Revealing + healing in equal measure
Susan Hansen
15:34 13th September 2022

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British-Japanese singer-songwriter Rina Sawayama’s new album Hold The Girl offers intimate, introspective moments of great, dramatic pop music.  Revealing and healing in equal measure, it has more depth than many contempotary pop records. 

A biographical document, Sawayama's second full-length album shows some of her most personal storytelling to date. Creating a compelling narrative in the process, it’s an ambitious formula, especially when it’s presented in an illustrious, glossy pop context. 

Some context: the writing of Hold The Girl coincided with the start of an intensive therapy process for Rina, and the thirteen tracks here showcase the personal journey and the growth the singer gained as a result of the work. This may sound heavy, but the songs are presented with such precision, and the well-defined, rather entertaining pop lightness instead draws you in. 

The album is admirably varied, too. Reflecting genres as wide as country pop, industrial, indie, trance, garage and grunge, Rina explores music by Aerosmith, Dolly Parton, Pussycat Dolls, Avril Lavigne, Garbage, Bon Jovi and Shania Twain on Hold The Girl. Inevitably, it leads to somewhere fascinating.

Sawayama’s existence is uncovered quite early on the record. “All my life I’ve felt out of place,” she declares on ‘Minor Feelings’, the album opening track. It’s a difficult feeling that emerges as a flashback from childhood, but then gets processed through the eyes of an adult. “Dreaming of the day that I’m tall enough to save myself / But I was just a child”, she concludes.

The singer’s versatility of language and expression is shown throughout, and especially during the Britney Spears-like moment ‘This Hell’, a place where humour is used as a means to tackling a pressing topic. Exploring the subject of homophobia through satire demonstrates Sawayama’s ability to view things from more than one perspective: “Cos the devils wearing Prada / And loves a little drama”, she asserts.

Elsewhere, dark, feverish moments are built with tracks such as ‘Your Age’ and the more untamed, if not chaotic, ‘Frankenstein’. Touching on nu-metal and industrial — which were prevalent on our Album of the Year 2020, her debut SAWAYAMA — these genres spice up the record, representing stirring moments of surprise and familiarity. 

‘Give My Love To John’ offers the definitive, most breathtaking moment on the album. Acoustically led, the distinct narrative about a queer person’s challenging relationship with their parents just feels utterly real. 

Shiny, but inward-looking. Humorous, but deep and mature, Hold The Girl is the type of pop record the world so desperately needs right now, because it makes sense when many other things appear not to.     

Hold The Girl arrives 16 September via Dirty Hit.

Grab your copy of the Gigwise print magazine here.

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Photo: Press