• George Webb

Rina Sawayama carves her own pop music landscape with debut album

We find ourselves at a time where the boundaries of pop music are being pushed. Artists like Charli XCX and Grimes are creating brand new avenues for the genre to explore, with many artists sure to follow suit in the coming years following their success. Even more commercial artists like Dua Lipa and Carly Rae Jepsen are shifting away from the EDM and trap stylings which dominated the charts in the 2010s - Dua Lipa in particular trading them in for a more groove based funk-pop sound.

An artist who seems to be carving out her own lane entirely though, is Rina Sawayama. Her debut album, released on Dirty Hit Records, showcases a unique ability to borrow tendencies from various pockets of pop music and mould them together to form something both fresh, and potentially game-changing. Opener, 'Dynasty' is a theatrical introduction to the album, where anthemic heavy guitar leads are laid underneath a powerful vocal performance which wouldn't look out of place on a 70s power ballad. It's on the second track, 'XS', where Sawayama flaunts her fine-tuned knowledge of pop music both old and new. We're treated to a tight, snappy beat which is so perfectly produced, it sounds like something Timbaland would have masterminded in the early 2000s.

This era of pop is clearly an influence throughout the entire album. Subtle examples of homage paid to artists like Nelly Furtado and Gwen Stefani are scattered amongst the tracklisting. As hinted in the opening cut, heavy guitar tones are incorporated into a large portion of the project. Tracks like 'STFU' demonstrate this unlikely fusion of commercial pop and alt-rock which comes off better than it has any right to. When the production of an album is this engaging, it's easy for a perhaps sub-par vocal performance to slip under the radar. But Sawayama brushes off that opportunity, and presents a vocal delivery that oozes with personality and attitude - 'Chosen Family' likely being the best example of her impressive vocal chops.

'Bad Friend' is arguably the track here which would fit most snugly into today's top 40 climate. A cosy synth beat supports a multi-tracked vocal which delves into the modern contradiction of being labelled a bad friend for taking some time out for yourself. Everything about this album points towards Rina Sawayama possessing the potential to become a superstar, right down to the minor detail, such as the crowd sample at the beginning of 'Who's Gonna Save U Now?'. There are countless musical passages and lyrical themes to get excited about here, all of which amalgamate to create a well-crafted and intelligent pop record, that doesn't sacrifice a single bit of fun.

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BABYSTEP MAGAZINE Est. 2017