Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)
Love Me 4 Me
Fuck This World (Interlude)
Who's Gonna Save U Now?
Tokyo Love Hotel
“It was about halfway through this process that I realised,” Rina Sawayama tells Apple Music, “that this album is definitely about family.” While it’s a deeply personal, genre-fluid exploration, the Japanese British artist is frank about drawing on collaborative hands to flesh out her full kaleidoscopic vision. “If I was stuck, I’d always reach out to songwriter friends and say, ‘Hey, can you help me with this melody or this part of the song?’” she says. “Adam Hann from The 1975, for example, helped rerecord a lot of guitar for us, which was insane.” Born in Niigata in northwestern Japan before her family moved to London when she was five, Sawayama graduated from Cambridge with a degree in politics, psychology and sociology and balanced a fledgling music career’s uncertainty with the insurance of professional modelling. The leftfield pop on her 2017 mini-album RINA offered significant promise, but this debut album is a Catherine wheel of influences (including, oddly thrillingly, nu metal), dispatched by a pop rebel looking to take us into her future. “My benchmark is if you took away all the production and you’re left with just the melody, does it still sound pop?” she says. “The gag we have is that it’ll be a while until I start playing stadiums. But I want to put that out into the universe. It’s going to happen one day.” Listen to her debut album to see why we feel that confidence is not misplaced—and read’s Rina’s track-by-track guide.
“I think thematically and lyrically it makes sense to start off with this. I guess I come from a bit of an academic background, so I always approach things like a dissertation. The title of the essay would be ‘Won't you break the chain with me?’ It's about intergenerational pain, and I'm asking the listener to figure out this whole world with me. It's an invitation. I'd say ‘Dynasty’ is one of the craziest in terms of production. I think we had 250 tracks in Logic at one point.”
“I wrote this with Nate Campany, Kyle Shearer and Chris Lyon, who are super pop writers. It was the first session we ever did together in LA. They were noodling around with guitar riffs and I was like, ‘I want to write something that's really abrasive, but also pop that freaks you out.’ It's the good amount of jarring, the good side of jarring that it wakes you up a little bit every four bars or whatever. I told them, 'I really love N.E.R.D and I just want to hear those guitars.’”
“I wanted to shock people because I'd been away for a while. The song before this was [2018 single] 'Flicker', and that's just so happy and empowering in a different way. I wanted to wake people up a little bit. It's really fun to play with people's emotions, but if fundamentally the core of the song again is pop, then people get it, and a lot of people did here. I was relieved.”
Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys)
"It's one of my favourite basslines. It was with [LA producers and singer-songwriters] Bram Inscore and Nicole Morier, who's done a lot of stuff with Britney. I think this was our second session together. I came into it and said, 'Yeah, I think I want to write about toxic masculinity.' Then Nicole was like, ‘Oh my god, that's so funny, because I was just thinking about Beto O'Rourke and how he'd lost the primary in Texas, but still said, essentially, 'I was born to win it, so it’s fine.’”
“This was one of the songs that I wrote alone. It is personal, but I always try and remove my ego and try to think of the end result, which is the song. There's no point fighting over whether it's 100% authentically personal. I think there's ways to tell stories in songs that is personal, but also general. RINA was just me writing lyrics and melody and then [UK producer] Clarence Clarity producing. This record was the first time that I'd gone in with songwriters. Honestly, up until then I was like, 'So what do they actually do? I don't understand what they would do in a session.' I didn't understand how they could help, but it's only made my lyrics better and my melodies better.”
“I wanted to write a theme song for a TV show. Like if my life, my teenage years, was like a TV show, then what would be the soundtrack, the opening credits? It really reminded me of Ferris Bueller's Day Off and that kind of fast BPM you’d get in the ’80s. I think it's at 130 or 140 BPM. I was really wild when I was a teenager, and that sense of adventure comes from a production like that. There's a bit in the song where my mum's telling me off, but that's actually my voice. I realised that if I pitched my voice down, I sound exactly like my mum.”
Love Me 4 Me
“For me, this was a message to myself. I was feeling so under-confident with my work and everything. I think on the first listen it just sounds like trying to get a lover to love you, but it's not at all. Everything is said to the mirror. That's why the spoken bit at the beginning and after the middle eight is like: 'If you can't love yourself, how are you going to love somebody else?' That's a RuPaul quote, so it makes me really happy, but it's so true. I think that's very fundamental when being in a relationship—you've got to love yourself first. I think self-love is really hard, and that's the overall thing about this record: It's about trying to find self-love within all the complications, whether it's identity or sexuality. I think it's the purest, happiest on the record. It’s like that New Jack Swing-style production, but originally it had like an '80s sound. That didn't work with the rest of the record, so we went back and reproduced it.”
