Rina Sawayama – Hold The Girl

A stunning return from the pop polymath...

Rina Sawayama is an artist consistently pushing the boundaries of what pop music can be, blending a myriad of styles from hyperpop to nu-metal, all while juggling collaborations with everyone from Elton John to Charli XCX. Debut album, 2020’s ‘SAWAYAMA’, encapsulated this genre-fluid ideology and was executed extremely well. Critical acclaim ensued, among Mercury Prize dramata. 2022 delivers (the dreaded) sophomore LP ‘Hold The Girl’, which is once again an album that refuses to play by the rules and has Rina Sawayama doing whatever she wants. And the result is one of the best pop records of the year. 

‘Hold The Girl’ ignites with sombre opener ‘Minor Feelings’, which shows Sawayama crooning over delicate guitars and synths, before exploding into an anti-climax. No loud drums or screaming guitars solos like we’ve become familiar with (see debut opener ‘Dynasty’), but a choral-tinted outro (very of the time). It transitions into the title track ‘Hold the Girl’ via some fountain sounds, and the title track has Sawayama kicking the pop factor to one hundred. Centred around a 2-step rhythm and classic garage vocal chops, Sawayama blazes through some of her best vocal performances to date and the track delivers hooks galore. ‘This Hell’ also delivers infectious hooks and is clearly a track created for a live environment. 

While Rina Sawayama continues to rule as Dirty Hit’s pop princess, she is also refusing to do only that. Cuts like ‘Catch Me In The Air’ and ‘Forgiveness’ lean more into soft and pop rock territory, without ever losing her pop polish. ‘Forgiveness’especially, crashes into a raucous breakdown, balancing delightful theatrics with crunchy guitars and synthesisers. Contrastingly, she also knows how to write a great ballad. ‘Send My Love To John’ is the token ‘slow song’ on the record but supplies arguably Rina Sawayama’s best studio vocal performance ever. ‘Send My Love’ balances folky guitars, and has some amazing riffing work vocally from Sawayama. The Cohen-esque melody lifts adds a nostalgic element, an unexpected but welcomed juxtaposition to the high-intensity modern sounds of the rest of the record. 

Closer ‘To Be Alive’ seems to a track that is bridging the gap between hyperpop and mainstream pop – an event that many have been awaiting. The melodies are inherently pop, but the glitchy and beautifully jarring aspects of the beat tease the realms of hyperpop. The sporadic snare hits toward the back end of the track are reminiscent of the late SOPHIE’s incredible work, and the plucky synths wouldn’t be out of place on a PC Music project.

Rina Sawayama – Hold The Girl

‘Hold The Girl’ is a record that holds something for everyone. Rock riffs, club beats, saccharine melodies, 2000s pop… it truly covers a lot of ground. Like debut record ‘SAWAYAMA’this sophomore LP does a bit of everything, but this time around feels more refined, consistent and polished: exactly what a follow up should be. And on a label roster saturated with enormous amounts of talent, Rina Sawayama is making a pretty good claim to being the ruler. 

9/10

Words: James Mellen

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