Friday, June 12, 2020

Review: Sawayama • Rina Sawayama

If it were still a popular conversation point to argue over who is a Britney and who is a Christina, singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama would be neither. While she channels their sticky melodies and tight songwriting, her music is much more disruptive than it is scandalous. As she stitches together nu metal, rhythm and blues, and sharp pop into a complex, unpredictable patchwork, she forces the perspective of a queer Asian woman to the forefront of Western commercial music by sweeping its home court with her debut record, Sawayama – a long overdue development for a culture often focused on the status quo. 

Sawayama fulfills succinct missions on each track, from a Jackson-rivaling (Michael or Janet – take your pick) dance cut on “Love Me 4 Me” to a hard-edged commercial rock belter with “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” The depth and commitment to her sonic variety is a clear homage to the early aughts, when Evanescence, P!nk, and Beyoncé songs coexisted on the same radio format, and she calibrates her influences for maximum impact. The isolating actualization of being the weaker link in a friendship, for example, is amplified when the bottom drops out of “Bad Friend” to leave her vocoded vocals bare: “So don’t ask me where I’ve been. I’ve been avoiding everything. I’m a bad friend.” On “STFU!,” a wall of aggressive guitars crumbles to a soft but blunt kiss-off to all the racists she has encountered: “Why don’t you just sit down and shut the fuck up?”

Greed, consumerism, and Western culture are explored over similarly interesting backdrops. She ties inherited money with the (dis)honor and hostility that come with it on “Dynasty,” a prelude to the album on which she pleads, “Catch me before I fall.” “XS” is an exhilarating take on turn-of-the-millennium rhythm and blues with sarcastic maximalist lyrics. And “Tokyo Love Hotel” is her love letter to Tokyo – and an overt self-awareness PSA to visitors to Tokyo who treat Japanese culture as a disposal hobby. While “Chosen Family” proves to be a bit dull and “Paradisin’” is charmingly chintzy, no track goes without ambition: Each one blindsides the senses from a new direction. The record’s elasticity and potency are its hallmark – and despite its losses in consistency, Sawayama is a high-definition snapshot of nearly an hour of controlled chaos.

Sawayama is available now under Dirty Hit Records.

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