Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Favorite Track: "Love Me 4 Me"
Least Favorite Track: "Snakeskin"
2020 has been a landmark year in almost every sense of the word. We have seen the devastating progression of a global pandemic, the strangest disruption within the music critic community in years, with Fiona Apple’s Fetch The Bolt Cutters garnering over 15 perfect scores, and on top of it all, we are on the verge of what might be the most important election in United States history. All this to say, the drab state of the world right now can be rough, and cutting loose with fun and energetic music is one of the best remedies I have found. When everything seems upside down and things are crazy, there is nothing that provides me the same casual solace that a great pop album does, and we have seen a multitude of those this year. Wonderful additions to both the underground and mainstream pop landscape like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia and Charli XCX’s how i’m feeling now have improved my otherwise defeatist and pessimistic mindset on the days that it felt impossibly hard to do so. Naturally, I have been looking for yet another fantastic pop record to blow my mind, as the records I mentioned before are so intoxicatingly fun and sparkly that they only leave you searching for more.
Fortunately, I have to look no further than Rina Sawayama’s debut studio album, Sawayama. When this record was released in mid-April, I was still a bit dismissive of pop and R&B in general, so the wonderful critical reception did little to nothing to intrigue me to give it a listen. However, becoming more integrated into the music critic family through sites like Rate Your Music and Album of the Year has inclined me to give the records that have consistently gotten high ratings a fairer chance. That coupled with the fact that I have had albums like Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion on endless repeat, I decided to give Sawayama a fair shot. I have to say, that has proved to be one of the best decisions I have made in a long time. Because of albums like Sawayama, I feel inclined to continue giving projects I otherwise wouldn’t have listened to an open-minded listen.
Sawayama at its core is a record about self-reflection. Every track here shows a mature and intriguing viewpoint on some of the darkest and most embarrassing corners of Rina’s life, not to mention the vulnerability is beautifully complex as well. She explores aspects of race relations, depression and anxiety, parental relationships, and love. All of these topics are expressed in a youthfully exuberant manner, whether it be the instrumentals backing Rina’s gorgeous, high register voice, or the quirky lyricism that this record is littered with. What I also love about Sawayama is that while the record explores all of these topics in a meaningful way, none of the topics feel so front-and-center that they take over the narrative of the record. Rina chooses time and time again to create completely different soundscapes and lyrical narratives that feel fresh and interesting, but with the overall cohesiveness of Rina’s self exploration, the record feels connected in a way that not many others have in 2020.
With these themes of self-exploration, it has also inclined me to take more of a look inward, and that is where the magic of this record lies for me. The song “Comme Des Garcons (Like The Boys)”, is funky at its core, but explores societal masculinity standards that can become detrimental to men at large This topic hits home for me, as I have always found the societal expectations for men put forth by society to be quite detrimental to my own mental health. With the line “I’m so confident”, Rina simultaneously pokes fun at the idea that men are expected to be eternally confident, while also putting forth a mission statement of her own unwavering confidence. It is this line in particular that exhibits how talented of a songwriter Rina is, offering a track that is a tongue-in-cheek representation of societal issues that remains groovy at its core.
Records like Sawayama astonish me with their versatility and creative prowess, but impress me even more with the emotional potency contrasted by the unmatched infectiousness. “Love Me 4 Me” and “Akasaka Sad” are two of the most lyrically interesting pop tracks of 2020, but have simultaneously been stuck in my head since the day I heard them for the first time. The Katy Perrys and Ava Maxes of the world could learn a thing or two from Rina about originality, creativity, and innovation. Sawayama is a near-perfect, cutting-edge, and highly captivating listen has proven to be my favorite pop record of 2020 so far, and in turn has taught me not to judge an album by its genre.