“I think everyone's been a bad friend at some point, and I wanted to write a very pure song about it. Before I went in to write that, I'd just seen an old friend. She's had a baby. I'd seen that on Facebook, and I hadn't been there for it at all, so I was like, ‘What!’ We fell out, basically. In the song, in the first verse, we talk about Japan and the mad, fun group trip we went on. The vocoder in the chorus sort of reflects just the emptiness you feel, almost like you've been let go off a rollercoaster. I do have a tendency to fall head-first into new relationships, romantic relationships, and leave my friends a little bit. She's been through three of my relationships like a rock. Now I realise that she just felt completely left behind. I'm going to send it to her before it comes out. We're now in touch, so it's good.”
F**k This World (Interlude)
“Initially, this song was longer, but I feel like it just tells the story already. Sometimes a song doesn't need that full structure. I wanted it to feel like I'm dissociating from what's happening on Earth and floating in space and looking at the world from above. Then the song ends with a radio transmission and then I get pulled right back down to Earth, and obviously a stadium rock stage, which is…”
Who’s Gonna Save U Now?
“When [UK producer and songwriter] Rich Cooper, [UK songwriter] Johnny Latimer and I first wrote this, it was like a '90s Britney song. It wasn't originally stadium rock. Then I watched [2018’s] A Star Is Born and Bohemian Rhapsody in the same week. In A Star Is Born, there's that first scene where he's in front of tens of thousands of people, but it's very loaded. He comes off stage and he doesn't know who he is. The stage means a lot in movies. For Freddie Mercury too: Despite any troubles, he was truly himself when he was onstage. I felt the stage was an interesting metaphor for not just redemption, but that arc of storytelling. Even when I was getting bullied at school, I never thought, 'Oh, I'll do the same back to them.' I just felt: 'I'm going to become successful so that you guys rethink your ways.' For me, this song is the whole redemption stadium rock moment. I've never wanted revenge on people.”
Tokyo Love Hotel
“I'd just come back from a trip to Japan and witnessed these tourists yelling in the street. They were so loud and obnoxious, and Japan's just not that kind of country. I was thinking about the  Olympics. Like, 'Oh god, the people who are going to come and think it's like Disneyland and just trash the place.' Japanese people are so polite and respectful, and I feel that culture in me. There are places in Japan called love hotels, where people just go to have sex. You can book the room to simply have sex. I felt like these tourists were treating Japan as a country or Tokyo as a city in that way. They just come and have casual sex in it, and then they leave. They’ll say, ‘That was so amazing, I love Tokyo,' but they don’t give a shit about the people or don't know anything about the people and how difficult it is to grow up there. Then at the end of each verse, I say, 'Oh, but this is just another song about Tokyo,' referring back to my trip that I had in 'Bad Friend' where I was that tourist and I was going crazy. It's my struggle with feeling like an outsider in Japan, but also feeling like I'm really part of it. I look the same as everyone else, but feel like an outsider, still.”
“I wrote this thinking about my chosen family, which is my LGBTQ sisters and brothers. I mean, at university, and at certain points in my life where I've been having a hard time, the LGBTQ community has always been there for me. The concept of chosen family has been long-standing in the queer community because a lot of people get kicked out of their homes and get ostracised from their family for coming out or just living true to themselves. I wanted to write a song literally for them, and it's just a message and this idea of a safe space—an actual physical space.”
“This has a Beethoven sample [Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 ‘Pathétique’]. It’s a song that my mum used to play on the piano. It’s the only song I remember her playing, and it only made sense to end with that. I wanted it to end with her voice, and that's her voice, that little more crackle of the end. The metaphor of ‘Snakeskin’ is a handbag, really. A snakeskin handbag that people commercialise, consume and use as they want. At the end my mum says in Japanese, ‘I've realised that now I want to see who I want to see, do what I want to do, be who I want to be.’ I interviewed her about how it felt to turn 60 on her birthday, after having been through everything she’s gone through. For her to say that…I just needed to finish the record on that note.”