Music is in a strange era. A lot of albums being put out now are pandemic albums, ranging from “deep and introspective” to “let’s celebrate our resiliency and take our minds off the hardships of our current times.” Both are valid and necessary, but the oversaturation of these themes feels redundant. Also, artists are increasingly focusing on creating “TikTok songs.” The more viral a song is on TikTok, the more popularity an artist gains. Music production is straying away from authenticity and moving toward creating something people can do a 15-second dance to. I can’t speak for anybody else, but this is exhausting. This is all the more reason why Rina Sawayama’s Hold The Girl couldn’t have come at a better time.
Because I’m gay and dramatic, I’ve been religiously waiting for this album since May of this year. I’ve been a pixel (basically a Sawayama stan), since her debut album, Sawayama, back in 2020. She established her signature 2000s pop and alternative sound then and hasn’t looked back since. I simply had to write my thoughts on Sawayama’s sophomore album once it came out. In an interview with Pitchfork, she says the first album serves as a confrontation with her generational trauma, while the second album serves as ground for healing and reparenting herself. Even when she is singing about experiences largely framed by her pansexual, Japanese, and first-generation British identities, she still manages to achieve relatability and connection with general audiences.
Sawayama is masterful at creating bangers that handle powerful themes and have beats that feel ceremonial, otherworldly, or like you’re turning up at a club. Opening song “Minor Feelings” — heavily inspired by Cathy Park Hong’s autobiography of the same name — tackles Asian discrimination and feelings of “otherness” while also exuding theatricality with her rhythm and guitar riffs:
All my life I’ve felt out of place/
All my life I’ve been saving face/
Well, all these minor feelings
Are majorly breaking me down.
“Forgiveness” is a ballad of shifting speeds and synthetic sounds, each key amplifying Sawayama’s struggles. It reveals the path toward forgiveness isn’t linear, nor is it easy. She says it herself: “Forgiveness is a winding road.” The song’s message is amplified when you understand that Sawayama stresses that, all her life, she’s had to consider the feelings of other people around her and not her own. She’s stubborn, and there is a sense of ease with not forgiving. But keeping that resentment is like an annoying stain that can’t come off no matter how much you scrub. Overall, the song is raw and honest. Did I cry a little? Maybe so.
“Hurricanes” channels artists like Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson. It’s dominated by robust vocals and a rockstar drum and guitar background. It simultaneously satiates the nostalgia many people crave today and somehow fits into today’s world. In this song, Sawayama employs weather metaphors to convey her emotions. As always, she’s unapologetically herself. She makes her feelings known, holds her ground, and I can’t help but absolutely love her for it.
Standout song of the album, “Send My Love to John”, was purposefully crafted to contrast Sawayama’s “Chosen Family.” The former song is told from the perspective of an immigrant mother struggling to accept her son’s queerness. Sawayama isn’t trying to absolve anyone’s homophobia. Instead, she is humanizing people who can easily be branded as villains and acknowledging the multifaceted nature of immigrant and cultural identities. It’s an issue you almost never hear about in pop music — or music in general.
Closing song “To Be Alive” isn’t an ending. It’s Sawayama acknowledging how far she’s come and how far she’ll continue to go. She’s finding the silver lining in everything she’s been through and allowing herself to experience pure joy. The song also has some of my favorite lyrics on the album:
Flowers still look pretty when they’re dying/
Blue skies always there behind the rain, rain/
Oceans swallow all of our feelings/
I know it’s just temporary pain, pain.
With everything Sawayama sets out to accomplish in Hold The Girl, listeners could feel overwhelmed. Some may argue that the album is too ambitious. Here’s what I have to say to that: so what? First of all, I’m a loud and proud overachiever, so I can’t talk shit. Second, at the end of the day, Sawayama wishes to heal her inner child and hopes others would be able to heal themselves as well. It’s not supposed to be a perfect process or journey. Hold The Girl now stands with Sawayama in cementing Sawayama’s status as one of the best pop stars of our generation.