The devil works hard, but Rina Sawayama works harder. The newly minted British-Japanese pop star is following up her celebrated debut album SAWAYAMA with Hold The Girl, a colossally ambitious and utterly original record that marries intimate storytelling with arena-sized tunes.
Rina – whose whole raison d'être is bending huge chart influences and blockbuster melodies to her will with precision-tuned songwriting and powerful vocals – is the rare pop artist for whom honesty is never not an option. Making Hold The Girl was a hardwon battle – one that didn’t come easy – and was written during a turbulent period in her life that saw her step back and focus on herself: “A lot of people ignore the symptoms of their emotional pain,” she explains. “It’s when I stopped that I was able to make something meaningful. I’ve worked hard, but I’ve also worked hard on my mental health.”
Hold The Girl is a testament to that personal evolution and the joyousness of finally emerging out the other side, thanks to tracks like Frankenstein, another bombastic Epworth banger that sounds like Garbage meets Girls Aloud and features Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong, and the thumping anthemic house of Holy, produced by Irish artist and producer For Those I Love and written with Nate Campany, who also worked on standout SAWAYAMA single XS.
Hold The Girl isn’t just a smorgasbord of monster hits-in-the-waiting – it’s also a bold and honest statement about the singer coming to terms with her own past and the jubilation of turning to the future. It also mirrors Rina’s own mental health journey, beginning with her confronting her past and ending with the ecstasy of liberation from these dark feelings. Not for nothing does the word “euphoria” keep coming up in her discussion of the album: “I’ve designed the tracklist so it takes you on a journey and by the end you feel released by it,” she explains, adding that the album was directly inspired by the insights she gained with her therapist. “Hold the Girl was the first song I wrote for the record at the end of 2020 – I had gone to therapy and had a revelation, so I decided to write the song… That was the start of it, and then I started doing more intense therapy. I was crying before going into the studio and going into the studio to write about it.”
These are big songs in a big album, choreographing female emotion, despair and hope in a record that pulsates with the message that pop can be more complex, darker and so much more meaningful than your typical girl-meets-boy lyricism. “I'm still very much a maximal writer. I hate silences.” And that’s her down to a tee – in a world that wants women to be quieter, Rina Sawayama is finding new ways to speak up.