If not already an icon, Rina Sawayama certainly one in the making. In 2020, the singer-songwriter’s debut album “SAWAYAMA” proved to be a groundbreaking, genre-defying record; the album was a solid 13-track of pure adrenaline and successful experimentations, scoring 89 on Metacritic. With a healthy mix of electropop, metal and R&B, Sawayama tackles topics spanning from capitalism (“XS”) and yellow fever (“STFU!”) to intergenerational trauma (“Akasaka Sad”).
Sawayama’s career so far has been nothing short of trailblazing. The artist collaborated with living legend Elton John in her single-release of “Chosen Family,” a track about belonging in a world that doesn’t always welcome your identity. She also helped pioneer changes to the UK’s Mercury award nomination requirements through #SawayamaIsBritish, allowing permanent residents to be eligible for the prize from this year onwards.
The North American leg of her much-anticipated tour has been delayed continuously since early 2020 due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, leaving a 1.5-year gap without any Sawayama live performances.
But, on Dec. 19 I was able to finally watch this amazing artist perform, albeit through an online recording. For 24 hours, fans were able to watch a recording of a performance from “The Dynasty Tour” that was filmed on Nov. 7 in London. Sawayama’s superb command over the stage and genuine positivity anchored the performance, and Vic Jamieson’s guitar solos stood out for their unbelievable transcendental quality.
I purchased access to separate “Behind-The-Scene” (BTS) recordings on a whim. I was able to view the concert vlog with footage of rehearsals, venue preperation and more personal conversations between the artist and her crew members. This access is a unique benefit of the live stream format, allowing fans like myself to peek behind the curtain.
Still, I wonder what Sawayama’s audience missed out on by watching a prerecorded live event. The virtual content had lots of benefits: I was able to access the behind-the-scenes content at my own pace, learning more about the artist’s emotions, ambitions and growth. The refined view of edited performance with many camera angles, arguably, optimizes the viewing experience. It was stimulating and easy in a way that would not have been possible in person. But what about the energy in the room? What about shouting along with the song as your voice is drowned out by the oceans of other fans’ simultaneous joyous screams? What about jumping up and down on the floor, experiencing earthquakes of enthusiasm?
For example, even through a screen, it was clear that Sawayma’s energy was off the charts during “Love Me For Me.” She invested herself into audience interaction, first by starting a call-and-response, then by inviting fans to spread affirmations to their fellow audience members. While it was still fun to watch this performance from a distance, I can only imagine what the live concert experience must have been like with all of those good vibes. “I want you to feel something. I hate it when you go to shows and it’s just about the artist,” Sawayama said.
While certain interactive parts of the show were absent from the livestream, the show was still incredibly enjoyable due to its strong musical performances. The album’s rock-inspired opener “Dynasty” stole the audience’s attention straight away. The combination of Sawayama’s amazing vocal control and her duet with the guitar solo was spectacular. “STFU” followed promptly, with the live audience chanting along. Sawayama’s incredible performance of the nu-metal, pastel-coloured, J-pop-infused track was simply impressive. “Microaggressions are so exhausting, am I right?” remarked the singer as the song about Asian fetishization came to a close.
The stream cut into a delicate piano melody of “Snakeskin” that highlighted superb choreography, designed by Josh Pilmore. Sawayama and two backup dancers integrated their movements to create a snake-like motif. As Sawayama exited the stage for a costume change, the dance-off between the two women, accompanied by Simone Odaranile’s drum solo, kept you on your toes with a tense stage. The set concluded with Jamieson’s longing and haunting guitar solo.
The singer embraced a Y2K-Bratz-MSN-chatroom aesthetic with a streak of rebellion. The accompaniment of the glitchy arcade sounds from the guitar and backing track triggered a sense of nostalgia and fun, bubblegum pop. When Sawayama picked up the toy saxophone during the backup saxophone solo, I gagged at Sawayma’s confidence and humor – truly iconic.
Sawayma impressed viewers by taking time in her show to masterfully touch on important social issues. I was particularly blown away by the intensity of “Fuck This World I’m Leaving (Interlude)” onstage. Sawayama highlighted millennial despair over the lack of social and environmental policy reform. Clips of telemarketing shows, news coverage of climate change and a short message from Zara Sultana, a Labour Party member of Parliament, contextualized the performance with the drive for social change. “We don’t have to accept these failures,” said Sultana. “Our generation faced 40 years of inequality, and we [can end] it.” The singer also performed “XS”, a single about overconsumption and consumerism in the digital age.
While Sawayma’s well-loved favorites clearly pleased the crowd, the artist also revealed a new single. “Catch Me In The Air” gave the audience a delicious taste of her next album to come. The song opened with a breathy synthesizer, and a build-up of grungy guitar sound. The energy of the music was off the charts when the singer proclaimed her hopeful outlook on life “Catch me in the air (look at me now, I’m flying, flying).” The track was a complete showstopper that foreshadows more great music to come.
As great as this video experience was, I still find myself torn. It is amazing that viewers all over the world could collectively fangirl over Sawayma from the comfort of their homes, but what is lost through the screen? Perhaps, the battle between the convenience of at-home performance and the thrill of an unexpected live event is something that we have to continue grappling with. How do we prevent ourselves from getting lost in the convenience, coasting through life on a couch?
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.