Hold The Girl in a way I did not see coming at all. I expected some audacious and bold opener similar to what we had on RINA, and instead, she starts the record with a more low-key moment. ‘Minor Feelings’ has a 1990s-esque Contemporary Pop Rock sound. It almost has a Sarah McLachlan of Dido feeling. The melody for this song is super warm and cozy, with Rina’s rich vocal shining on this soft instrumental. On ‘Minor Feelings,’ Rina sings about how small problems can lead to major issues. Sometimes a bunch of little inconveniences can lead to major issues with anxiety and depression. Next, we get the title track and third single from this record, ‘Hold the Girl.’ This track is closer to what one would expect to hear from Rina; it has a sound that’s somewhat similar to the music that originally made her famous. ‘Hold the Girl’ has a sound that makes me think of early 2000s Pop. Specifically, I think of Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera when I hear this one. The instrumental has a quirky and all over the place melody made up of various synths and instruments, making it sound like a classic Max Martin production. Similar to the first song, Rina shows off very strong vocals on this track; as complex as the instrumental is, Rina’s vocals shine right over it. On ‘Hold the Girl,’ Rina explains how she got over some insecurities and has been building her confidence. ‘This Hell’ was the first single released from this record. It is one of my favorite singles from the first half of 2022. I love the overall sound of this song. The instrumental is so fun, and Rina’s vocal performance matches its energy so well. This song has such a fun and upbeat melody and beat. The only way I can describe the instrumental is that it’s Shania Twain meets LCD Soundsystem. The song is like 2000s Indie Electronic music meets 90s Country Pop. In my opinion, everything about this track is fun and infectious and it makes me want to dance. On ‘This Hell,’ is singing about the joy of being in love even when things seem bleak. Even though the world seems so dark overall right now, being in love can still make things look bright.
‘Catch Me In The Air’ was the second single released for this record. I’m not going to lie, as enthusiastic as I was about ‘This Hell,’ I was way less pumped up when I heard this one. Maybe I’ve become too accustomed to what I have heard Rina do in the past, but this one seems so tame for her. It has a Pop-Rock sound that reminds me of the early 2000s. It has a triumphant and glorious-sounding melody, but there is something about the song that just makes it not exciting for me. Rina’s vocals are nice, but I feel like they could have been bigger and bolder given her talent and the tone of the melody. Without more powerful vocals and considering the instrumental is so steady and simple, the track feels sort of bland. Lyrically, this song is very sweet. On ‘Catch Me In The Air,’ Rina sings about her mom and the relationship they have. Despite the many differences they have had, Rina and her mom have always been there for each other because they’re all each other had. The next track, ‘Forgiveness,’ is another song with a sound that reminds me of 2000s Pop music. Instead of leaning toward Rock, this instrumental leans more towards R&B or Soul. Sonically, it is another one that feels a bit mild. I have become accustomed to Rina’s instrumentals having a wild and complicated sound, and the last few have not been that way at all. This song does resonate with me, more. I think Rina’s vocal performance is sweet yet powerful, giving the song a level of emotion and intimacy that it needs. On ‘Forgiveness,’ Rina is singing about not avoiding issues with people and addressing them head-on. Instead of avoiding problems, she thinks you have to talk about them in order to work to forgive that person. ‘Holy(Til You Let Me Go)’ is a song that brings back the more experimental and bold side of Rina Sawayama. The way this song starts, one can tell it’s going to be epic from the way it builds up. When the song crescendos at the first chorus, it explodes into Trance and Progressive House music; it sounds like something you would hear at some warehouse rave in the late 1990s or early 2000s. There are also elements of the instrumental which have a sporadic Electro-House sound that reminds me of DJs like Feed Me or Deadmau5. Overall, this is a fun Dance song that gives me so much energy when I hear it. On ‘Holy(Til You Let Me Go),’ Rina tells the story of a traumatic relationship she had in college that has left a lasting impression on her.
