Talking ADHD and Rina Sawayama’s kaleidoscopic creative vision with Sage
Sage is a creative from London with ADHD, a non-binary lesbian, and a die-hard Rina Sawayama fan. Over the course of an hour and a half, we talked in detail about race, nostalgia, memory, loss and how all of these themes intersect in Rina’s acclaimed 2020 album SAWAYAMA. They speak with a nuance and understanding of Sawayama’s work that will be familiar to other neurodivergent people. The kind of awareness that comes only when you have not only scoured the internet for every detail and piece of trivia about a piece of media, but lived and breathed it. They rattle off quotes from Sawayama interviews and at the same time effortlessly relate and intertwine the album with their own personal experiences and upbringing. They even produced the sparkling artwork of Rina Sawayama which can be seen at the top of this article and feels so deeply representative of the themes and ideas that we talked about. (Sage’s work can be seen at @ peachmuseumart on instagram).
‘Rina has said the album is basically my teenage years shoved into one record. As someone who has recently come out as non-binary and a lesbian, I feel like I’m reliving my teenage years now… although Rina is viewing this album through the context of family and me as being on my journey of coming out, we are able to come to the same conclusion.’ The idea of coming out in its plural senses is one that echoes across the album, particularly on the ballad Chosen Family which celebrates queer companionship and community. What if we don’t look the same? she sings, we’ve been going through the same thing. ‘This is definitely the corniest song on the album,’ Sage tells me, ‘but it is one that resonates deeply with me nonetheless.’
Neurodivergent people can take solace in and find comfort from media and worlds that they can bury and immerse themselves in. ‘Fantasy worlds have always been a special interest of mine,’ Sage tells me. ‘As a child, I obsessively collected w.i.t.c.h magazines and would spend hours hyperfocused, creating fan art of my favourite character — Hay Lin, a scatty, free-spirited artsy girl — to send into the magazine each week in the hopes they would publish my work.’ With a palette of kaleidoscopic sounds drawn from all over 90s and 2000s pop, R&B, rap and rock, and each song pertaining to a given theme or idea, SAWAYAMA as an album almost feels akin to these fantasy worlds. ‘Every time I return to it,’ Sage tells me, ‘I hear new sounds, new scenes, new memories, new meanings.’
Another reason that Sage feels such strong association with the album is race: ‘Rina has described SAWAYAMA as an album portraying her struggle with her identity and the Othering of people of colour by Britain.’ On the crunching STFU, which draws influence from 90s and 2000s rock music and its fusion with hip-hop and R&B in the form of acts like N.E.R.D, Rina sings, Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut? ’Cause I have, many times, many times. ‘Anyone who experiences microaggressions can attest to this… Sometimes I just really really want people to shut up.
Paradisin’, an early track on the album echoes arcade and children’s TV music as part of a reflection of Sawayama’s rebellious childhood and upbringing in a Japanese-emigre household. ‘It’s the most nostalgic for me,’ Sage says, ‘It sounds like it could be the theme song of any of my childhood faves — w.i.t.c.h, Winx Club, Tokyo Mew Mew.’ The meaning of the song has an even more palpable resonance. ‘I was a very sheltered child that constantly lived in their head, never allowed to go out late or explore the city like my peers. When Rina talks about her mum hacking into MSN and telling her off for sneaking around with boys, I can hear my mum’s distinctly Yoruba-British accent doing the exact same thing.’ Even the hectic tempo and instrumentation feel like they echo neurodivergence. ‘Navigating life as someone with ADHD is very exhausting, being faced with constant stimuli.’
The album resonates with a specific experience of neurodivergence, where things that can or should make you overloaded can be a source of joy and calm. Many neurodivergent people hate loud noises, for example, but love them when it is a noise they enjoy. Sage says of Love Me 4 Me that the track ‘takes me back to dizzying fair rides, stomach slightly sore from sickly candyfloss, but in the absolute best way possible.’ The song is one that also carries a message that runs through the album, of finding ‘self-love within all the complications, whether it’s identity or sexuality. When i’m experiencing a lot of dysphoria, I remind myself to extend the same love as I do to all the queer + trans people in my life.’
They even tell me that they use the album to structure their routines and daily life. ‘I never listen to the album on shuffle. It’s something I find disorientating, since I use the album to structure. F*** This World Interlude is under 3-minutes so I can brush my teeth without worrying about doing it for too long or too little. Time Out Interlude is 1 minute long, the perfect amount of time to wash my face to.’
‘This album is everything I needed and I’d thought had arrived too late; actually it arrived just in time,’ Sage explains, giving voice to the times when a special interest can become a fomative part of your identity and life experience: ‘Rina Sawayama doesn’t know who I am yet she somehow specifically engineered this album to pertain to my gay ass.’
Sage can be found on Twitter at @ peachmouth, and on instagram at @ peachmuseum. They edit and write for the online zine Inside a Black Girl’s Mind and publish their artwork at @ peachmuseumart on instagram.
I can be found writing here on medium and tweeting about professional wrestler Katsuhiko Nakajima on twitter at @ 128harps