Rina Sawayama - Hold the Girl Music Album Reviews

Rina Sawayama - Hold the Girl Music Album Reviews
Seeking empathy for a younger self, Rina Sawayama’s second album pirouettes through pop-punk and power ballads, trance and stadium rock. It’s ambitious in the same way as putting on all the clothes in your closet.

Rina Sawayama’s 2020 debut reckoned sincerely with friendship falling-outs and familial wounds, but on its best song, the pop singer pretended to be a rich girl dripping in Cartier and cruising in Teslas. “XS” was intended as arch anti-capitalist critique in an age of climate crisis, but its luxe vision was a better sell for being the rich, not eating them; Sawayama whispered “excess” as if it were the name of a designer perfume, the scent of “more” intoxicating. Intention aside, a fabulous pop persona goes a long way. Even if Sawayama became the type of star who stinks up the Earth with her private jet, as long as she delivers fun hooks, haute looks, and damn good live performances, she’ll have people obsessing: “Bestie, what’s the skincare routine?”

Lately, though, the 32-year-old artist has been reading self-help books and having revelations in therapy—so her second album, Hold the Girl, is decidedly more earnest and weighty. Sawayama has framed the album as part of a process of “reparenting” herself, and the emphasis on one’s “inner child” may explain why the record’s imagery leans elementary: Blue skies and storms, villains and heroes, the feeling of being imprisoned inside one’s bedroom. She knows other queer people have also had complicated upbringings, so she nobly strives to create belonging: “If I can heal someone around me or someone that I don’t know with the songs I write … why wouldn’t I take it?” she reasons. The spiritual predecessor to Hold the Girl is not the blithe, stylish “XS” but the kindly, saccharine “Chosen Family.”

Another way to think about Hold the Girl is that it’s an attempt to merge the full-throated spectacle of Born This Way with the surviving-through-trauma emotionality of Chromatica. But there are plenty of other touchstones beyond Gaga, and Sawayama wears them on her sleeve: the dreamy contralto of Karen Carpenter, the puckered pop-rock of Avril Lavigne, the rousing, motivational tenor of Katy Perry. Sawayama’s tagline for single “Catch Me in the Air” is essentially “the Corrs if pitched to Gwen Stefani,” which doesn’t even get at the half of it. She opens the heartfelt tribute to her single mother with moony new age woodwinds straight from Céline Dion, then switches to Kelly Clarkson guitar strums: “Catch me in the air-eee air-eee air-eee airrr,” she sings in the chorus, as if yodeling while strapped into a rollercoaster.

Almost every song strives to be Sawayama’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with genre mash-ups and key changes galore. The title track brings 8-bit video game flourishes to a 2-step breakdown, but there’s also the abrupt flare of strings, a country gallop to the verses, and a thunderous choral finale. Follow-up “This Hell” interpolates ABBA, tips its hat to Shania Twain and Paris Hilton, and indulges in pop feminist sloganeering (“Fuck what they did to Britney/To Lady Di and Whitney”). Even then, she can’t help herself, so the song climaxes on a gnarly hair metal guitar solo. Hold the Girl is ambitious in the way that putting on all the clothes in your closet is ambitious. It’s as if Sawayama heard the adage “kill your darlings” and decided it wasn’t slay enough.

SAWAYAMA could be overwhelming too, but it stuck mostly to a novel mix of turn-of-the-millennium pop and nu-metal. On Hold the Girl, the singer fulfills a promise to “mine even more left-field references from decades past,” going for pop-punk and power ballads, trance and stadium rock. A militant digital beat supersedes the plucks of what sounds like a Punjabi tumbi on “Your Age,” an age-gap relationship accounting akin to Demi Lovato’s “29.” The pairing is like grapes and fish sauce, and in the chorus Sawayama swings for Nine Inch Nails but lands closer to the shout-rebellion of GAYLE. (Rhyming “social suicide” with “a jail personified” does not help the cause.) It comes as a relief when you get to the chrome-plated “Frankenstein,” one of the record’s most focused, and thus best, songs. Sawayama leans into the dark theatrics of Fall Out Boy or the Veronicas, nervy guitars grounding the mania as she compares herself to one of literature’s most famous freaks.

The album fares much better in small increments—that way, you can better absorb the ketamine freakout on “Imagining,” the swooning harmonies on “Phantom,” the blinding club stomp on “Holy (Til You Let Me Go).” Sawayama’s 2000s pop-rock numbers are just the right amount of sentimental, like rewatching your favorite Disney Channel original movie. (This is true even when the lyrics are sometimes baffling: “So I create a storm and bury it deep, hiding the key/In plain sight, just in case I need help, help!” she sings on “Hurricane.”) In time the twists will feel less jarring. But repeated listens don’t open up the album’s logic—the simplest explanation for its aesthetic choices seems to be that Sawayama made them because she could.

Hold the Girl’s constant pivots make it hard to track its central concept: revisiting and empathizing with a younger self. Opener “Minor Feelings” sets the stage for a grand emotional reckoning, nodding to Cathy Park Hong’s landmark essay collection about petty, racialized feelings that never quite escalate into catharsis: “The more I keep them inside/The more they bury me alive,” Sawayama announces. But the pensive mood deflates as Hold the Girl immediately veers to dancier, more involved songs—and the album’s broad-brush lyrics leave little to hold onto anyway, despite Sawayama’s intention to emulate the evocative storytelling of folklore. The main exception is “Send My Love to John,” a dusky country ballad written from the perspective of a gay friend’s conservative mom. The story humanizes immigrant parents and revels in making progress toward better familial relationships—a rare subject in pop songs. But the incongruousness of its placement threatens to overshadow its touching message. The album’s only acoustic track swerves in just as Hold the Girl is about to close.

Like a classic overachiever, Sawayama wants to do so much in her music: The Cambridge graduate wants to speak to the political climate and flaunt her keen study of pop history. She wants to assuage the pain of others but also be carefree and fun. She wants to honor her own queer, Asian, first-generation British identity yet keep things relatable to a universal audience. What’s left is an album with an excess of initiative but not enough follow-through, a record that takes on so much it risks burning out. In the end, the little girl at the center of the album gets swallowed by her own vision.

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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 - Hold the Girl Music Album Reviews Rina Sawayama - Hold the Girl Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Friday, September 23, 2022 Rating: 5

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