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4 Weeks, 4 Albums: Sawayama by Rina Sawayama

Personally speaking, Rina Sawayama’s debut studio album SAWAYAMA is THE pop album of 2020. It isn’t just a record you can sing along to. The album mixes harsh guitars and distorted electronic beats with the fun melodies of pop music. There are dance tracks you can cry to and ballads that uplift you. Sawayama unveils her own journey on how she fits into this world with honest lyrics and personal anecdotes. 

The start of the album is powerful. “Dynasty” and “XS” are filled with aggressive guitars and discuss the price we pay of being selfish. Sawayama discusses how our self care is tied to things like family and money. We question when to do things for ourselves and how it might affect our families and environment. Ultimately, with our decisions we have to accept the challenges that come from them. 

“STFU” and “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)” reek with confidence. Sawayama is feeling expressive, she is accepting the decisions she was debating in the first two songs of the album. She is fighting microaggressions and the misogynist structure of society. We see her feeling confident in who she is -and as a listener, I feel so too. Both tracks are ones that I’ve danced to in my bedroom at night. 

The first four songs represent how the rest of the album feels: conflicting. Rina Sawayama struggles with her identity in this world. The walls comes down in the second half; the tone gets softer and more vulnerable. In “Bad Friend”, Sawayama admits to leaving a close friend behind, and admitting she isn’t “good” at maintaining friendships. It has the heart of a pop song but the lyrics are filled with honesty. She is as blunt as possible when admitting her position. It’s this that makes the singer (no matter how conflicting the messages might be) seem authentic. 

Sawayama continues to jungle a lot of internal conflicts. Sawayama identifies as bisexual, pansexual, Japanese, British, and something much broader: human. In “Fuck This World” she is grieving over the effects that climate has on earth. She wishes she could start over on Mars, abolishing class and greed. It’s this theme of family and wealth that she was talking about at the start of the album. But this time, Sawayama is blunt about her perspective.

In comparison, “Chosen Family” is about home -not the kind of place you grew up in as a child. The song is an anthem to her LGBTQ+ family -a place where you find the space to be yourself in. It parallels the issues she discussed regarding her blood family -this time in a more confident tone. While her blood family has made her who she is, her chosen family shares something with her that no one else can. 

SAWAYAMA is complicated, vulnerable, and authentic. The listener gets a glimpse at the complicated perspectives that Rina Sawayama is accepting. This album is so vast that I think anyone could relate to the various topics it tackles. In the final song “Snakeskin”, Sawayama sheds the skin of her album and endeavors to find peace in this complicated world. 

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