Perhaps the most fascinating part of a new century is that nobody quite knows what to do. Amongst our most sparkling ideals, the embrace of all that is different and unknown with open arms and complete coherence seems obvious, seems remarkably simplistic. However, more than anything, within the first couple of decades of this 21st century, we remain somewhat tied to old habits and old ways, old values and old beliefs. We are, in essence, afraid to alter ourselves for a period that deserves altering; we are, in essence, keeping ourselves from the startling realities of which permeate our everyday.
In truth, many do not wish to eradicate their fears nor dislodge their sense of fantasy during an overwhelming period of discontent, uncertainty, and pervasive perplexity. After all, it is that very reason of which many lose themselves into the endless, formless, and ultimately magnetic pulse of Pop – to escape elsewhere, to be something and someone else for a mere three minutes. Yet, at some point, we will have to reconcile our anxieties of a new world with the malleability of which the art form allows, ferociously indulging in modern madness whilst searching for clarity and cohesion. And with Rina Sawayama’s impeccable operatic fever dream, Rina, such transcendent epiphanies have been reached.
Keenly awash with an unspeakable degree of steely musical academia, deception and trickery reign supreme amidst the album’s slim, trim 24 minutes, allowing its shining, glistening technical brilliance to marinate and soak, dragging one into its dazzling, spectacular depths seemingly without anchor nor without exit. This is further heightened by Rina’s explicit and faithful evocation of the mesmeric, hypnotic, and now-legendary Teen Pop Renaissance of the late 1990s and the early 2000s, making each and every production feel sublime, streamlined, and ready-made within a mesmerizing scope of candied melodies, crackling synths, and blistering roars. There is no room for error nor rawness; there is no time for the crude nor the unclean. Teeming with an oft-ebullient exterior, it is, for all intents and purposes, precisely what one desires and wishes out of their Pop music. However, one should not assume that this shiny, seamless perfection in any way embodies cold calculation or frigid pomp. In fact, it is that very magnificent juxtaposition of exquisite mechanics with her breathtaking and unyielding passion that sneaks upon and surprises extraordinarily.
First and foremost, Rina’s is a vocal which embodies all of the greatness of Pop malleability. Whether delicately nasal, impossibly soulful, effortlessly contemplative, and irresistibly euphoric, she is capable of thrusting and manipulating her honey-suckled harmonies with a kind of majestic alchemy, knowing precisely which moments and occasions to simmer and streak, to ease and explode. Gilded, adventurous, and masterfully bewildered, all of the immeasurable intricacies rush together through her vessel, glued and held tight with strength and dignity. However, even if it weren’t for Rina’s voice – even if, somehow, she was not capable of such splendor – there would remain the rich elegance of the lyricism, which may be the ultimate backbone of this most incredible of debuts.
It is there within the coolly confessional “I’m just like you” on the daring diva deconstruction of “Ordinary Superstar,” retooling her burgeoning fame to dispel the kind of decadence and joviality typically assumed and expected out of Pop stardom. It is there within the eye-rolling discontented “Your bullshit ain’t fooling me/One man false economy” on “Take Me As I Am,” an aggressive ode to overcoming adversity which doubles as both serene self-reflection and sociocultural commentary. And it is also there on the cylindrical befuddlement of “10-20-40,” which offers the album’s most terrifying, bone-chilling question of “What’s another life out of 7 billion?”, dreadfully exacting the intensely increasing contemporary fear of being lost and forgotten in a world in which everyone can be known and remembered.
This beautifully destructive overanalysis continues on “Tunnel Vision,” a glorious, spellbinding throwback to the kind of classical balladry that once populated Broadway musicals and Disney soundtracks, offering the unreasonably heartbreaking “I didn’t even leave my house last week/but I know what you did last night” and the undeniably monastic “Tunnel vision, madness/Notification happiness.” Whilst on towering, cataclysmic climax of “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome,” Rina finds herself accepting the trivialities and turnstiles of which the 21st century seems intent on preserving and lugging within our directions, connecting our comfortabilities with the contemporary with the magical grandeur of “Came here on my own/party on my phone.” As the production oscillates between celestial disclosure and laidback frenzy, one feels the rush of the era, of the epoch, of the period with a sense of calm and sincerity, creating pacification where there seemed only puzzlement.
And that is what makes Rina such a masterful introduction into this naïve millennium. Through its eight tracks – including the brash effervescence of “Time Out” and the late-night melancholy of “Through the Wire,” two interludes so exalted they feel fully-formed – there is a radiance, a beauty, a glory that feels confident and assertive, self-assured and unbelievable. Very rarely do Pop artists completely remove the veil of their respective societies, allowing us to glimpse the strange, evolutionary creatures we have come to embody. And within this new century, dominated by frivolity and greed, ruled by upheaval and change, it feels perhaps more necessary than ever to achieve such. On Rina, all of these millennial fears, angst, hopes, and wishes are marvelously on display, chiefly reminding us of our denial and our regret, magnifying the delusion and disillusion as if brand-new, as if for the first time. One feels renewed, reawakened, recharged. One feels reborn.