Rina Sawayama – Sawayama

There’s a lot to take in on Rina’s debut. It’s completely bonkers, but she slides into every style perfectly.
Label: Dirty Hit
Released: 17th April 2020
Rating: ★★★★★

Low rise jeans! My Chemical Romance! Fears the world will end! The 2000s are well and truly back! And no one is celebrating their return like Rina.

On her debut LP, ‘SAWAYAMA’, Rina brings allllll of the Y2K vibes with a future-forward twist. Much like on her (also self-titled) ‘RINA’ EP in 2017, it’s equal parts self-discovery and social commentary, except this time she’s dialled up the pop (and rock) star meter to 100.

Perhaps her greatest creative decision for this record was going full nu-metal on the record’s first offering ‘STFU!’, a massive ‘fuck you’ to racist microaggressions that revealed Rina as our best and most unexpected rock star.

That energy is maintained on the Britney-meets-Korn satirical capitalist anthem ‘XS’, glam rock banger with all the theatrics of ‘Black Parade’ era MCR and just one (there’s multiple!!) of the key changes on this record, ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’, and on opener ‘Dynasty’, which feels like Rina’s version of Xtina’s ‘Fighter’, and signals her true arrival as one of The Great Pop Saviours of recent memory.

While her anger is channelled into the heavier songs, there’s incredible fun on this record. Namely on the video game sounding ‘Paradisin’, a song about Rina’s mum totally killing her vibe back in the day (featuring a lyric about MSN!!! And another key change!!!! And a sax solo!!!!) and cocky club banger ‘Comme De Garçons’.

Lyrical and sonic throwbacks aside, ‘SAWAYAMA’ details Rina’s life and her own struggle to find belonging between two cultures, and an ever-changing idea of home. That includes a love letter to Toyko, and a touching one to the queer community that welcomed her (easy to see this one being a tearjerker live), as well as an electro-ballad about drifting away from a friend.

There’s a lot to take in on Rina’s debut. It’s completely bonkers, but she slides into every style perfectly. Seriously, her versatility is something a lot of the pop crop wish they had. It all culminates on the final track ‘Snakeskin’, where she signs off letting us know she’s not finished growing yet, and that when she’s finished with the early 2000s references, she’s still got more in her back pocket. Even if she’s still discovering herself, she already sounds 100% Rina, and to nail that on a debut is an incredible feat.

Abigail Firth

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