Brixton Academy critic Rina Sawayama – gender-fluid pop star brings hits and high camp

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A roar went up from the packed London crowd as the house lights fell into a purple haze and a caped and imperious Rina Sawayama – British-Japanese pop singer-songwriter, actor and model – materialized, framed in a circular light.

She greeted the audience with “London! My hometown! My name is Rina Sawayama. . . – yet she needed no introduction (fans feverishly chanted her name in the brief pauses between songs), and it underscored the fact that so many of her tracks are about feeling out of place. , as well as the celebration of the community. She seemed determined to make her A-game tonight, starting with “Minor Feelings,” a hit country ballad from her recently released second album, hold the girl.

Her personal expressions strike a chord with her millennial audience (Sawayama herself is 32); his professional experience has also confronted the boundaries that persist in the mainstream. Even in 2022, it feels like a restless music industry is finding its gender fluidity and pansexual glamor hard to place — but that’s precisely what makes Sawayama sparkle. And despite rave reviews for her 2020 debut album Sawayamaa “nationality clause” originally excluded her from British awards, including the BRITs and the Mercury Prize (she was born in Japan before growing up in Britain).

Tonight’s setlist reflected his pop culture collage, winding his way through influences ranging from power rock and Eurodisco to nu metal (with his guitarist accelerating electric riffs on “Your Age”), debonair Tokyo-style urban pop, ballroom scenes and more. Sawayama’s voice sounded elegant, though it sometimes lacked the punch it seemed to seek.

His conversation between songs tended to sound like a group therapy session, with the reassurance that “music really does have the power to heal”. Such heartfelt sentiments were, however, enriched with splendid fun, including costume changes (rodeo chic; a floaty dress that Sawayama describes as a “jellyfish couture”) and backing dancers with playful and sometimes very literal choreography. : they locked Sawayama in an embrace for the plaintive chorus of “Hold the Girl”. There were notes of homage to music/fashion icons Grace Jones and Lady Gaga, and while Sawayama obviously didn’t achieve such intoxicating stature herself, she confidently invited a remix of Gaga (“Free Woman”) and built a loyal fanbase through catchy original material.

High-level showstops and moves were quickly served up to the delight of the crowd, including the heart-pounding hooks of “Frankenstein”, the dance-floor hit “Beg For You” (originally a duet with Charli XCX) and the immaculate electro banger “Comme des Garçons”, before the delightfully carefree crescendo of “This Hell”. It was a definite mood: a warm midweek night of mindful revelry.

★★★★☆

The tour continues until January 2023, rina.online

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