Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA Music Album Reviews

The Japanese-British pop singer’s debut is a Y2K flashback that’s as reverent of Evanescence and Korn as it is of Britney and Christina.

The scene: TRL, 1999. The tweens: legion, transforming Times Square into a cheer section and breaking the dial-up internet voting for their video faves. Those videos: Backstreet Boys, Britney, and Korn’s “Freak on a Leash.” The nu-metal hit was No. 1 on TRL about 10 times—it probably would have topped the charts longer had MTV not pulled it after Columbine—and shared space with Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and other decidedly un-bubblegum bands. Of course, these days nu-metal is considered—to put it kindly—fairly uncool. But nobody relayed the genre’s future uncoolness to the tweenage millennials who imprinted on it: Grimes, Poppy, and now Japanese-British artist Rina Sawayama, who “kind of [likes] making really uncool things cool.”

SAWAYAMA, her debut album after years of retromaniac singles, does for Y2K pop what Hulu’s PEN15 did for Y2K middle school: recreates it to the tiniest detail. Many of us would like to escape to 2000 these days, and musicians more than anyone; in the span of a few months in 2018 we got songs called “1999” and “2002,” both of which interpolate the same Britney lyric, neither of which quite capture the year. But SAWAYAMA sounds like actual 1999 and 2002, when they had producers other than Max Martin, bands other than the boy variety, and arrangements so overproduced that now, in this time of endless chill, they’re almost refreshing. The album’s other big reference points are Timbaland and the Neptunes—particularly Exodus, the Timbaland-assisted album by J-pop star and Sawayama’s childhood idol Utada Hikaru—and “heavier Britney stuff.” Her audience is people who know exactly which songs she means.
The Korn-iest song on SAWAYAMA is lead single “STFU!”, in which Sawayama summons the genre’s aggression and redirects it against casual racists; in the video, they’re embodied by a composite of every white sadsack on Hinge, who serenades his date with actual shit Sawayama heard from label execs. But her take on nu-metal bypasses bros entirely, beginning with Garbage—at times Sawayama sounds eerily like Shirley Manson, or maybe Tori Amos if her Slayer cover was actual Slayer—and pivoting on the chorus to singsong bubblegum pop. So when she finally really lets loose, with a howling last note and roaring crescendo, the eruption’s been primed.

“STFU!” is also a bit of a red herring. Most of Sawayama’s nu-metal influence appears either in snippets, like the riffs that intermittently “flare up like an underlying zit” beneath “XS,” in translation, like the guitars that blend into new jack swing “Love Me 4 Me” by being so canned they’re shelf-stable, or in absence: the album’s gentlest, most contemplative song, which is called “Fuck This World.” Often, the artists to whom Sawayama pays homage are those who already blended the genres. “Dynasty” is an obvious take on Evanescence (“a little pocket of culture that people are maybe too scared [to reference],” she called the band) and is more like nu-melodrama: an intro with an airhorn but also strings, butt-rock but also church bells, a showy guitar solo but also a soprano vocal tracing it. “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” is like the lost third sibling to Britney’s “Stronger” and Christina’s “Fighter,” and the song, complete with cheering fans and call-and-response, captures arena heroics in these arenaless times.

The production of SAWAYAMA is so immaculate that when she attempts to satirize pop music, she plays the part too well. “XS” (pronounced “excess”) matches style to subject, luxuriating in the rhymes of “Tesla Xs” with “Calabasas.” It could be a lost Cora Corman track from Music and Lyrics—which is to say, only satire in context. The slinky “Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)” mashes together “I Feel Love,” Christine and the Queens’ “Girlfriend,” a thwacking house beat, and Madonna-esque backing vocals into something supposedly about Beto O’Rourke. But even if you didn’t pick up on that, it still sounds like hitting yourself in the head with a silk scarf wrapped around your fist.

Most of the album, though, is absolutely irony-free, and better for it. The chorus of “Bad Friend,” the rare friend-breakup song by the guilty party, cloaks Sawayama’s voice in a thick cloak of vocoder that falls away at the last “friend”: a sudden pang of sincerity, when it’s too late. “Chosen Family” pairs a Nickelodeon-sweet melody with Danny L Harle production, and the sugar content would overwhelm almost any topic but this: the “chosen family” of LGBTQ friends, which hasn’t often received the specific affirmation of pop ballads. “Paradisin’” begins with a video-game blip like it’s zapping you back to teenagerdom and runs on the manic, buzzing-out-of-your skin energy of being 15 and damning all consequences.

Best of all, at the end, is “Snakeskin.” The track begins like a torch song or an aria, Sawayama’s voice heavy and ominous. She goes into a sinuous vocal coil—the corresponding “heavier Britney song” is probably “Over to You Now”—then lets it build to a hissing drop (maybe more 2013 than 2003, but who’s counting?). Even if it didn’t interpolate the Final Fantasy fanfare, it would still sound like defeating the world. That’s what sets Sawayama apart: A neural network could add Papa Roach to its aughties pastiche. What’s harder to fake is the desperate, pulsing emotion beneath the songs, the kind that demands listeners pour in their own emotion until the song overflows.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA Music Album Reviews Rina Sawayama - SAWAYAMA Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on April 27, 2020 Rating: 5


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