Sawayama Review

Rachael Crouch


Upon my first listen of the Japanese-born U.K. singer's full-length debut, it was no surprise that hordes of publications and artists were showering it with praise. Elton John went so far as to call the record "the strongest album of the year by far." Sawayama is a thrilling, ambitious opus with jaw-dropping production and instrumentation, combining elements of polar opposite genres to create a unique, transcendent sound that will undoubtedly influence others for years to come.

Sawayama opens with "Dynasty", a mindblowing introductory track that begins by the way of Evanescence. Sawayama's distinctive voice cuts through ominous guitars like fog in a forest at dusk, only for the glass to shatter in the post-chorus interlude. She exorcises demons of generational trauma over metal-esque guitars that plunge through the song's stylistic surface like a drill. The cult hit single "XS" features another juxtaposition of hard rock and Y2K R&B/pop, exemplifying the lyrical content about consumerism and the rampant excess of influencer culture. Lead single "STFU!" finds Sawayama plunging head-first into full-fledged, Korn-esque metal. She confronts the listener with brash, direct lyrics about racial profiling she experienced by the hands of record label executives, culminating in a searing, exhilarating climax. Other standout tracks include "Who is Gonna Save U Now?", a glittering stadium rock stunner opening with the actual screams of thousands of adoring fans, the slinky, seductive "Love Me 4 Me", and "Tokyo Love Hotel," a stunning work of art about the commodification of Japanese culture by the West. Prepare to dive into this treasure trove of an album and become obsessed, as there is something for everyone to love.

Sawayama placed fifth in our 2020 album of the year list.