When Rina Sawayama moved from Japan to London at the age of five, she remembers flipping through music channels on TV, hoping to meet a pop star she could relate to. “If you’re white, she can say, ‘I want to be Christina,’ or ‘I want to be Britney,'” she says. “It would be different if she was Asian.” What Sawayama wasn’t there yet, became her.
Since breaking through pop fans’ doors with their 2017 EP, Lina – An exhilarating blend of bubblegum melodies, industrial guitars and lyrics that express the anxiety of living online – Sawayama is part of a new generation of pop stars reshaping the industry model to fit their own Mugler-wearing mould. established. (In fact, she persuaded the Brit Awards and the Mercury Prize to change a series of arcane rules that excluded her and others like her, who are Japanese citizens but have lived in the UK for most of their lives, from competing. persuaded to do so.)
Her debut album was released next. Sawayama, received overwhelming critical acclaim in 2020, leading to a well-deserved Briton of the Year nomination in 2021. “Everything was so exciting,” she recalls of her head-turning ascent back to live shows after the pandemic. Kaleidoscopic Vivienne decked out in her Westwood bodysuit.
“When the world started to open up, everyone put their all into their work and social lives.” That included roles such as John Wick: Chapter 4, opposite Keanu Reeves in collaboration with self-proclaimed superfan Elton John, brought her chop-and-screw Y2K style to the front row at Paris Fashion Week’s Schiaparelli and Balenciaga. (“In everyday life, I’d be happy with a capsule wardrobe, honestly,” she says of her style. “But on stage, I’m all about gags.”)
So it’s no surprise that she started hitting a wall while promoting her second record. hold the girl, last fall. “I think I’ve done almost 100+ interviews,” she says, leading up to the album’s more personal spheres, including her recent re-parenting therapy to deal with her childhood trauma. talk about “It wasn’t okay. start to become
But when I met Sawayama at a cafe in West London, she was upbeat. Perhaps it’s because she’s spent a million miles away from the hectic stages and red carpets that have marked her years so far. “I’m mostly in Wicks,” she said, eating a plate of potato waffles while power-washing the deck is a recent obsession, she said. “I’m a DIY girl now.”
She explains that spending time with close-knit queer friends over the past two months has been especially grounding. Sawayama came out as bisexual to the same group when she graduated from Cambridge University. ‘ she remembers. It was with the release of her 2018 single “Cherry” that she introduced herself to the wider world as pansexual. “For me, it doesn’t really matter what your gender expression is,” she explained of the term, noting that her close friend coming out as non-binary is a testament to this. It helped her understand the language, she added. “It’s a new word, so people still don’t understand what exactly it means. But if I’m attracted to you, that’s it.”
The weight of expectations on Sawayama as one of the few queer Asian musicians in the public eye now feels less of a minefield than it once was: that she was “liberated.” change to express. “I don’t really think about it now,” she says. “Somebody I met in the American music industry recently said, ‘You have a lot of diversity items, so you should have more commercial opportunities.’ Ta…” Sawayama paused between bites of his waffle, giving him a bewildered look in profile.
“We’re not where I wanted to be yet, but I think I’ve been able to express myself a lot more now since I started making music,” she continued. Roll out the list. Parasite and squid game. “Seeing Blackpink headline Coachella…I couldn’t have imagined it as a teenager. It’s so big. Don’t feel that pressure and just enjoy the art that people in Asia are making.” is great.”
It seems that Sawayama’s world has settled down a bit — and so has she. When we met, she was heading into a three-hour session with her acting coach. She hopes to make the most of the doors that open after her performance.John Wick. She is in no hurry to release her next album. Instead, she allows herself to immerse herself in the real world for a moment. “I will be 33 this year and will be moving on to her third album,” she says. “It feels good. Now I can stop and recognize that I am part of this fabric of progress. That’s enough for me.”
Hair: Ali Pirzadeh. Makeup: Terry Barber. Nails: Simone Cummings.Set design: Miguel Bento
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