Rina Sawayama Refuses to STFU with Debut Album: 'SAWAYAMA'

By Sarah Gelinas

"...I gotta do right, be nice, smile just like a lady..."

We finally made it to December 2020 and I can’t tell if it's been 12 months or 12 years. This never-ending year has been especially difficult for the music industry, however, it has had some beautiful effects on the music itself. Some of the most cleansing tracks have been created, bringing light to this dark time.


In true cultural reset fashion, we decided to end the year with the most resetting album to come from 2020: Rina Sawayama’s self-titled debut album “SAWAYAMA.” In the span of 12 tracks, Sawayama touches on every aspect of what we believe to be a “cultural reset.” Throughout the album, she speaks against racism and unites the LGBTQ+ community. Better yet, she accomplishes this by bringing us back to the sounds of better times: Y2K.


While we may not be able to physically go back to Y2K, we mentally can with “SAWAYAMA.” This nostalgic album is not only an authentic representation of Y2K pop but also of Y2K nu-metal. That’s right: an album that seamlessly blends the aroma of pop and nu-metal from the beginning of the 21st century. Could this be the best thing that has happened in 2020? (Yes, it absolutely is).


Rina Sawayama is a Japanese musician and model residing in London. Her energy is magnetic; her lyrics unite listeners in an edgy, creative way. She is constantly amplifying the voice of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as calling out casual racism in order to make a change in our society. She has been releasing music since 2013, but her first album flips her sound into something that has never been heard before. It’s no wonder Elton John announced “SAWAYAMA” was his favorite album of 2020.


Rina Sawayama received this year’s Breakthrough Award from Attitude Magazine


Dynasty opens the album by summoning listeners into the depths of Sawayama’s world, in hopes they may figure it out along with her. The Evanescence-inspired track contains undeniably rich production that is both impressive and intriguing. Endless layers of magnificent instrumentation and heroic vocals are used to paint a picture of the intergenerational pain Sawayama has suffered throughout her life. These hardships are a part of her dynasty and were inherited from the generations above her. While she didn’t choose these battles, Sawayama is here to fight through them. A fierce guitar solo encaptures the full spectrum of emotions as the song nears the end. This track makes you feel like a warrior while you bang your head, ugly cry and scream along (..just me?).

Dripping with Y2K vibes, XS brings listeners back to when Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera were fighting for the prime time spot on MTV. The sound of this song is so on-point that I would believe it was actually a hit she made back in 1999. The track itself feels as though it is the modern love child of Britney Spears’ Toxic by its verse structure and Justin Timberlake’s Like I Love You by its acoustic guitar riffs. The nostalgia of it really gets you grooving and brings you to the time you really want to be: 1999 or 2001, or really anywhere but 2020. Sawayama made this song with the help of iconic pop writers Nate Campany, Kyle Shearer and Chris Lyon. When arriving at the session, Sawayama had one goal in mind: to write an abrasive pop song that freaks people out. She accomplished this by blending powerful pop aesthetics with sprinkles of nu-metal elements. XS, along with Who’s Gonna Save U Now? carry the heaviest Y2K pop influence on the album, and are truly “Stronger than Yesterday’s” pop music.


Sawayama screams STFU at casual racists with the track titled, well, STFU! The authoritative track takes micro-agressors and tapes their mouths shut with a catchy chorus that gets right to the point. Being that Sawayama is a Japanese woman who grew up in England, she is no stranger to racist comments. STFU! calls forth the natural aggression in nu-metal music and unleashes it on casual racists to show those who have wronged her, and others, what they can do with their mouths: shut them TF up.


STFU! is paired with a music video that visually displays exactly what Sawayama is singing about in the song. The video shows her on an awful first date with a man who starts off by acting surprised that she sings in English instead of Japanese, and takes it even further by comparing her to every Japanese actress he can think of. This video really emphasizes how important it is to understand why comments like this are offensive and unacceptable, but also that anyone who makes them will not be offered a second date (that is, if they even survive five minutes of the first one.).


This track is truly resetting in the sense that it brings awareness to the issues of casual racism. If one person listens to this track and gains the courage to call out their next Hinge date for making an obscene comment about their race/ sexuality, Sawayama has made a difference. In fact, Sawayama has dedicated STFU! to any minority who has experienced microaggressions.


Chosen Family is a very special song on the album that Sawayama dedicates to her own chosen family: the LGBTQ+ community. No matter what hardships she has endured, this community has always been there for her when nobody else was. She feels as though this is a common concept within the LGBTQ+ community, as many have issues with their biological families and peers accepting them for who they really are. Chosen Family is an anthem for those who have felt this way. The track fuses electronic and acoustic sounds to create a space in time for listeners to feel safe and loved. 


As a whole, the album is iconic. It not only brings me back to a time where I could leave my house, but also stands up to racists and unites the LGBTQ+ community. This album truly is an example of a cultural reset. Given the choice, I would choose Sawayama to be in my chosen family.


Since this album’s release, Sawayama has been keeping busy. Her latest release, Lucid, recently dropped and is said to be the first single from the deluxe version of “SAWAYAMA.” This electro-pop song is quite different from the rest of the original album, leaving me excited to see what new music she drops next.

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