Sawayama by Rina Sawayama

Reviewed by Shubham AP Mohapatra, Batch of 2024, Kirit P. Mehta School of Law

Elton John’s favourite album of 2020, Sawayama stands to be a beautiful melting pot of varied genres. The futuristic stance of Rina in the Album Cover juxtaposed with the warm sepia-like tone of the picture, reminiscent of the early 2000s, is accurate imagery of the eclecticism that Rina created in this Album.

Entering the album with the track ‘Dynasty’ is rather grim but hopeful. The song conveys the Sawayama ‘dynasty’ to be a bearer of the ‘darkness of the world’ that is passed down as lineage from one generation to another. The song hints at the lurking sadness to be linked to familial issues (fighting about money and his infidelity), which the Sawayama ‘dynasty’ suppresses and hides in the pretence of leading a happy life. However, Rina chooses to ‘break the chain’, use her voice and break out of the ‘family lie’ in pretence of happiness. The song sonically too captures the rebellion as the music turns from ominous to upbeat with fast-paced drum beats and an electronic guitar solo. The song serves as a window to the captivating nu-metal genre that the album so beautifully captures.

Next in the album, arguably the most famous off of the same is titled ‘XS’ (homophone with ‘excess’). Rina transcends her Political Science degree from Cambridge to her music in this satire of the present Capitalistic Society. The metal drop right at the beginning of the song takes the listener aback just as how Rina means to portray the nature of Capitalism, the price we pay for our consumerism is unbelievable and should shock everyone. The song is a sonic call for people to have the epiphany to stray away from their need of wanting more as the Planet has already reached its brim in terms of holding as much as it can. Succeeding this is the track ‘ST#U!’, which addresses the racial microaggressions that she has been subjected to on account of being a Brit – Japanese residing in the UK. It is interesting to note that the song is of the genre rock metal which successfully portrays the irritation and the anger she feels at those who portray her to be negative for being upset at them being tone-deaf.

The electro-pop track, ‘Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)’, represents the fragile ego residing in every man (‘Excuse my ego, can’t go incognito’) and the prevalence of toxic masculinity which forces men to perennially show themselves to be ‘confident’ (It’s just another day to pretend). Rina, through the song, notes how a man’s confidence is ephemeral (Comme des garçons, I’m so confident) and assures vocally as to how it is normal to shed away from this performative confidence.

Akasaka Sad’ pommels us back to the first song where Rina falls down the hole of sadness and the hereditary nature of the same. Akasaka refers to the hotel Rina chooses to stay over every time she visits Tokyo in the hope that the distance from her broken family would help her feel free. However the same never pans out the way she wants it to and she thus realizes that depression knows no geography and follows you around.

Next on track ‘Paradisin’ is a bubble gum pop reminiscence of the best time of her life, i.e., her childhood. The song right off the bat begins with noises from arcade games and the lyrics are essentially nostalgic tales from her childhood. ‘Love Me 4 Me’ translates exactly what the title suggests, Rina’s path to self-love. The song is also her reassuring herself that she need not be unsure of her music and this is her telling herself that she needs to do it, that she can, and that she will be helping all those who pursue music after her. Through ‘Bad Friend,’ Sawayama thinks of the best times she had with her best friend and blames herself for falling out of the same. Though the blame for the fall out is not entirely on her as she is not sure of the reason, she feels awful that she no longer has a clue about where a former close friend of hers stands in life today. She wanted to translate the feeling to her chorus, wanted the chorus to feel like the rug was pulled from under your feet, that moment at the top of the rollercoaster when your stomach drops, which she beautifully achieves.

The ‘Interlude’ reflects her climate grief which can be traced back to ‘XS’. She displays her disappointment at the world and how she wishes to leave the same and rehabilitate on Mars. Further, she concludes as to how climate reversal almost seems impossible but it cannot be given up on. ‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now’ is a stadium rock song, inspired by the cathartic feeling of performing on the stage in front of a large crowd. The song is an epistolary to her detractors who constantly brought her down in her pursuit of success. With her cathartic chorus – ‘Who’s gonna save you now’, she is referring to how the detractors are still stuck where they began while she has risen to the top. Next in line, ‘Tokyo Love Hotel’, is about the fetishization of the Japanese Culture. Rina talks of her frustration of not being able to represent her culture without feeling original as the same has been reproduced over and over again by people who do not respect the Japanese culture but are merely drawn to the aesthetics of it. (Use you for one night and then away they go.) The song is an attempt at making people realize that with fascination comes the responsibility to respect. The penultimate song of the album, ‘Chosen Family’, is about people from different walks of life finding respite away from their home and creating their own chosen family wherein they cohabit in a safe space with people who have faced similar social rejections. The song, while it can be generalized to all forms of rejections, can very well be pointed out to the familial rejections of their queer members as Rina herself identifies as pansexual. The finale of her path to making her own dynasty in the first track comes with ‘Snakeskin’, which talks about how Rina as an artist has poured her life, every intimate recalling, into her music and shed it like a snakeskin as a form of closure only for her listeners to consume it. Her path to breaking out of her familial despair concludes as she paves the way to her success with this album.

As mentioned before, the album channels Rina’s eclecticism, not only in the varied genres but also in the messages that each track holds. It is interesting to observe that the genre coinciding with each track is very intentional and works in perfect coordination for the listeners to feel the emotions that Rina felt while penning down her music. This debut album of Rina only keeps the listener wondering about the sonic masterpieces coming our way from her in the future.

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Kirit P. Mehta School of Law Publications