In today’s social media age of hyperbole where an artist’s every move is immediately labelled “iconic”, talking about how a new act is the future of pop music could seem disingenuous. In the case of 28- year-old Rina Sawayama, however it’s actually the truth. Not only has she been labelled such by publications like Interview, Dazed, Noisey and ELLE. Her 2017 debut mini-album ‘RINA’ saw her land on a heap of “Best Of…” lists, including those by The Guardian, The Needle Drop and Pitchfork.
The first time you lay eyes on Rina, you are instantly drawn to her strong and confident fashion sense, her beauty and talent. All of these combined have led to Rina gracing recent covers of Clash, Sunday Times Style, PETRIe and Japanese fashion publication, Free Magazine. 2018 saw Rina release her R&B/pop infused single ‘Cherry’, her most personal and political track to date, a track praised by the likes of Fader, i-D, Nylon and Dazed with the latter describing Rina’s music as “sugar-coated R&B with meaning for the digital age.” Later that year she went on to release her empowering new single ‘Flicker’, a song that allows her fans to celebrate themselves for who they are as Rina explains. “Whether it’s a name that no one can say, or the frustration of being misgendered, or quite simply being misunderstood for who you truly are – this is a song for you”. Explaining in more detail in her ‘Vogue Meets’ feature Rina explains. “My pop has layers and politics behind it and the lyrics are meaningful, it’s unashamedly pop with a meaning and layers.”
Rina was born in Japan and emigrated with her family to the UK when she was five years old. Her love of singing, dance and drama whilst at secondary school is where she discovered her voice, even taking the lead tenor in a gospel choir. Although her first love was singing, Rina also wanted to continue her education and went on to study at Cambridge University. Rina explains what her time was like there. “First of all until you apply they (Cambridge) make you feel like there are more people that look like you. I went to an open day, for like ethnic people and thought it was great but then you turn up and it is only white people.” There was also the problem of the other students too. “I didn’t realise how cliquey it would be.” Despite the odds, Rina completed her degree but the bullying and ostracisation she experienced left her severely depressed. She spent years she says, “finding myself”. But while that experience was difficult, it was also the catalyst that helped create the artist that Rina Sawayama has now become and is proud to describe herself as pansexual, she explains. “I just think the reason why I wasn’t so comfortable with my sexuality was because there was no one on TV or anywhere that I could point out and go look mum! This is the person I was talking about.”
The outpouring of love and support she received when she came out as pansexual via her single ‘Cherry’, left Rina no option but to reciprocate that same love and support back to her fans. Rina took her show on the road and in the past year has gone from playing 150 cap venues to selling out London’s iconic “Heaven”. Touring the US twice, performing with Charli XCX at her POP2 show in London and supporting Years & Years at the O2 Arena. “It’s crazy, I feel so lucky I can’t put it into words really. It gives me purpose because it’s clearly working and for the longest time it felt like no one cared.” Rina says, blushes of embarrassment peeking through on her cheeks.
The amalgamation of these experiences makes up the foundations for Rina’s unique sound that has set her apart from her peers since day one. With nods to the productions of 90s and 00s pop stalwarts Max Martin, Timbaland and The Neptunes. Rina, alongside collaborator Clarence Clarity has crafted a soundscape that pays homage to the past while gleefully rushing head-on into the future. Continuing she adds: “I feel like I’m trying to do something new here, so I’ve got to just push through and do it on my own.” Sounds just like the future, right?