Label: Dirty Hit
Released: 16th September 2022
Since her conception, Rina Sawayama has pushed pop to its limits. Her 2020 debut ‘SAWAYAMA’ saw her redefine what pop could sound like; it didn’t follow any obvious trends and instead opted for a Britney-meets-Korn-via-Kylie-versus-Queen (or something like that) sound.
In the two years that followed, she’d been lauded by Elton John as one of his favourite new artists, featured on Lady Gaga’s ‘Chromatica’ remix album and embarked on 10s-across-the-board tour that solidified her place as pop’s great new hope. So how on Earth do you follow that?
If you’re Rina, you kick off your new era with camp-as-tits queer liberation banger ‘This Hell’. But behind the bells and whistles and rhinestoned cowboy hats and “that’s hot” ad-libs, it’s got a heart akin to ‘Born This Way’. It’s not the only track to explore religion as an oppressive tool. Dark club banger ‘Holy’ looks into internalised shame and breaking free from religion, while ‘Your Age’, a snarling banjo banger that explodes into a Linkin Park-style chorus, unpacks the feeling of being ostracised.
Where ‘SAWAYAMA’ explored Rina’s relationship with her identity and her heritage, ‘Hold The Girl’ goes deeper, often picking apart her complicated relationship with her mother and trying to understand her perspective. It’s done beautifully on ‘Catch Me In The Air’, a soaring ballad that opens like ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and plays out like the early 2000s pop rock of Liz Phair and Michelle Branch. ‘Hurricanes’ seems to have the same inspiration, this time laying her insecurities and spiralling depression out bare.
When she’s discussing the relationship with herself, she’s healing her inner child on ‘Phantom’, a song that starts out like a 90s acoustic ballad but winds up being a guitar solo-laced Heart-sized 80s stadium banger, ‘Imagining’ is one for the ‘RINA’ EP stans, boasting pitched up vocals and a nu-metal chorus that explores her self esteem, and title track sees Rina cradle herself over a garage beat that also features disco strings and a country melody. No, describing Rina songs doesn’t ever feel real, but every single one of them hits.
Rina is pop’s best outcast. Where Charli has spent this year playing the mainstream at its own game, Rina proves she could rub shoulders with the big leagues unironically. She’s teased her voice’s power in the past, but on ‘Hold The Girl’, she really lets loose with true pop diva vocals featuring on nearly every track. While the fun of lead single ‘This Hell’ isn’t necessarily replicated on the other tracks, they don’t call for it. It’s almost a concept album in the consistency of its themes, and digging deeper into those familial relationships mentioned on ‘SAWAYAMA’ makes for great continuity.
‘Hold The Girl’ might actually top ‘SAWAYAMA’. An unbelievable thought at first considering Rina’s debut was practically faultless, however ‘Hold The Girl’ remains just as experimental, while being more cohesive thematically and turning the dial up to 11 on every track. Sometimes it feels like a rock opera, sometimes it feels like Gaga at her most theatrical, sometimes it’s so sincere it’ll break your heart, but the euphoria of it all will put it back together.