Rina Sawayama, "SAWAYAMA" Review

Rina Sawayama is the Y2K superstar that never was but should’ve been. Reimagining the soundscape of the early 2000s, the pop-star rewrites history of the glory days of pop culture and pop music. Nowadays the millennium mood board is plastered with references to the past, and it seems like now more than ever nostalgia is the core inspiration for new age stars. But unlike playing it safe, Rina Sawayama doesn’t just focus on a central theme of a certain era of the past, instead she blends various sounds that defined the charts in the 2000s. SAWAYAMA, the full length debut album by Rina Sawayama is a mixture of genres that don’t compete with one another but rather help to create an unusual soundscape that has a little bit of something for everyone.

Flashbacks to time square, Rina Sawayama stands tall in MTV headquarters as she waves down to the abundance of fans that awaits outside the building as she’s the guest star on TRL. Rina is your not-so-ordinary popstar that doesn’t have to compete with the likes of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears as she studies the elements of who could’ve been her peers, to help formulate a way to stand out from the crowd. Cutting edge with a hardcore persona, Rina begins her nostalgic driven tales to a time when rock music had an actual presence on mainstream music. With an abundance of attitude, Sawayama shatters the glass with opener Dynasty, as she revisits the unfortunate reality of how toxic family trauma can be. The songstress is angered and filled with rage as it then transitions into the brilliant XS, as she’s at war with capitalism and shifts the perspective as she chooses to exploit the system in her own ways. Lead single STFU embodies the punk-rock rage with a hint of classic feel good bubblegum pop.

The 2000s was so wild that the most unexpected crossovers were the highlight of the times. During the era fans witnessed The Neptunes help to launch Britney Spears good girl gone bad transition with I’m A Slave 4 U, while Snoop Dogg appeared as the love interest in Spears’ music video for Outrageous. Meanwhile Eminem enlisted Elton John for a duet at the 2001 Grammys, and even Jay Z and Linkin Park released a collaborative joint project. The beauty of it all was the fact there were no limits to the possibilities of when mainstream artists didn’t play it safe, and Rina Sawayama takes such risks herself. Rina weaves in overwhelming commentary with bright lifelike textures that is mental, vulnerable, but also campy and confident. Bouncing off of the energy of Timbaland reminiscent hits, and Destiny's Child sounding melodies, Rina fuses a girl next door personality with a street-smart awareness.

Sonically influenced by a range of artists such as Evanescence and Korn to Christina Aguilera and P!NK, to production from Max Martin and The Neptunes, SAWAYAMA isn’t just a love letter to the 2000s but a forward think piece of redefining the charts to making space for an Asian pop star. Rina Sawayama shifts the focus of bubblegum pop as she tackles the darkest moments that were never told. From the tiring battle with mental health to desperately fighting for representation, Rina plays mind-tricks with pop music fans as she gives a big f**k you to all expectation of what it should be, and instead proves exactly what pop music should’ve been all along.

Leave a comment