Rina Sawayama politely knocked on the door of modern pop three years ago with the release of her debut EP, “RINA.” It was the Japanese-born British singer’s way of informing the genre, “Hi, I’m here, and if you don’t know now, you will soon.” The EP, which at 24 minutes, surpasses many modern albums (cough Kanye cough), laid under the radar of most pop aficionados, but garnered Sawayama a fervent fanbase. Connecticut-based YouTube reviewer Anthony Fantano noticed the release and endowed it with a 9/10 and named it his favorite EP of 2017. The pieces were there to propel Sawayama into the pop stratosphere, and all it would take was one carefully constructed project to do so.
Three years later – an eternity in the breakneck universe of modern music – that groundwork has paid dividends, as “SAWAYAMA” hit airwaves on Friday. Bumping elbows with other same-day releases such as Fiona Apple and DaBaby, “SAWAYAMA” marks Sawayama’s first signed project after penning with UK-based Dirty Hit earlier this year. Coming in at just over 43 minutes, “SAWAYAMA” is a reassurance that Sawayama isn’t just a force to be reckoned with in Europe or in the musky backrooms of pop music. No, she’s primed for global dominance in the spotlight.
“RINA” differentiated itself from the late-‘10s pop universe by replicating early ‘00s vibes, as much of the cuts from her debut sound more like B-tracks from turn-of-the-century Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera than something from this generation. It didn’t take notes from that era; it felt like the songs didn’t belong to now. With “SAWAYAMA,” Sawayama branches further from the ordinary by incorporating rock into her retro pastiche. The opening cut, “Dynasty,” is a raucous, almost nu-metal sounding sledgehammer. Even in our claustrophobic times, this song makes you feel like you’re bodysurfing in an arena concert. It’s something else.
Sawayama isn’t afraid to riff off modernity, however. With the single, “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys),” she stares radio in the pupils and says “watch this.” This sub-bass thumping banger sounds enough like the here and now that you might be fooled into thinking it’s less than it is, but its tight production and forward-pumping energy will eschew you from any such notions. The next song, “Akasaka Sad,” shows Sawayama straddling the line between club staple and emotional songwriting, something that many modern artists might feel compelled to split into seperate songs. The chorus touches on her connections to her homeland, Tokyo (Akasaka is a district in Tokyo), and her relations to her parents, but remains encapsulating in its twisting and vibrating synths and percussion. It’s one of my favorite pop cuts from anyone so far this year.
Although faltering slightly in its second act, “SAWAYAMA” is a hammer through the crystal-decorated door of the 2020 pop landscape. It’s an indie outsider saying “let me in, or I’ll let myself in,” and goddamn if the industry apparatus has a choice.
Daniel Cohn is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.