“Excuse my ego, can’t go incognito, every time you see me it’s like winning big in Reno…”– Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys), Rina Sawayama
Ah yes, another new music crush that helped me get through 2020. I’ve been waiting to scream and shout about this one.
Rina Sawayama is the pop star you need to watch and listen to right now. Why? I will tell you why!! And of course I will provide proof.
My thesis statement? NOBODY IS DOING IT LIKE HER AND I AM OBSESSED. Did that need to be in all caps? YES BECAUSE I NEED YOU TO KNOW I AM SCREAMING.
Really, I find myself asking “DID RINA HAVE TO GO THAT HARD?” every time I listen to her and I need more people to know who she is. Ok? Ok.
I discovered Rina the same way I discovered The Aces, on Spotify and at the right time. Rina helped me cut the monotony of working from home with a reminder of the powerful woman I am evolving into.
Rina’s nostalgic sounding anthems and innovative yet somewhat avant-garde artistry are absolutely iconic. I feel like I haven’t seen this caliber of pop innovation since Lady Gaga took the world by storm. The first song by Rina that caught me was Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys).
That song is the burst of empowerment I needed to keep doing my job during the pandemic. Because the pandemic forced a hiring freeze at my last job, I ended up becoming an interim marketing manager with only 6 months of professional marketing experience. I needed to overcome my doubt and the doubt from anyone else to pretend for our partners that I ran our marketing department. This song helped me take my place at the head of the table as a young woman of color in my meetings with the older white men both at my company and in partner meetings. Couldn’t have done that without Comme Des Garçons as my anthem. Couldn’t have left that job without this song as my anthem as well.
Speaking of that part of the experience, my anger and frustration found a release in her song STFU!
I don’t typically enjoy metal music but this one is an exception. It’s hardcore in the verses but then just the perfect early 2000s sticky sweet pop in the chorus. It’s such a fascinating song to listen to with that dichotomy. I felt like it perfectly captured the dissonance between me feeling angsty about my job and having to professionally pretend like I was ok. The song talks about feeling disrespected and it helped me validate and make sense of my anger.
I remember having a particularly difficult day while working from home. I had planned to meet up with some friends for socially distant noodles and spike ball after work on a Friday but I needed to let out my frustration. Like I always do, I turned to a song that would help me let it all out. STFU! was the perfect song.
As I drove through Alhambra and Arcadia to meet my friends, I blasted this song on repeat at full volume as I frustratedly screamed the lyrics. I felt better after that but every time I got in my car for the next step of the adventure I still had the song stuck in my head. I have this vivid memory of my pal Randy being confused as to why I pulled up blasting what sounded like really aggressive metal music. Lol good times.
Another thing I love about Rina is the way she writes songs about topics that no one else is.
Bad Friend is explicitly about a friend breakup. And it HURTS to listen to. No one talks about how painful it is not to be friends with someone anymore. I remember this one hitting home in those moments when I thought about the friendship I had with the last guy I dated. We had fun together and I genuinely felt like we were friends at some point. It hurt to realize that I couldn’t be friends with him anymore and this song helped me be ok with that loss.
Also, I need to talk about the song Chosen Family.
This one makes me want to CRY. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important it is to be involved and part of a community and just how sweet it is to build bridges with people you don’t “share genes or a surname” with. I will be singing this one to my community group at some point. I hope we all cry together haha.
I challenge you to look up the lyrics when you listen to her music because my girl goes DEEP in her lyrics. Climate change, consumerism, microaggressions, reliance on the internet — these are just some of the things she sings about in her catchy pop songs.
Rina’s artistry fascinates me because she uses familiar pop music elements to make music that feels fresh and futuristic even. It teeters on the border of hyper pop and industrial pop but it doesn’t feel out of reach.
The song 10-20-40 is the perfect example of that.
I absolutely love the guitar riff on this song and the industrial drums hearken back to 80s new wave music that I grew up listening. The driving metaphors and the driving beat of this song are perfect for your driving playlist. Also, the guitar solo on this one goes so hard, so if you’re into serious rock and roll, you gotta listen to this one.
Similarly, Where U Are feels nostalgic with its R&B approach.
Like for some reason, I visualize myself in a lounge sipping on an Old Fashioned with this one playing. Also, love the guitar riff in this one too. I kept this one on repeat last summer when I was mid-existential crisis about my life. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I stared into space singing “now I’m losing sight of who I’m meant to be in this reality…can it be I stayed way too long?”
Rina is so talented and captivating at expressing herself in all parts of her artistry. The innovation in her sound and her way with words has me SCREAMING IN EXCITEMENT every time I soak in her music. I’m a firm believer in lifting up diverse voices and it’s so refreshing to hear Rina break the mold as an immigrant, queer, woman of color. Pop music is a universal language and it’s exciting when new voices come to innovate. Anyway, Rina is speaking and y’all better listen so here’s your chance to start crushing on her too.