Pop meets Latin, arena rock and even the odd spark of nu-metal in a melting pot of far-flung influences that has resulted in 2020’s musical zenith; Rina Sawayama’s eponymous debut is a bold and bombastic first impression.
Having teased fans with a slew of single releases that date back to 2013, the Japanese-British singer-songwriter finally came through to deliver 13 tracks of intricately produced pop hits that goes beyond the genre’s tiring tropes and cliches. From point A to B, Sawayama delves in indulgent and grandiose arrangments seen on the throat-straining Dynasty and Chosen Family, to the glitz and glamour of cuts like Paradisin’ to the more outlandish tones like XS where staggering hits of metal riffage strip away listeners’ sense of familiarity.
It’s bold choices like these, explored again in the arena rock anthem Who’s Gonna Save U Now?, that makes Sawayama such a refreshing listen; its diverse soundscape leading the way to the level of diversity mainstream music should strive for. Rina also places a serious touch of detail to her lyrical content – Sawayama being replete with socio-political commentary and personal strife. Kickstarting the record through her own battles with her heritage in Dynasty, the album progresses through the topics of capitalism, toxic masculinity, nihilism and allyship with the LGBT community.
These subjects are admittedly connected by a thin thread but are seen through an eye of maturity that avoids coming across as Rina simply trying to tackle every wrong in the world at once. This is the mark of an adept and able musician that strives in her multi-faceted constructions with little sacrifice to the overall narrative.
Is the record for everyone? No. Certainly not. It may cover a great deal of territory across its multitude of influences (any fan of Def Leppard will find solace in Who’s Gonna Save U Now?) but there are some cuts that can come across a little too sickly-sweet. Paradisin’ and Tokyo Love Hotel, for instance, certainly garner their own merits but the hyperactive beats of the former and the one-dimensional, albeit cutesy, lyricism of the latter won’t be to everyone’s tastes.
Perhaps it’s not a record brimming with positivity, 2020 certainly did it’s best to rob us of that, but Sawayama’s approach is encouragingly mature and variegated for this rising star. With a loyal following congregated since the album’s release, I only hope for Rina to continue on this path of exploration without needing to pander to the larger crowds as this 13-piece album stands as a testament to her enormous creative potential. With little doubt, these are the great beginnings of an even greater artist soon to flourish.