Review: Rina Sawayama's Debut Album Blends Pop Eras To Tell A Story Of Identity On her self-titled debut album, Rina Sawayama borrows from all corners of the pop world to explore depression, her fight to preserve her Japanese heritage and the legacy of family strife.
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Rina Sawayama Embraces The Pain On Her Beautifully Messy Debut

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Rina Sawayama Embraces The Pain On Her Beautifully Messy Debut

Review

Music Reviews

Rina Sawayama Embraces The Pain On Her Beautifully Messy Debut

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Rina Sawayama has always straddled different worlds. Born in Japan and raised in London, the singer studied politics and psychology at Cambridge, then she did some modeling before setting her sights on pop stardom. Her debut album "SAWAYAMA" is no different. Our reviewer, Miguel Perez, says it's a wild blend of genres that tells a deeply personal and sometimes painful story about family and identity.

MIGUEL PEREZ, BYLINE: The next time you're in the mood to thrash around in a mosh pit, give Rina Sawayama a try.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STFU")

RINA SAWAYAMA: (Laughter) Let's go.

PEREZ: The lead single off of her new album is a beautiful mess of a song. And it fuses the explosive rage of early 2000s nu-metal bands with the sugar-sweet delivery of a young Britney Spears.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STFU!")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? 'Cause I have many times, many times.

PEREZ: "STFU!" is a big, fat middle finger to the racism and microaggressions Sawayama has dealt with living in the U.K. Her fight to reconcile her British and Japanese identities underscores the whole project. Sawayama's parents immigrated to the U.K. when she was 5, and her struggle to fit in was made worse by her parents' bitter divorce. On "Dynasty," she sings about the pain and trauma that our families can unwittingly pass on to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DYNASTY")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) I'm a dynasty. The pain in my vein is hereditary. Dynasty - running in my bloodstream, my bloodstream.

PEREZ: Sawayama weaves this tale of family and forgiveness using a whole rainbow of sonic textures - house music and hair metal mingle with R&B and electro-pop. On "Akasaka Sad," she reaches out to her parents again, this time through the bouncing and frantic energy of a Timbaland hit from the '90s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AKASAKA SAD")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) Just like my mother. Akasaka sad 'cause I'm a sucker, sucker, so I suffer. Akasaka Sawayama - just like my father. Akasaka sad...

PEREZ: It's not all doom and gloom. Sawayama is skilled at balancing moments of vulnerability with flashes of theater and campy joy. On "Commes Des Garcons," the former model is all sleek, chic and undeniably cool. Her confidence cuts through the tension she's built up so far like a hot knife through butter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COMMES DES GARCONS")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) I'm so confident. Hot like a fever, make you a believer. Write my name up in the sky from Paris to Shibuya. Miu Miu, Prada, Mugler, Virgil, Ross, Nicola - elevate your vision when you put me on the cover.

PEREZ: The pop world doesn't always make space for people of color, let alone a pansexual Asian woman whose sonic influences range from Destiny's Child to System of a Down. Instead of waiting for the green light, Sawayama created a space for herself - an album unafraid to tackle her darkest moments.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHOSEN FAMILY")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) Hand me a pen and I'll rewrite the pain. When you're ready, we'll turn the page together.

PEREZ: Her battle with depression, her fight to preserve her Japanese heritage, the legacy of hurt inherited from family - all those ugly, desperate things that are made beautiful once we make sense of them - and Rina Sawayama has made something truly beautiful.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD FRIEND")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) We ran through the bright Tokyo lights...

CHANG: Rina Sawayama's debut album is out now. Our reviewer, Miguel Perez, is a reporter for KERA in Dallas.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BAD FRIEND")

SAWAYAMA: (Singing) Hot, crazy and drunk, five in a...

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