It’s an interesting time for musicians.
As the world continues to battle the global coronavirus pandemic, artist everywhere are wondering just what their next can and should be. Some, like Charli XCX, are hunkering down to produce new entirely new collections of music inspired, at least in part, by the crisis. Others, like Lady Gaga with her highly-anticipated Chromatica, are pulling their long-awaited new releases off the schedule indefinitely, waiting for a calmer moment when the world can share in the new tunes collectively, as intended. And others still are staying the course and going through with releases scheduled long before COVID-19 took over nearly every aspect of reality.
Rina Sawayama is one of those artists.
Nearly three years after the release of her acclaimed debut EP, entitled, appropriately, RINA, the Japanese-born up-and-coming British pop sensation has dropped her first-ever full-length album on Friday, April 17. And as she told E! News exclusively, there was never any doubt that SAWAYAMA would be pushed or delayed.
“It was important for me to still release the record because, you know, personally, I just really wanted it to come out because I’ve been sitting on it for so long,” she explained, highlighting the importance of music at this crucial moment in history. “And there was kind of no reason for me to push it back because, on a philosophical level, I just feel like we all need music to take our minds off it. [I’m] listening to the radio lots, and the radio just kind of, other than the news bulletins, it kind of reminds me that, you know, things are still ticking along.”
Dirty Hit Records
Coming off an EP as well-received as RINA was, the songstress admits there was a bit of pressure to live up to the hype she’d built around herself when it came time to start working on the album. “I did get into mindset at one point to try and make it, to try and compare it to RINA, and I was like, ‘Oh, I can’t make anything as good as that or something that will resonate in the same way’ but that’s not what it’s about,” Sawayama told us. “I’m so grateful for my fans that, you know, they let me kind of do what I like. And I think if I kind of took it the wrong way and try to give them what they want, it’s kind of me just looking for validation and that’s not what an artist should be striving for, in my opinion.”
“I think the kind of key principle is that collaboration is kind of the key to a good work or good album,” she added. To that end, she re-teamed with RINA producer Clarence Clarity, recruiting the mysterious musician as executive producer this time around, while linking up with “people like Bram Inscore, Nicole Morier and Kyle Shearer, all these incredible songwriters.”
In the lead-up to the album’s release, Sawayama dropped a handful of singles, each representing a different flavor. There was the nu-metal lead single “STFU!,” the gloriously glossy disco track “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys),” the crunchy and capitalism-skewering “XS,” and the gorgeous ballad dedicated to her queer friends–she came out as pansexual in 2018–“Chosen Family.” While each are uniquely Rina, they’re each a detour into a different genre. And that was by design.
“Dig deep was definitely the mission statement. I wanted to create a challenging–well, I mean, it was a challenge, definitely, but I definitely made it more of a challenge by putting in loads of different genres,” Sawayama told us, explaining the overall approach to the album. “But, yeah, just dig deep. I dug deep into my family history, into my traumas and was able to create something that I’m very, very happy with.”
For “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys),” which she worked on with Inscore, a frequent collaborator of Troye Sivan‘s, and Morier, who has writing credits on Britney Spears‘ Blackout, Circus and Femme Fatale albums, the inspiration for the empowering and funky fan-favorite track came from the unlikeliest of places. “I think that morning, I was feeling very under-confident. And we were talking about just confidence in general and Nicole was, you know, talking about male confidence and…Beto O’Rourke,” Sawayama explained. “He lost the Texas primaries or something, and he was like, ‘I was born to win’. And we were just like, ‘God, a woman would never say that.’ And then Bram at the time was just composing this this amazing beat and it just kind of followed, really…I wanted it to sound like a Kylie [Minogue] song from back in 2000s, kind of make you feel really cool and sexy and powerful.”
When it came to “XS,” with its clever sonic dichotomy of a crunchy rock guitar punctuating a dance beat meant to represent the give-and-take between our willful ignorance over climate change and the fleeting moments of terrifying clarity, Sawayama’s intentions were clear.
“‘XS’ is like one of my faves because it’s just, it’s quite chaotic, in a way, but in a very controlled chaos. We came in with the instrumental for that one, so I was like, ‘I really want to make something like that hits N.E.R.D. but then it’s like Pussycat Dolls. So [it has] that contrast. I think every four bars, this guitar stab should happen.’ And then we kind of went off there,” she explained. “The lyrics are important on ‘XS’ because it’s just meant to be…about capitalism and our new set of rules in terms of capitalism and how we, including myself, are all slave to and we can’t get out. We think that just buying more—it’s not just capitalism, it’s complete consumerism and hyper-consumerism. I just kind of wanted to critique it.”
While her favorite song on the 13-track LP changes from day to day–when we spoke with her, it was “F–k This World (Interlude)” because, as she explained, “it’s very simple, quite short, and it’s like my kind of breakup song with the Earth”–there are two that she can’t wait to perform live, whenever that may be. “‘Dynasty,’ probably,” she revealed. “Although ‘STFU!,’ I think, is gonna be really fun to see the Pixels (her name for her fanbase) moshing.”
Until then, though, she just hopes that her album can do for her fans what listening to the radio has done for her in these uncertain times.
“I really hope that the music inspires people. It’s a very personal album,” Sawayama admitted. “So I really hope it takes people on a journey and also provides some sort of distraction from current situations.”
SAWAYAMA is available now.
Don’t miss the One World: Together at Home special with Lady Gaga in celebration of healthcare workers on Saturday, April 18 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NBC followed by an encore at 11 p.m. on E!. For the latest updates on the coronavirus pandemic and for tips on how to prevent the spread of COVID-19, please visit The Center for Disease Control and Prevention at https://www.cdc.gov.
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