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Rina Sawayama – SAWAYAMA review: An audacious album from one of the boldest voices in pop

The Cambridge graduate is back with a brasher sound

Elisa Bray
Thursday 16 April 2020 12:12 BST

Rina Sawayama’s 2017 mini-album explored life as a young Japanese woman in the UK, within a Britney Spears and NSYNC-inspired bubblegum-pop framework. The 29-year-old Cambridge graduate’s debut LP retains that political drive, but the bubblegum pop has been deftly woven into a more audacious, brasher sound. SAWAYAMA takes the music she listened to while growing up in north London and reformats it through an eclectic modern-day prism.

The album makes its daring clear from the start with the arresting “Dynasty” – a live favourite among her loyal “Pixels” (her followers) – which splices Evanescence-style nu-metal and a pop sheen. The guitars are still more abrasive in the aggressive “STFU!”, a riposte to racism that delivers its most stinging lyrics in sugar-coated vocals: “Have you ever thought about/ taping your big fat mouth shut/ ’cause I have many times”. “XS” combines heavy rock guitars with the acoustic strums of Justin Timberlake’s “Like I Love You” and glossy R&B.

Sawayama admits to getting “bored quickly”, and this album’s hyperactive lurching from one genre to the next appeals to shortening attention spans as she tackles, also, her teenage rebellion following her parents’ divorce, as well as less insular topics such as climate change. There’s also soppy country pop (“Chosen Family” – an ode to her queer friends), slick R&B (“F**k This World”), stadium-aiming pop-rock (“Who’s Gonna Save U Now”, which boasts one of the album’s unquestionably corny key changes), and gospel-laden electropop (“Bad Friend”).

Rina’s mini album may have marked her out as one to watch, but SAWAYAMA stakes her claim as one of the boldest voices in pop today.

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