I had only briefly heard of Rina Sawayama before tuning in to her debut album SAWAYAMA and went into it with no expectations. I did not expect to discover a brilliant slice of pop excellence and to come out of the other side as a glorified stan. But here we are. Rina Sawayama has a unique point of view, and she’s here to let us know. She’s not afraid to reference with hints of many genres but overall has her own unique sound carved into the pop pie.
The album opens with the glorious ‘Dynasty’, a sweeping dreamscape of floaty synths and soft vocals which grows into an epic rock-orchestra moment as Sawayama belts over an electric guitar. As we move into track two, ‘XS’, she immediately changes gear. It’s a stunning noughties R’n’B throwback with hints of rock mixed in for extra measure, think Jojo’s ‘Leave’ (Get Out) with more attitude and a middle finger thrown up at consumerist culture, it’s my personal favourite on the album.
The third track ‘STFU!’ goes full throttle rock with a cathartic anthem, laced with attitude and a sense of humour. “Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut, because I have many times?” she sings sweetly on the hook before blaring in with the chorus, “shut the fuck up“. Serve. Of. The. Century.
Sawayama switches it up again for the next track ‘Commes De Garçons (Like The Boys)’, a super cool electronic pop number that wouldn’t feel out of place playing over a runway at Fashion Week. The track is confident, catchy and provides a nice breather away from the rock-inspired sound from the last three tracks. We stan a versatile queen.
‘Akasaka Sad‘ is a trip-hop/trap fever dream that shows once more the versatility of her catalog. The melodies are rhythmic, almost rap but there’s a delicate softness here that wouldn’t sound out of place on a BANKS record. ‘Paradisin’ is a cute, bubble pop moment, a little forgettable but certainly fun. ‘Love Me 4 Me’ falls into the same category, it’s not bad but after the fantastic opening tracks it feels a little bit like filler.
‘Bad Friend‘ is back on form, a sweeping ballad about poor mental health and how it can affect our friendships. ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’ hooked me instantly, from the arena-chants in the introduction to the beautiful vocal gymnastics to the unexpected key change mid-song. It builds such perfect rushes of adrenaline from start to finish.
‘Chosen Family’ is a beautiful number about friendship and how we get to choose our family, “we don’t need to be related to relate“. It’s a soft but powerful ode to healthy relationships and would have made the perfect closer to this album. Unfortunately it’s sandwiched in between two forgettable songs and the album actually ends on ‘Snakeskin‘, an easily forgotten track that’s not bad by any means but just not as exciting as some of the other tracks on display here.
Overall SAWAYAMA is a fantastic album with very high highs that make the other tracks seem dimmer in comparison. There are no bad tracks on this album and it’s a lot of fun to listen to from start to finish, however it could have been a masterpiece with a little selective editing in the second half.