Rina Sawayama Hold the Girl Dirty Hit
The line between sincerity and camp is, like the arc of the political spectrum, horseshoe-shaped. They exist not at opposite ends, but bend towards each other, until, at the extremities, they become indistinguishable. This is apposite because Rina Sawayama is one of those artists who compels critics to grope for that contested term – camp – while being disconcertingly sincere. It’s a fine attribute for a pop star; to change depending on the angle of the gaze. On her 2020 debut album, SAWAYAMA, this ambiguity added a layer of iridescence to a sound that was already dressed to the nines in the textures of unloved but loveable genres.
Hold the Girl, the second album from this Japanese-British pop superstar-in-waiting, does away with the screwy edges, bats away the quotation marks and, most egregiously, contorts Sawayama to fit her references, not the other way around. Single Hold the Girl is a gallimaufry of signs and signifiers, from knowing disco flourishes to Eurovision kitsch, but the net result, while fun, is too mannered to love. Sometimes songs feel like they’re written by AI – feed in the prompts, marvel at the uncanny results: The Weeknd + UK garage = Imagining. Other times – Holy, for example, which strains for dancefloor benediction but comes up short – they’re simply a little dull.
Occasionally, Sawayama’s A-class stable of co-producers – Stuart Price and Paul Epworth among them – remember what makes Sawayama so interesting, and these are the moments to cherish. Closer To Be Alive is a garage-inflected ballad that’s both sublime and ridiculous, sincere and “sincere”. In short, this is Rina Sawayama at her most electric on an album that’s otherwise difficult to warm to.