Extraordinary Superstar | Rina Sawayama’s Debut E.P. Highlights Stellar Pop Prowess and Ingenuity

Model/recording artist Rina Sawayama has no doubt set the bar high for other contemporaries with her critically acclaimed debut album Sawayama. With numerous people being introduced to Rina’s fantastic mix of thought provoking, throw-back 2000s pop, I wanted to bring light to her first project that helped pave the way for her first record. Rina takes you on a journey through deliciously textured R&B tinged pop from beginning to end of the E.P.

“Ordinary Superstar” kicks off the E.P. with a bang. Rina’s pop/rock influences shine through with the addition of crunchier guitar in the song’s chorus. The track really blooms at the refrain, “Don’t you wanna be ordinary with me?”. It sounds both retro-2000s and brand new all at once. Rina takes on the “relatable” YouTube vloggers, “Girl on the screen, you’re the queen/ But you’re living in a cloud where there’s no rain/ Oh, what if it all went away, today?
Then what’s left inside?/ Because/ I’m just an ordinary superstar”. With this in mind, the verses and chorus really put to the forefront just how out of touch these YouTube Vlog celebrities really are.

The official music video to “Ordinary Superstar”.

“Take Me As I Am” is a solid pop jam. Sawayama’s 90s/2000s pop influence shines through fantastically there (I mean including the orchestral hits that were prevalent in Max Martin’s masterpieces). Again, she finds a way take this sound and make it sound fresh. Here, Rina is breaking through the ceiling to live the life she deserves, “Don’t underestimate me/ Make me feel like I ain’t okay/ Your bullshit ain’t fooling me/ One man false economy”. She comes off strong, commanding others to stand there ground and push forward towards the their own aspirations. The song’s bridge, “You wanna turn back the time
Make it rewind/ I wanna be myself and I/ Don’t wanna sacrifice my love/ So let it go”, really presses for the demolition of bigoted/outdated idealogy. The punchy pop/dance theme worlds really well alongside Sawayama’s empowering lines.

“10–20–40” reflects on depression and the use of antidepressants. In her interview with Genius on the track, Sawayama said:

The metaphor is about teetering on the edge, but also the romance of driving… And the romance of taking Citalopram or being depressed in the media, when actually it’s so mundane. It’s a daily chore.

The track takes on a darker tone with its more pronounced guitars and slightly oppressive sound. She reflects quite heavily on how her use of antidepressants to numb the world around her is her only relief from pressing anxiety she deals with, “The less you feel, the more you know/ A reason to leave me in a cruise control/ A little white pill to take me back/ I hope you understand, it’s my last resort/ I’ve done it all”. As someone who personally struggles with severe anxiety and depression myself, it’s very refreshing to see mental health being humanized in such a eloquent way. Speaking back on the Genius quote, depression is not something to be glamorized as it’s a very difficult day to day struggle for many to just balance some since of normacy. The chorus, “10, 20, 40, dumb/ Happy, sad, crazy, numb/ 10, 20, 40, dumb/ Happy, sad, crazy, numb”, while very catchy also speaks to the dosage needed to finally quell the swings of emotion.

“Tunnel Vision” is one of the first song’s Sawayama in her recording career. Released originally in 2015, the version released on this E.P. includes the fantastic non-binary artist Shamir. The track is more moody in its pop/R&B delivery. Shamir’s higher vocal delivery perfectly complements this song wonderfully. The tunnel vision in question here relates to an obsession with social media and one’s presence on it, “Emotions are too much for me/ So I spread my love through likes/ I didn’t even leave my house last week/ But I know what you did last night/ My fingers going numb as I search for a piece of mind/ But all the time just gets ahead of me/ And I sleep with the daylight”. This focus on online friendships and activity has destroyed the real-life relationships in her life. This a good night time banger to mellow out to. I also highly recommend checking out Shamir’s work, their 2020 album Cataclysm is a personal favorite.

The offical music video to the original 2015 release of “Tunnel Vision”.

“Time Out” — Interlude is a nice little bouncy electro-pop number that transitions us between tracks. You get a little R&B, J-pop, and electronic influences in this short intermission that takes a tongue and cheek poke at needing space from someone.

“Alterlife” is yet another shining star on the E.P.. It’s grittier rock edge is slightly reminiscent to Janet Jackson’s “If”, but with heavier early 2000s pop/R&B shine. It’s truly a bop. The ambient computerized tones and production takes this song to the stratosphere. Rina told Fader,

‘Alterlife’ is about finding yourself through trying to be other people. Everyone’s trying to conform to what other people think about them, or trying to fit in, and part of growing up is about being able to create your own path. The production on the track is inspired by the intense, guitar-heavy music from racing games like Gran Turismo and Need For Speed.

Her empowerment really comes through in the song’s chorus, “Why are you so scared of falling?/ (Hold your head up high)/ Why do you hold on? Stop mourning/ (Rise and redefine)/ When you begin to feel it/ You know what to do/ So go and find it”. The momentum built from production really gives off those PS1 racers and is highly infectious. This is a track that will gas you up for sure.

“Through the Wire”— Interlude is another moody number. Production here sounds like it was played through the phone (which sounds very good). She’s aching from continued love and loss, “I’ll keep checking you out from my bedroom/ I’ll keep feeling your arms through a screen/ I’ll keep filling you in on my movements/ I’ll keep being the girl that you see/ Through the wire…”. This heartbreak and subsequent wall building transition effortlessly into the almost agoraphobic album closer.

“Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” is the zenith of the E.P. making for an excellent closer. As the title suggests, the track focuses on how social media has kidnapped our real lives from us for the perceived lives we’ve created online. Here, the female character is captivated to the point of obsession with her phone and the life she’s created on it, “And she said “I’m not here for love tonight/ The way you touch just don’t feel right/ Used to feeling things so cold/ Minimizing windows/ Pictures lit by electric lights/ Fiction/fact boundaries collide/ Find me in my palm so bright/ Cyber Stockholm Syndrome”. Sawayama elegantly displays just how lost we’ve become in this “perfect life” we’ve created on social media, “I am connected, I am the girl you want to watch/ Lips full of glitter glow/ Spinning like mirror balls/ Phone in a strobe, stuck in a crazy cyberworld”. Sonically, we’ve transported back to the late 90s/early 2000s, where Darkchild’s production permeated through the sound of pop and R&B. The second verse’s inclusion of synth generated harpsichord calls heavily back to the synth-guitar on tracks like “No Scrubs”, “There You Go”, or “Bills, Bills, Bills”.

The offical music video to “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome”.

Overall, this is the way to kick off a career. Rina’s music is both catchy and clever. She’s a fantastic songwriter in her own right through looking into the lyrics on these pop throwback jams. The production on these songs takes them all to an entirely new level. It’s both familiar and unique all at once. Clearly, her debut album Sawayama is a testament to her talent as it only takes what is present here and grows it into something magical. I can’t recommend this E.P. enough to any pop music lover.

My favorites:

  • Ordinary Superstar
  • 10–20–40
  • Alterlife
  • “Cyber Stokholm Syndrome”

My overall rating: 10 out of 10 candy canes to the heart…



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Z-sides: Music Reviews

Z-sides: Music Reviews


Welcome to my personal blog. This is a place where I discuss any of my musical finds or faves. Drop in and have a listen.