Rina Sawayama: The Future of Pop

Rina Sawayama is a British-Japanese singer-songwriter, and her debut album, “Sawayama,” was released last year to widespread critical acclaim, and it even ended up No.1 on several publications’ year-end list of Best Albums in 2020. What exactly makes Rina Sawayama such an intriguing artist?

“Sawayama” is a genre-bending album, and it isn’t just because of the amount of genres that were used in the album, but how Sawayama presented it. The album has influences of pop, nu-metal, rock, R&B, EDM, and so much more. It’s impressive enough that Sawayama can pull off so many genres with her powerful vocals, but her real strength is combining different genres to convey the story she wants to tell. 

Take “XS” as an example, perhaps the most unique track on the album. The song combines early 2000s R&B and rock, with specific reasons behind it. Sawayama said that she wanted to write a song about capitalism and climate change, and she wanted the production to symbolize the chaos between the two subjects. The 2000s R&B symbolizes the time when everything seems right, and the rock guitar that comes in before the chorus is the destruction of climate change. The whole song is a push-and-pull between genres that reflect the topic.  

“Bad Friend” is another personal favorite of mine. The song is a synth-pop ballad that tells a story of a friendship that ended, but also about “Westerners coming to Tokyo being disrespectful towards Japanese culture,” according to Sawayama. It’s an incredibly vulnerable song which Sawayama demonstrated through the interesting production choices.

The vocoder that comes in the chorus symbolizes something that’s from the past, and the verse focuses more on Sawayama’s emotional vocals. The bridge took the song to another level with the use of a choir before coming back to the chorus one last time. Putting a choir in the synth-pop song is another bold, yet effective, choice. 

Singer Elton John even praises Sawayama, saying it’s his “favorite album of the year” during an interview. The two have since released a remix of her song, “Chosen Family” that celebrates both artists’ queer identities. Each song on the album sounds completely different from one another, and it tackles complex subjects such as family and identity while still following the pop formula. 

Rina Sawayama is reaching new heights in pop music by seamlessly blending genres together and presenting it in ways that have never been done before. I highly encourage everyone to listen to her music, and I’m excited to see where she goes from here.


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