On April 17, London-based artist Rina Sawayama released her debut album “SAWAYAMA,” following the critical acclaim of her 2017 EP “RINA.” Fans and critics alike were left to wonder where the rising pop-star would take her debut album, with follow-up singles such as “Cherry” hinting at a refinement of the lustrous, glittery pop sounds Sawayama was thriving under. However, after Sawayama dropped the nu-metal pop single “STFU!,” it was clear Sawayama had more ambitious sights for her debut album.
“SAWAYAMA,” while being a bona fide pop album through and through, is full of genre-bending songs. “Paradisin’” harkens the saturated sounds of J-Pop, “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)” rebels in groovy disco, and “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” continues refining the glittery pop sounds Sawayama was refining previously. “SAWAYAMA” serves as a cornucopia of music genres and inspirations, all glued together by the vocal glitter pop aesthetic of Sawayama.
With music genres blending left and right, “SAWAYAMA” stays consistent with the artist’s personal message. “XS,” arguably one of the best songs in this album, is piping hot satire on capitalist consumerism, mocking our societal desire to put brand products on a pedestal. “Chosen Family” shows further support to the LGBTQ+ community, while building on her experiences as a pansexual woman. “Dynasty” discussed intergenerational pain as a powerful opener and discussion to her Japanese background.
“SAWAYAMA” is an album not afraid of discourse, but empowered by it. In an age where politics run rampant among us, Sawayama finds escape not in avoiding serious issues, but embracing them. With the music industry being incredibly competitive, an artist’s debut album is important. Pop, more often than not, is thought to be shallow and basic, but “SAWAYAMA” proves that pop can be more than seasonal radio hits.
This is also a debut album that does not take itself too seriously. It never forgets its roots in upbeat pop and festivity. Sawayama’s vocals continue to be a bold, prominent feature in this album, even going as far as to reference the victory melody of the “Final Fantasy” video game series in the album closer, “Snakeskin.” Personality saturates this album, with Sawayama’s vocals jumping from contralto seriousness to higher-range chorus anthems.
It was a fair surprise this album even exists. There was a prominent time gap between singles, and to top it off, it was released amidst a global pandemic. With many artists delaying their album releases due to COVID-19, it was a nice surprise that SAWAYAMA continued to drop despite the economic shortcomings of releasing an album during social distancing guidelines. Sawayama’s Dynasty Tour has been postponed, with rescheduled concerts hoping to take place in September and October. Regardless, it is comforting to know that we can listen to her debut album from the comfort of our homes.