Rising pop superstar Rina Sawayama is shedding her skin. In her 2017 debut RINA, the Japanese-born, London-based singer transforms into a newer, more self-assured Rina and redevelops her views on the age of the Internet and social media along the way.
Along with longtime collaborator, producer Clarence Clarity, Sawayama explores identity, belonging, resistance, and the digital age through a sound that is reminiscent of pop icons Britney Spears and Lady Gaga.
The Internet, and the effects of it, are a common theme across Sawayama’s music. Her 2016 breakout “Where U Are” is an anthem for anyone who has cultivated a long-distance relationship, or even a friendship, online.
“The only time I see you these days is my projections. I think I feel the love, love, love,” she effortlessly reimagines The Jackson 5’s I Wanna Be Where You Are. “And it’s kind of crazy ‘cause I’ve never met you. Now I’m losing sight of who I’m meant to be in this reality.”
She succinctly describes the moment when you shut off your phone and are alone, online personas fading into figments of imagination: “Lately, I’ve been hiding, second guessing our love constantly. Don’t you know there’s one thing, you always protect me. Sick and tired of knowing you were never real.”
Originally premiered on The FADER, Sawayama’s Cyber Stockholm Syndrome reflects on the digital era we’ve found ourselves in, and how it’s altered everything from our communication methods to our moods.
It’s an autobiographical song, she says, and was the first she’d really written from the heart.
“It took two years of rewriting and revising as I wrestled with the beauty and anxiety of digital life. Before, I saw the internet as a captor of our time and free will. But now, I see embracing a positive relationship with our online selves as an act of self-preservation and defiance.
“In this age, the digital world can offer vital support networks, voices of solidarity, refuge, escape,” Sawayama explained. “That’s what ‘Cyber Stockholm Syndrome’ is about: pessimism, optimism, anxiety, and freedom.”
Sawayama further explores anxiety on 10-20-40, in which she likens the experience of taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to driving a car with no brakes.
“The metaphor is about teetering on the edge, but also the romance of driving,” Sawayama said.
“And the romance of taking Citalopram or being depressed in the media, when actually it’s so mundane. It’s a daily chore.”
A far cry from most of the pop music dominating the charts today, Sawayama’s lyrical depth combined with the early ‘00s pop nostalgia of our youth leave her listeners wanting more.
This depth is found in the fact that for Sawayama, everything is political.
“You can do a Taylor Swift, which is beneficial for your brand, or you can go the route of Princess Nokia or Solange where it can really affect your career, but it’s a risk that they’re willing to take. I just didn’t want to be Taylor,” Sawayama insisted.
“I wanted to be the latter.”