Arts and Culture

Rina Sawayama: rising idol looks to redefine pop music for good

As we live in an age of social media, dating apps and internet stimulation, singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama has capitalized on these topics as sources of inspiration for her music. Sawayama is a U.K.-based artist who has significantly risen in popularity over the past several years due to her unique, synth-heavy, J-pop-inspired sound. Her music stands out because it beautifully blends sounds of pop and R&B music from the 1990s and 2000s. It feels highly reminiscent of Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani or Christina Aguilera songs.

In 1995, when Sawayama was 5 years old, she and her parents moved from Japan to England. It ended up becoming a permanent relocation with only her mother, as her parents divorced. Growing up in England for most of her childhood, Sawayama tried to repress her Japanese roots in an attempt to fit in. However, she has since reclaimed that part of herself through music.

Upon realizing her talent, Sawayama decided to stop listening to modern artists and comparing herself to them. Instead, she remembered how she used to fondly listen to ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s J-pop when she was younger. This eventually became the source of inspiration for her unique sound.

In terms of tonality, Sawayama’s music carries an eclectic array of synth-heavy instrumentals. Furthermore, her songs are coupled with emotionally-wrought lyrics. Packaged in a highly melodic and attractive pop package, Sawayama effectively delivers some of the world’s best pop music in decades.

On the surface, the songs are outstandingly enjoyable, but the lyrics and deeper meaning behind them makes them incredibly powerful pop songs that never fail to lose their charm, even after you’ve listened to them for the hundredth time.

Last year, Sawayama put out an EP titled RINA. It contains singles that she has released or tuned-up and other songs that are completely new. Each soundtrack has its own flair to it, which joins together for a beautiful collection of music. This past Valentine’s Day, Sawayama released another single titled “Valentine (What’s It Gonna Be),” which focuses on the negative aspects of the holiday. She has stated on Instagram that her reason for writing the song was: “I hate Valentines so I wrote a song with @clarenceclarity about toying with love- hope it gives u empowerment from the shackles of heteronormative commercialisation of dating.”

A highly-favored track by Sawayama is “Alterlife,” which features bright vocal harmonies. The song centers around peoples’ younger selves, when they carried less responsibility, as well as critiquing their older selves who fear the world. Overall, the message of the song is to redefine yourself, become more confident and start living your “alterlife.” Sawayama’s most quintessential track is “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome,” which goes in detail about love, dating and loneliness in the internet age. Other artists have attempted to tackle this subject in their work, but in “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome,” it really feels authentic. Furthermore, the instrumental parts and over-the-top electronic scores makes the listener feel as if lost in an emotional cyber world.

Sawayama is on the track to success in her pursuit of redefining pop music and the music industry as a whole. Her nostalgic and mesmerizing tunes are capable of hypnotizing any passive listener and engaging those who like to delve into the folds of her songs.