Album Of The Week: Rina Sawayama – Hold The Girl

The singer-songwriter’s second album veers from shimmering synths to dark distortion as she reconciles with her inner child

“The pain in my veins is hereditary,” sang Sawayama on ‘Dynasty’, the opener to 2020’s SAWAYAMA. Amidst the sparkling Y2K pop and headbanging nu-metal of her debut, references to strained parental relationships and an insecure queerness lingered – on Hold The Girl, Sawayama draws them to the forefront. The album’s title track, which flirts with electropop, disco and gospel at different points, tenderly extends a hand to her inner child and declares her intention to begin the healing process. “Reach inside and hold you close, I won’t leave you on your own,” she promises.

Rina Sawayama - Hold The Girl (Official Music Video)

Much of Hold The Girl is retrospective, Sawayama tracing back the line of her life and piecing it all together. ‘Holy’ depicts a relationship with an older man who used experience and religion to keep a seventeen-year-old Sawayama in check – “I was innocent when you said I was evil,” she realises. ‘Your Age’ uses its distorted, alternative sound to demand answers from some unknown betrayer. “Now that I’m your age/I just can’t imagine/Why did you do it?” Then, as the music cuts – “You f*cked up my life.” Tracks like these are wonderfully messy. They are meant to be danced to frantically, with clenched fists, whilst the club spins around you.

Rina Sawayama - Catch Me In The Air (Official Visualiser)

But Sawayama’s present is sparkling. The beautiful ‘Catch Me In The Air’, which takes cues from Muna, Kelly Clarkson and Gwen Stefani, depicts her complex but ultimately close relationship with her single mother. Acknowledging the fear that her mother often must have felt throughout her childhood, Sawayama celebrates how it all turned out. “Look at us now, way past the clouds/That haunted your dreams, I hope that you’re proud,” she sings as the track fades out. ‘Phantom’ marks a poignant reunion with her younger self. “I was wrong to assume I would ever outgrow you,” she sings tenderly.

Rina Sawayama - Phantom (Official Visualiser)

Lead single ‘This Hell’ is irresistible, a bold claiming of her queer identity and a middle finger to those who can’t accept it. Sawayama quotes Paris Hilton and Shania Twain, references The Devil Wears Prada, and delivers a dancefloor hit almost too good to be true. “Get in line, pass the wine, bitch/We’re going straight to hell,” she deadpans.

Her identity is the throughline of the album, but Sawayama’s imagination spirals off into other places. Her storytelling is excellent, a skill she has honed since SAWAYAMA to dazzling effect. ‘Send My Love To John’, the album’s quietest moment and the closest we get to an acoustic track, tells a completely fictional tale about an immigrant mother realising where she went wrong raising her queer son. Sawayama weaves the narrative to devastating effect, with gut punch lyrics such as – “We both had to leave our mothers to get the things we wanted.”

Rina Sawayama - This Hell (Official Music Video)

‘Frankenstein’ is one of her most compelling tales, a furiously charged dark electronic track that describes the relationship between Dr Frankenstein and his creation. In the voice of the creature she calls to be fixed, reworked and made desirable. “I don’t want to be a monster anymore,” she pleads. Few artists could take a sentiment like that and make you want to dance to it. Sawayama is one of them.

Hold The Girl will be released this Friday 16th Sept. Rina Sawayama will set out on her UK tour this October. Get tickets here.