Dirty Hit · April 17, 2020
Rina Sawayama’s debut album, Sawayama, blends current pop with early 2000s pop and rock, and stays consistent with the style she established on her LP Rina. Though Sawayama undoubtedly masters the blending of all these styles on several tracks, several others feel static and already-done on her LP. However, several of her tracks are standouts that will attract new fans, and contribute to her increasing presence and recognition within pop music.
Lead single “STFU!” is more adjacent to heavy metal than any other genre that Sawayama has previously explored in her music. The explosive song expresses her anger, presumably at men who fetishize her as demonstrated in the accompanying music video, as she repeats the humorous question “Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? ‘Cause I have, many times”. Fellow single “Comme Des Garçons” is the complete opposite of the former, which is a club-sounding dance track with boastful lyrics like “Excuse my ego / Can’t go incognito / Every time you see me / It’s like winning big in Reno”. These tracks feel like Sawayama pushing her already experimental sound even further, adding even more genre diversity to her growing discography.
Some songs draw heavily from early-2000s pop, evoking a satisfying feeling of nostalgia for her largely Gen Z fanbase. “XS” has abrupt acoustic guitar strums backing her singing, resembling early Britney, and “Love Me 4 Me” has a chorus that sounds like an early-aughts radio pop hit. These tracks could be straight off an album from that era if not for the interjections of electric guitar, connecting the songs to her rock side.
Other tracks lean much heavier into her rock style, which audiences got a taste of on her LP. Much like “STFU!”, “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” is loud and unsympathetic, proclaiming “I wish you well but go take it somewhere else”. This track feels similar in style to popular 2017 track “Alterlife”, but with more repetition and less complex arrangement, making it feel static and pale in comparison.
Several songs are pleasant sounding, but not particularly interesting, like the sugary “Tokyo Love Hotel” and “Paradisin’”. They are light-hearted and cute, but ultimately don’t add any texture to her discography, which already has several of these types of pop songs that are more interesting (“Ordinary Superstar” and “Cherry”).
Despite having some standout tracks that round out her discography to include a more diverse array of musical genre influences, overall the album disappoints due to lulls in her track listing. After setting a high bar with her initial LP, which blended genres to create a sound simultaneously new and nostalgic, it doesn’t feel like the songs on Sawayama were able to compete with many of her previous tracks. However, the songs are well-produced and show musical aptitude, and her straightforward, declamatory lyrics will surely resonate with many listeners. Sawayama provides at least a few new tracks for someone’s party playlist, as well as the repertoire of songs to release frustration to, which is undoubtedly topical right now.