SAWAYAMA – Rina Sawayama | Album Review

Track Listing

Comme Des Garçon (Like The Boys)
Akasaka Sad
Love Me 4 Me
Bad Friend
Fuck This World (Interlude)
Who’s Gonna Save U Now?
Tokyo Love Hotel
Chosen Family


Like ham and pineapple on pizza, sometimes two ingredients that sound bad in theory work incredibly well in practice. Blending the best parts of Korn, Britney Spears and nu-R&B together, Rina Sawayama’s debut piece SAWAYAMA is a surprisingly solid album and certainly one of the best debuts to come from the pop scene in quite some time. It’s one that’s unique in its execution, bringing together a whole range of different instruments and styles, combining them together across the 13 compositions to create one of the best albums in 2020.

The album itself begins with “Dynasty”, a song which ultimately sets the tone for the album to come. Underneath that facade of glitzy pop catchiness is a profound, poignant story about the troubled past this artist has had and acts as a message toward her Mother and Father. This is especially evident during the third verse as the key shifts up and brings with it an introduction to electric guitars that combine to create an instant pop-hit.

From here, the album switches genres; the first of many tonal morphs that ultimately make this album such a memorable pop feat. “STFU” strips away the R&B and Pop and leans heavily into Rock territory instead. There’s a serious Freak On A Leash – Korn vibe running through the chorus and interwoven verses and this harder track shows how multifaceted this artist is.2

As SAWAYAMA continues, it shows off the vocal range of Rina as she dips and dives through these two different states throughout the album. “Akasaka Sad” introduces some tempo shifts during the vocals, while the follow-up track “Paradisin” adds some woodwind instruments into the fold before shifting key drastically for the final chorus.

These different scattered ideas work really well together and part of that is thanks to the consistent story woven throughout the different tracks. There’s a distinct nod toward her Japanese birth-roots but also a clear vision for who this young lady is and what she stands for. Nowhere else is that more evident than in the penultimate track, “Chosen Family”. As a personal gripe I think this would have worked much better as the final thought-provoking note on an excellent album, overshadowing “Snakeskin” slightly which could have done with being placed in the middle of the track-list.

Ultimately though, SAWAYAMA is easily one of the best debut albums of the year. On their own, each track has a distinct amount of replayability and you’ll find yourself dipping in and out of this one throughout the year. At the same time, the tracks work as a consistent musical journey and paint a concise picture of exactly who this artist is and a confidence that shines through every track.

It sometimes takes artists years to find their identity but here, Rina Sawayama finds it immediately, leaning in heavy to her Japanese heritage but carving out her own path at the same time. Much like MAGDALENE by FKA Twigs last year, SAWAYAMA is something special and the perfect remedy to breathe some life into a largely stagnant pop scene.

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  • Verdict - 8.5/10

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