Pop’s newest prodigy, Rina Sawayama, unleashes a lifetime of hurt and healing on her sophomore album, Hold The Girl. With a serious reinvention of early 2000s rock and country sampling, the project’s production niche highlight’s the 32-year-old’s versatility. [Give her debut album “SAWAYAMA” (2020) a listen to understand her magic.] Hopefully, Hold The Girl earns Rina Sawayama her first GRAMMY win.
In a press release, Sawayama credits the creative storyline to her undergoing “deep therapy” to navigate unresolved trauma from her childhood. Her lyrics are a portrait of revelations, uncomfortableness, and many therapy sessions. She tells Rolling Stone UK, “For me, it’s important that the listener is able to listen to it as a pop record first without that background, [and] make their own feelings about it. And then, when I’m ready, I think I will be able to talk about what it’s actually about.”
She discusses the album experience as a healing journey from beginning to end. The press release reads, “It’s a very adult record, because it’s really only fully understood when you become an adult and you can look back on experiences [you had] as a kid. It’s about escapism. It’s about looking after yourself, reparenting yourself and finding yourself.”
However, this fact goes without saying because although the lyrics are soul-bearing, how can one not dance to singles “This Hell” and “Hold The Girl.” The latter’s music video is a visceral nightmare, or a home you cannot leave, making oneself disconnected– and worse, depressed.
Hold the Girl is about holding your inner child. It’s about speaking to the girl that’s gone through a lot. Through this process of reparenting myself and looking at my inner child to see what I would have wanted, I’m holding space for myself and giving myself creative freedom. (Rina Sawayama for Who What Wear)
The Record’s Sonic Influences
Sawayama reshapes progressive rock, 90s rave music, and Shania-Twain-inspired country music into a beautifully structured thirteen-rack emotional recovery. Take the album’s fifth single, “Hurricane,” and break it down beyond its lyrics about self-sabotage; you will uncover its musical influences: Garage, Girls Aloud, Kelly Clarkson, and Avril Lavigne. However, these darker undertones are intentional as this record checkpoints Sawayama’s angry and chaotic battles with suppressed emotions and feelings.
She compliments the power of country storytelling, referencing Kacey Musgraves and the iconic Dolly Parton. “Country music is not trying to complicate things,” Sawayama tells Pitchfork. “The important thing about country songwriting is that you’re telling the true reality about what’s happening to you, and that’s something I’ve been trying to stay true to.”
Hot Tracks from “Hold The Girl”
1) Hold The Girl
Transitioning from “Minor Feeling,” the track’s beginning is signaled by a revving engine. Ready to go, the swelling dance-techno beat swims from the background into the forefront with pitched-up adlibs. The song bears a close weight to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” meaning it’s all about reclaiming oneself. Definitely a standout– not just from the album but Sawayama’s entire catalog!
On the album’s Spotify Storyline, Sawayama spills the tea on the track creation process. For “Forgiveness,” the singer writes, “I couldn’t connect with it because that was a strange experience.” That’s evident on the purposefully relaxed country-rock track. The confusion is written all over the chorus, “‘Cause I’m losing my mind / Sometimes I blame you, sometimes I don’t / Sometimes I flip so fast, I don’t know / I’m looking for signs / For some kind of highway to letting it go, but / Forgivеness is a winding road.”
3) Holy (Til You Let Me Go)
The church bells in “Forgiveness” bleed into “Holy (Til You Let Me Go),” the euro-dance (and most hype) track of the album. However, it begins very quiet, which Sawayama calculates and destroys everyone’s standard ‘pop song’ expectations.
The church bells at the beginning are referring to my time at the Church of England girls-only high school. Anyone who has gone to a ‘single-sex’ religious school can understand the struggles– I’m sure. I wanted it to sound like a cold, wet rave in a converted church, with dripping pipes and wet stone walls. It’s about feeling like the love I received as a youth was conditional on being ‘good’ and ‘pure.’ (Rina Sawayama for Spotify Storyline)
4) Your Age
Probably the singer-songwriter’s “angry spice” moment on the record is this track. It starts with a banjo riff and resurges the Western influences but with dark, metallic rock elements and snubbed vocals. “This song represents pure dark anger to me,” Sawayama says to Spotify Storyline. “The lyrics detail my disbelief at the behaviours by adults that were allowed during my youth in the 90s.”
5) Send My Love To John
This much-needed chilled track after masterful, hard-hitting production is no short of amazing either. As Sawayama says, we are getting to the “heart of the record” with the last tracks. Here, “Send My Love To John” is lyrically brazen and tender with minimal grandiose production efforts.
This song is written from the perspective of a mother apoligising for not being able to love their queer son due to her traditional religious beliefs. It was inspired by a true story where my friend’s mum, after years of not supporting her son’s queerness, ended a phone call with ‘send my love to John’ (my friend’s long-term boyfriend). It was a breakthrough moment in their relationship where she acknowledged his queerness in a positive way. I wanted to write a song for people who need to hear the words ‘sorry.’ (Rina Sawayama for Spotify Storyline)
What’s your favorite track off “Hold The Girl by Rina Sawayama? Let us know in the comments! (Mine is “Phantom”).