Holding The Girl: Rina Sawayama Review

Written by on September 26, 2022

Rising pop star Rina Sawayama released her second studio album Hold The Girl on Sept. 16, and it was the tiniest bit of a disappointment, although not all of it.

Rina Sawayama’s Hold The Girl

Sawayama, who is known for catchy songs about capitalism and family problems, set out to make her album different than the rest of her discography. Influenced largely by music from the ’90s and the early 2000s, Sawayama’s new album sticks to her roots.

This album was supposed to be very personal to her, and I believe in some ways it really is. Instead of writing about other people, or societal patterns and issues, Hold The Girl is more about herself. It is an album about looking at your past self and learning and growing from it. For that reason, the album is admiral. It is nice to watch artists grow not only in their craft, but as a person.

After listening through Hold The Girl, it is very hard to get into it compared to the EP RINA and album SAWAYAMA. Most of the songs are just not as catchy as some of Sawayama’s hits “XS”, “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome”, and “LUCID”. Now catchiness is not the end all, be all of music. But for pop music, specifically, it is a must. 

Additionally, while most songs on the album clearly have high production value, they still feel hollow or incomplete. For example, the lead single “This Hell” has great production, but it is confusing as to what the song is about. It is almost a love song, almost a critique of wealth, and almost a critique of how famous women are treated by the public. Yet, the song is not completely any of those, nor does the song harmoniously blend the three differing themes.

As much as this album seems to be about reflection, some of the songs feel like they are focused more on Sawayama’s anger. The song “Your Age” shows Sawayama’s rage toward the adults of her childhood. “Forgiveness” is more about the lack of forgiveness in her life. Not to say that her “winding” journey to forgiveness is invalid. In fact, I quite get what she means by this. However, there is not much substance, other than the realization that forgiveness is hard. That does not seem to be enough to sustain the song or the message of it; there are no other realizations, reflections or nuances about the forgiveness process. 

That being said, it is hard to dismiss the album as a whole for one reason: “Send My Love To John”. The only acoustic, most stripped-down and most melodic song of the album is also the most heartfelt and most nuanced. The song is a reflection on the immigrant experience and its relevance to queer identities. From the point of view of a caring but religious mother of a gay child, Sawayama comments on this complicated relationship. Not only does this song represent a theme that is rare in pop music, but it also presents a unique perspective, one that shows a possible reconciliation and a bittersweet ending.

Rina Sawayama in London (Rolling Stone UK)

“Send My Love To John” shows some of the best work that Sawayama can do. Unfortunately, the rest of Hold The Girl does not. It shows what happens when an artist gains a bigger budget, but does not have succinct or complete enough ideas to back the budget up. Hopefully, Sawayama can find more to say because despite some of the pessimism of this review, I don’t think we are done with her.

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