Imbued with a spirit and attitude that only the very best pop records have, this is not just a step up but a whole leap to a new exalted level of pop excellence
We’re currently living in an age featuring some of the most futuristic, inventive and thrilling pop music ever made by a vanguard of pioneering pop stars that oddly exist in their own distinct prism. A pop pantheon that exists outside the traditional and, arguably, terribly outdated metrics of the album charts. No artist exemplifies this more than the daring pop visionary Rina Sawayama.
Her 2020 album Sawayama is one of the most dynamic, vivid and deeply bonkers pop records of recent times. With an anything-goes, maximalist mentality and a supremely knowing and playful gift for a culturally defining soundbite, Rina represents a new generation of pop stars. Yet despite its critical acclaim the British-Japanese star is still searching for that elusive real crossover breakthrough that her songwriting, artistry and incredible live shows deserve. She won’t ever have a better shot to break out from niche legend to true pop titan than with Hold The Girl.
More refined and less overtly daring than Sawayama, this album highlights Rina’s emotionally resonant songwriting and a more personal side to her than just pure iconoclasm. Of course, there are uproarious bangers like single of the year contender This Hell, with its glorious ad-libs “wow, that’s hot!”, and turbo charged explosions like the rocket fuelled Taylor Swift-esque Hurricanes, but these breathlessly exciting moments sit aside a number of songs that delve deeper into her psyche. This is an album that values introspective lyricism, inventive melodicism and Rina’s dexterous and powerful voice in equal measure alongside just sheer barnstorming chutzpah.
The title track is an immediate signifier. Dramatic and swelling, it’s a perfect balance between the glitchy, feverish beats of the music with a soaring and yearning vocal. It’s a perfect sign of all the sides of her musical character coming together as one. The regular team of collaborators that she established on the debut are present again here, including producers Clarence Clarity, Paul Epworth, and Stuart Price amongst others alongside songwriting contributions from fellow alt pop luminaries Lauren Aquilina and Oscar Schellar. All of these collaborators crucially fall under Rina’s vision though as she harnesses distinct styles, sounds and a musical spirit of invention into one cohesive whole.
There’s blissful beauty, for example the weightless grace of Catch Me In The Air and the Prince–like goosebump-inducing epic balladry of Phantom as well as a few very subtle curveballs like the delicate acoustic lament of Send My Love To John. In these moments you can hear Rina working at a whole new level of songwriting quality. In amongst the beauty though you have the madness, and it’s that juxtaposition that’s at the heart of the album. You can hear it explicitly in the pair of tracks in the middle of the record that illuminate how Rina is making experimental pop with a real emotional edge. Imagining is perhaps the most dynamic song here, with its echoes of classic UK garage and dance sounds with a fevered chorus that documents an anxious fever dream. Following on nicely is the even more musically unhinged Frankenstein that features Rina cutting loose in the way most akin to the debut: “I’m trying to be normal but trauma is immortal” is a bracing and heart-stopping line on a record full of them.
You can hear the confidence dripping out of every pore of this record. Arena-ready and cavernous in ambition, it’s imbued with a spirit and attitude that only the very best pop records have. Much like Dua Lipa’s incendiary second album Future Nostalgia it’s the sound of not just a step up but a whole leap to a new exalted level of pop excellence.