Rina Sawayama: Turning Family Pain Into Pop Gold


Rina Sawayama

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Hendrik Schneider


The beginnings of the singer were conceived as a thesis on intergenerational pain

“I had a real identity crisis growing up,” said singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama.

“I started to feel that things that had happened to me, like going to university, had in fact not happened. I doubted everything in my life. “

To get her life back on track, she began a long and delicate process of digging into her family history and decoding her identity as a Japanese-British bisexual woman.

“It was difficult, certainly,” she said, “but at the same time, it was so cathartic. “

He has also produced one of the best albums of 2020 to date: a savage collision of pop, opera, house music and hair metal that paints Rina’s demons in a strangely fascinating self-portrait.

In 44 minutes, the 29-year-old woman exposes her darkest moments – depression, racism, alienation, family trauma and internalized shame over her sexuality – but in a way makes it something beautiful and colossally catchy.

“I don’t mean to say it helped me find peace, but this record is like my family album,” said the singer. “It took decades, but I found my story. “

Born in Niigata, Japan in 1990, Rina Sawayama moved to London at the age of five with her parents. She attended a Japanese school, learning calligraphy and dancing alongside subjects from the typical curriculum.

However, when she entered a Church of England school at the age of 10, she absorbed the opinions of others on the “otherness” of her family and found it hard to remember. to integrate.

But the real bomb came when her parents separated. It was a messy and painful affair, punctuated with arguments over money, and Rina found herself caught in the middle.

“My parents were constantly fighting and using their children to talk about it,” she says. “It was the classic,‘ Oh your mom is like that ’,‘ Well, your father said that. ’

“I just didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t because there were so many people telling me different things. “

Wild child

To make matters worse, Rina realized that she was bisexual, a subject she still hasn’t discussed properly with her parents. Then puberty hit.

“I had a severe hormonal surge at the age of 13 and it was a nightmare,” she said.

“My mother and I shared a room until the age of 15, which is not an atmosphere. Just too close. We would have screaming arguments from 7 a.m. “

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The singer toured last year with fellow pop-breaker Charli XCX

To cope with the drama, she devoted herself to school work (“I am a little nerd”) and launched into the London music scene. But even that got him into trouble.

“I grew up near Camden, so I went to concerts all the time and I didn’t come home until 10 p.m. on a school night, which really worried my mom. “

On one occasion, she even fled to France after meeting a stranger during a bravery concert.

“She was like” you should come to Paris “, so I stayed in her Parisian house,” says the singer. “It was filled with cats and she was smoking and there was tar on the ceiling. It’s such a crazy story now I think about it. I was fifteen!

“But it was literally the moment of my life. It was there that I discovered my love of music and my love for concerts and the music community. “

She revisits those years in a piece of album titled Paradisin ‘- which tells the story of an evening interrupted by her mother’s furious phone calls.

“We shared a laptop, so she would go to MSN Messenger and talk to my friends and say, ‘Hi, where’s Rina? She didn’t come back, “said the singer.

“So I would kiss a guy and mom would get his number and call him – which is pretty iconic.

“Mama Sawayama was like a detective. She was really after me. So I wanted this song to sound like a car chase. “

Break the chains

Ultimately, Rina did well enough in school to earn a place in Cambridge, where she studied psychology, sociology and politics.

However, the executive only amplified his feelings of alienation.

“We introduce you to the class you never grew up with: the future Boris Johnsons and the people with the same surname as the library. I just didn’t understand this world. “

The university also didn’t have a lot of music scene, but that influenced his writing.

“I approach it as an essay,” she laughs. “I like having a few months researching what I want to write and filling my head with words and reading books, watching movies and listening to podcasts. “

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Hendrik Schneider


The star’s album has a score of 90 on the critical aggregator Metacritic, making it one of the highest rated records of the year

On her first album, the essay is called: “Don’t you want to break the chain with me? And each song is a chapter, exploring different facets of intergenerational pain and cultural identity.

It may sound dark and dignified, but fortunately Rina’s musical education came during one of the most ridiculous eras of pop.

“The influence was the music on the charts, and the charts in the early 2000s were chaotic,” she says. “You had nu-metal one week and bubble gum pop the next, then Pharrell and Timbaland pushed R&B the following week.

“I love all this music, so I wanted to mix it up on the record. It’s very pure. I wasn’t trying to be cool. “

The result is incredibly bizarre: you don’t expect to hear Destiny’s Child melodies mixed with a Korn guitar riff (XS) or a Beethoven sonata mixed with the Final Fantasy (Snakeskin) victory band but inexplicably, everything works.

“There were so many family dramas growing up that I wanted it to look dramatic,” she says.

“It was not like,‘ Yah! I just want to make people dance! Maybe on the second album, I will, but on the first, there were things I had to talk about. “

However, the release of the album was not easy. The grungy and abrasive guitars marked a change in tone from the brilliant pop of his first popular EP in 2017, Rina.

Several record companies were reluctant to hear the first single STFU! – an aggressive and explicit response to the racist and festive comments she receives as a Japanese woman living in the West (” Have you ever thought about closing your big mouth? Because I have it, many times, ” she sings in the chorus).

According to Rina, an unnamed major label pulled out of the negotiations after she played the song to them. She later learned that one of the executives had called her Rina Wagamama behind her back, somewhat proving the point of the song.

The album was eventually recovered by the 1975 label The Dirty Hit whose owner, Jamie Oborne, had no concerns.

“He laughed hysterically; he loved her from the start, “Rina recently told Billboard magazine.

Her confidence in Rina’s vision was rewarded when the album was released last week, with rave reviews from both sides of the Atlantic. Rolling Stone called it a “thrilling musical adventure” while The Independent described the newcomer as “one of the most daring voices in pop today.”

“Rina Sawayama,” concluded Paper Magazine, “is our favorite genre.”

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The star’s tour has been delayed due to a coronavirus but she says, “I’m not going to lie, I like to do everything at home. “

The singer avoided criticism – “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to read good things about you” – but says that the album received a boost from the most important critic of all: her mom .

“I sent her and she loves it,” says Rina.

Ms. Sawayama even features on the final track, Snakeskin, reflecting on what she thinks about life, in an interview recorded by Rina on the occasion of her 60th birthday.

“I realized that now I want to see who I want to see, do what I want to do, be who I want to be,” she says in Japanese.

It was a conclusion that Rina also came to during the making of the album. Sharing this experience meant that part of his residual anxiety had simply “melted”.

“People try to represent themselves all their lives by creating stories,” says the singer.

“Literally at the age of 27, when I started writing this record, I felt ready to understand that it wasn’t like others were trying to lie, you know?

“This is their version of the truth and this recording is my version of the truth. There is something super liberating about it. “

Sawayama is now out on Dirty Hit.

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