About a week ago, I was on the hunt for new music. I had grown tired of listening to the same songs from my playlist over and over and decided I needed to expand my musical horizons. While on my quest, I happened to recall an artist whose name I had heard many times, but whose music I had not listened to. Her name was Rina Sawayama and that was all I knew. I did not know what genres she specialized in, what previous work she had done, or even heard just a snippet of her music. I dived into her music catalog without so much as a hint of her capabilities.
Honestly? I’m glad I did so! Rina Sawayama’s music is an experience and being able to listen for the first time without any preconceived thoughts was a pleasure.
For those of you who don’t know, Rina Sawayama is a Japanese-born British singer who has risen in popularity lately after the release of her debut studio album “Sawayama” on April 17th of this year. Before this, Sawayama released a number of songs as an independent artist, her debut single being “Sleeping in Waking” (2013). Other non-album singles include “Where U Are” (2016), “This Time Last Year” (2016), “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” (2017), “Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be)” (2018), “Cherry (2018), and “Flicker” (2018). All of the aforementioned songs were released independently before Sawayama signed with Dirty Hit, a British independent record label, for the release of her studio album.
Most prominently before “Sawayama” (2020) was her debut mini-album “Rina” (2017), funded herself after working “2-3 jobs at a time for years” (which Sawayama confirmed on Twitter). “Rina” was met with critical acclaim, some journalists and reviewers (such as Anthony Fantano) referring to it as the best Extended Play released in 2017. Even Pitchfork ranked “Rina” as number nineteen on their list of the “Top 20 Best Pop and R&B Albums of 2017.” Personally, I agree with them! “Rina” was a stellar album and would definitely recommend newcomers give it a listen (as well as her other non-album songs) before delving into “Sawayama.”
Speaking of “Sawayama,” the debut studio album was also met with widespread critical acclaim from critics and music listeners alike. Influenced by the genres of 2000s mainstream pop, nu metal, rock, R&B, and dance-pop, Sawayama described the album as being about “family and identity.” According to a press release statement via Pitchfork, Sawayama says the studio album is “about understanding yourself in the context of two opposing cultures (for me British and Japanese), what “belonging” means when home is an evolving concept, figuring out where you sit comfortably within and awkwardly outside of stereotypes, and ultimately trying to be ok with just being you, wants and all.” It’s a beautiful, outstanding album and if you choose to give it a listen, I recommend listening from beginning to end without any skips. It’s that much of an experience.
What makes Rina Sawayama such an intriguing artist, in my opinion, are the messages in her songs. “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” (2017) talks about the ups and downs of the internet and how it brings us joy but also anxiety; “Tunnel Vision” (2017), which features American singer Shamir, talks about the struggle of maintaining real-life relationship in the social media age; and one of Sawayama’s biggest hits, “XS” (2020), mocks capitalism in our climate change denying world.
Rina Sawayama is a wonderful, intelligent artist and if you have not listened to her music, I urge you to do so. It is rare that I find an artist I resonate with almost immediately and I cannot wait to see her future projects. Her artistry is out of this world and deserves to be heard by everyone.