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12th April 2021

Rina Sawayama – A shining light in the global pandemic

Frankie Golding reviews Sawayama the 2020 album following Rina Sawayama’s recent sucess bringing inclusivity to the BRIT awards and Mercury Prize.
Rina Sawayama – A shining light in the global pandemic
Photo: Cover for SAWAYAMA: Deluxe Edition, Press Shot Courtesy of Ed Blow @ Dirty Hit Records

Singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama has been praised by the media in these last few weeks for sparking an inclusive change in the eligibility criteria for the BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize.

Prior to this, many artists had been ineligible for the BRITs and Mercury Prize for not holding British citizenship. This excluded immigrants such as Rina herself as she holds Japanese citizenship. Many questioned the exclusion of Sawayama from these awards as she has lived in the U.K. for over twenty-five years, this outrage materialising in the hashtag #SawayamaIsBritish, which trended on twitter.

This social media traction led to Rina being invited to talks with the British Phonographic Industry, who run the BRITs and Mercury Prize, the conclusion from these talks being an eligibility change, inclusive of anyone who has lived in the U.K. for over five years. It is easy to see therefore why Rina’s actions have been hailed as a victory for equality and diversity in Britain.

Following the recent praise for Rina, I take this opportunity to return to her breakout out album SAWAYAMA, to reflect on its release in early 2020 on the brink of one of the hardest years for the LGBTQ+ community, and to discuss how this album has been a shining light and beacon of hope for many.

Hailed by Elton John as 2020’s “strongest album of the year by far”

The album has received a lot of critical acclaim, receiving copious amounts five star reviews, featuring in NME’s top 10 albums of the year and, most notably, being hailed by Elton John as 2020’s “strongest album of the year by far”. Her experimental sound dabbles in the likes of nu-metal and hyper-pop with ease (sometimes within the same song, such as in ‘XS’ and ‘STFU!’). and has certainly contributed to SAWAYAMA being both a widely accessible and widely loved album. With influences from Peggy Gou, Björk, Rage Against The Machine and Korn, it would not be out of place to hear Rina playing in both the Manchester clubs of G-A-Y, Satan’s Hollow and Hidden.

One may initially think that it is a shame this album was released at the start of the pandemic, meaning none of us Brits got to experience these queer celebratory anthems in the club setting for which they were surely intended. However, these songs have, however unintended this was, adapted amazingly to the new setting they have been forced into, providing listeners with a much needed escapism from the dire reality of lockdown with tracks like ‘Paradisin’’ and ‘Fuck This World (Interlude)’.

Further still, Rina blessed us with the self esteem boost many of us have needed with ‘Love Me 4 Me’. These tracks in particular are riddled with ethereal pop beats that both feel hopeful for the future and reminiscent of better days.

Alongside these upbeat club tracks, Sawayama, who identifies as both bisexual and pansexual, has presented the audio equivalent of giving a much-needed hug to the queer community with the penultimate song of the album, ‘Chosen Family’. She told NME that this song is dedicated to her queer family to whom she may not be alive right now without.

‘We don’t need to be related to relate, we don’t need to share genes or a surname’

Her heart-wrenching lyrics, for example ‘we don’t need to be related to relate, we don’t need to share genes or a surname’ had the intention of reaching out to those queer people ostracised by their friends and family after coming out, who are often kicked out of where they call home. Perhaps unexpectedly again, ‘Chosen Family’, recorded before the pandemic, is reaching queer people stuck inside their homes unable to escape the company of bigoted relatives, reminding them that they are not alone.

A study from UCL and Sussex University has revealed that members of the LGBTQ+ youth in isolation are disproportionately suffering in terms of mental health. 69% of respondents reportedly suffering depressive symptoms, while a larger 90% of respondents experienced homophobia or transphobia in their homes. The message of ‘Chosen Family’ feels more important than ever, and is written and articulated in such a beautiful way, really hitting home for me in perfectly encapsulating the gratitude I have towards my queer friends.

We have a lot to thank Rina Sawayama for this lockdown: fighting for equality and diversity as well as providing a staple in queer-coping playlists, providing countless uplifting instant club classics reminding me of better times, and making me more hopeful than ever for the lifting of British lockdown so I can properly dance to her songs.

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