‘Your Age’ is the second song in a row with an interesting and innovative sound. When the song starts, it is led by a banjo riff. Once the beat kicks in, the song takes a brash and audacious turn; the melody quickly breaks down, taking Industrial sound. It honestly reminds me a lot of bands like Nine Inch Nails or Ministry. This harsh instrumental contrasts Rina’s vocals in a cool and unique way, giving this song a very cool edge. On ‘Your Age,’ sings about the adults in her life who greatly affected her low mental health as a child. This song is a damning condemnation of those people in her life who were supposed to be role models. The next track, ‘Imagining,’ also has an exciting and fun instrumental. It returns to the early 2000s Pop sound Rina loves so much, while also including elements of 90s Techno and Industrial Dance music. This song is like if Trent Reznor from Nine Inch Nails and legendary producer Max Martin produced a song together for Britney Spears in the early 2000s. This is the kind of song that is perfect for Rina; it brings out her vocals well. On ‘Imagining,’ Rina talks about how the people around her and her own self-doubts contribute to her declining mental health. ‘Frankenstein’ is a song that emerged quickly as a fan favorite. Like the previous few songs, it pushes boundaries and sees Rina going with a sound that is not typically heard in Pop music today. In a way, this song is fairly similar to ‘Imagining.’ It also has a sound that is reminiscent of early 2000s Pop music and has major elements of 90s Industrial music. It also has a dark melody that has a bit of a foreboding quality. It is a song that makes me want to dance while having a bit of an anxious feeling. On ‘Frankenstein,’ Rina seems to be begging for help with her mental health. She wants anyone to come along and help her feel better.
‘Hurricanes’ was the final single released from this record. It takes on a sound that a lot of Pop artists have been going with these days: 80s Synth Pop. Rina’s take on this sound is a little different from some of the other Pop artists doing it, though, Whereas most artists making this kind of music have been using darker tones and Melodie’s influenced by New Wave music, this track has a bright and vibrant sound. It reminds me of something that one would hear at the end of a coming-of-age movie. The highlight of ‘Hurricanes’ is Rina’s vocals. She has so much power in her voice on the track, and she hits high notes that give the song so much extra power and life. On ‘Hurricanes,’ Rina is asking for help once again. She realizes her mental health is declining and that she can’t do it on her own. ‘Send My Love To John’ provides a total switch-up for this album and is a switch-up from what most people would expect from Rina in general. It has an Acoustic Folk-Pop sound that is very soft and low-key. It makes me think of artists like Clairo or some of Taylor Swift’s new music. It is cool and refreshing to hear Rina go in this direction, as it shows off a side to her artistry that we haven’t yet seen. The way this song stands out the most is through its lyricism. ‘Send My Love To John’ is a song written from the perspective of Rina’s friend’s immigrant mother who didn’t accept her son’s queer feelings because of her religion. She has since realized she was wrong for pushing him away because of this, and this track is an apology to him. It is very powerful and touching. Following this, we get ‘Phantom,’ which was the fourth song released as a single from this record. It is another that has become a fan favorite. Unfortunately, I personally don’t see the hype as much. Similar to a few songs early on the record, it has a retro soft Pop-Rock sound. It does have a cool climax, though, towards the end of the song, a fun and complex guitar riff kicks in. This riff gives the end of the song an 80s Hair Metal element; it reminds me of bands like Whitesnake of Night Ranger. Rina’s vocals are powerful on this track. The emotion in her voice is so palpable. On ‘Phantom,’ Rina is referring to having lost her true self as she’s gotten older. She feels as if the person she was growing up is not who she is now, and she missed that version of her. The final song of the album, ‘To Be Alive,’ closes the album out with a bang. Everything about this song has so much emphasis. This song has a Trance and House sound that is similar to a few of the songs earlier on the record. The melody of this song is so colorful and beaming, which helps the album end on a glorious high. Rina has one of her best vocal performances of the record on this track. She sings with a great amount of power on this track. Her vocals match the tone of the song super well. On ‘To Be Alive,’ Rina sings about how she is finally feeling happiness and bliss for the first time in a long time. This is a beautiful way to end the album, as it shows one can fight through the suffering and come out better on the other side.
Sometimes, when an artist has such an excellent debut, fans will go into their next record expecting way too much. It is so tough for an artist to live up to the expectations of people when they start off on such a high. Also, as artists become more popular, they receive pressure to appeal to a wider audience, which can wind up causing their experimentation to calm down. Even with that being the case, this record still has so many redeeming qualities and great songs. On Hold The Girl, Rina tones down some of the risky and bold qualities from her debut record for something that’s more widely palatable. She still has some of those moments on this record, but not as many as some people would have looked for. Hold The Girl is not as big and exciting as Rina’s first record, but it’s still a great album that proves Rina is one of the most exciting artists making pop music today.