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When your debut record is considered album of the year by none other than Elton John himself, it means you’ve got a special work of art in your hands. The declaration was made in June, no less, and it put already established singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama in the spotlight.

About Rina

Rina was born in Niigata, Japan, in 1990, and later moved with her family to London, where she was enrolled in a Japanese school. Navigating between these two cultures and growing up as a Japanese woman in England had Rina feeling alienated and dealing with racism on several instances. Things weren’t easy at home either, her parents went through a messy, painful divorce and she had to share a room with her mother until she was 15, which put a strain on their relationship. In her teens, besides dealing with depression, she rebelled, went to parties and even ran away to France once, until she got her act together and got into university, where she got a degree in political science. Music, though, was always present.


All her life experiences are featured in her album, SAWAYAMA, which can be considered a sort of self portrait of the artist. “There was so much family drama growing up that I wanted it to sound dramatic”, she said in an interview. To write the lyrics and produce the record, she researched about her family’s history and delved deep within her identity as a British-Japanese, pansexual woman.

The cathartic process allowed her to create what many critics are calling a masterpiece. SAWAYAMA blends genres, going from pop to metal to opera. While many artists today seek inspiration in the beats of the 70’s and 80’s, Rina went back to the 2000’s. “The influence was chart music, and the charts in the early 2000s were chaotic. You had nu-metal one week and bubble-gum pop the next, then Pharrell and Timbaland pushing R&B the following week”, she said.

It’s a shame that the record wasn’t eligible for Britain’s biggest awards, The Brit Awards and The Mercury Prize. The rules say that solo artists must have British or Irish citizenship, but Rina chose to keep her Japanese citizenship as a way to feel closer to her family. “I've lived here 25 years (most of my life) but I am not British enough”, she said about the matter on Twitter.

Go Beyond

If you’d like to go beyond her songs, Rina can also be found on YouTube. There, you can find her music videos and what she calls RinaTV, videos such as reacts and Q&A’s that she posts from time to time.


The article above was edited by Laura Okida.

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Madalena Derzi

Casper Libero '21

100% believes aliens exist
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