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Album reviews
Rina Sawayama
Release year:
Dirty Hit
20 April 2020 / by Isabelle Espaldon (author)

Genre: Alternative Pop

Similar Artists: Dorian Electra, Kim Petras, Allie X

Rising star, Rina Sawayama, brings us to an alternate reality for her debut full-length album, SAWAYAMA. Her last EP, Rina, gives the world a taste of what Rina Sawayama is capable of. Her lyrics include her personal struggles with the social media age and the lack of Asian representation in music, all with a pop-infused sound. SAWAYAMA follows the same infectious pop formula the 29-year-old has mastered while delving in and out of different genres to incredibly satisfying effect. 

Somehow, Rina’s recent efforts dial up the intensity further from her 2017 EP. The opening track of SAWAYAMA, “Dynasty”, is an explosive track that is a dedication to her familial struggles. She veers toward a garage rock vibe for this track while she croons about breaking the generational anguish in her family. The track manages to balance her heartfelt lyrics with her intense attitude, representing the rest of the album well. 

For the following track “XS”, Rina goes for a more pop atmosphere while still maintaining a rock edge with bursts of guitar which elevate the song dramatically. The materialism dripping in her lyrics is reminiscent of Britney Spears’ “Work Bitch” especially in “Cartier set, Tesla Xs / Calabasas, I deserve it.” Instead of using these displays of materialism as endorsement however, it is rather used as a criticism of the modern world’s consumption which is evident in the song’s clever use of wordplay (XS = Excess).  

“STFU!” and “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” are tracks that both taunt and draw you in. On “STFU!”,  she defies the image of a docile queer Japanese woman with a fiery metal track. Meanwhile, on “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?”, the live track pushes people to reflect on themselves and ask the titular track’s question. 

SAWAYAMA maintains a fun and personal vibe throughout the album but falters when the songwriting lacks the same emotional intensity or intimacy that suffuses her best tracks. “Bad Friend” is a track that falls short from the others in this sense, in terms of both emotion and production value. With a stronger emotion behind the vocals, she manages to carry an intensity and authenticity to her songs just like in “Chosen Family”. 

With her latest album, Sawayama evokes a sense of safety to the marginalized by voicing anger towards being crushed by societal expectations and by letting us in by reveling in her flaws. 


Rating: 8/10 



The author

Isabelle Espaldon

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