October 27, 2017
Genre: Avant-Pop / R&B
Rina Sawayama is an English/Japanese singer and musician. Born in Niigata, Japan, Sawayama and her family moved to London when she was five. As a result, Sawayama has a dual understanding of both Japanese and western culture. This fusion shines through in her music, which draws inspiration from 90s American pop, R&B, and J-pop (japanese pop music). Such labels are largely reductionist though, as Sawayama doesn’t fit neatly into any of these genres.
“RINA” is a catchy, energetic, smart, and vibrant take on the effects of technology on human relationships. The dual nature of communication in the digital age, the power of social media to both connect and isolate us is a recurring theme: “Ordinary Superstar” talks about parasocial relationships (relationships between fans and celebrities where the former is emotionally invested while the latter isn’t), while “Tunnel Vision” and “Through the Wire - Interlude” lament the struggles of digitally-mediated romantic relationships.
But “RINA” isn’t a sociology lecture! The best part about it is the album’s sound and aesthetic, which is vibrantly layered and detailed, a sparkling amalgam of simple melodies and oddball pop experimentalism. This is in part due to the fantastic creative chemistry between Sawayama and her producer, Clarence Clarity, whose frenetic and maximalist production tendencies can be felt throughout the EP. (Check out Clarity’s album “THINK: PEACE”; it’s awesome and relentlessly weird). Sawayama’s sound and style put the listener inside of the whirlwind digital world she describes in her lyrics. Nowhere is this more true than on “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome,” the EP’s climactic finale. The track is masterful in its emotional progression: it starts out melancholic, painting a scene with Sawayama sitting alone in the corner of some busy club, before crescendoing to a triumphant chorus (the best on the album by far). And after blasting off into a cathartic, key changed bridge, Sawayama reaches an optimistic conclusion about technology and social media, singing “Came here on my own/Party on my phone/Came here on my own/But I start to feel alone/Better late than never so I'll be alright/Happiest whenever I'm with you online.” It’s the perfect ending to an outstanding debut.
While success is never guaranteed in the music industry, Sawayama’s fantastic blend of writing, production, performance, and style make her a great candidate for mainstream (as well as underground) success, and without a doubt one of the coolest new artists in pop music today.
Best: Cyber Stockholm Syndrome, Alterlife, Time Out - Interlude, Ordinary Superstar, Tunnel Vision
Worst: Through the Wire - Interlude (not bad by any stretch, just not as good as all the others)
Listen here(!): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBDdUFxYEdk&list=PLXRK1vlVlevRWuBkvQ6kiE8NununsxGXB