Rina Sawayama triumphs San Francisco with a brightly cathartic performance

April 12, 2022, 8:51 p.m.

My three friends and I left Stanford on Monday at sunset for Rina Sawayama’s concert in San Francisco. Originally scheduled to take place two years ago, after the release of her debut album “SAWAYAMA,” the show finally took place this week at The Warfield. Sawayama has flourished through the pandemic, reaching 5 million monthly listeners on Spotify and receiving outstanding reviews for her album. The wait for this concert was well worth it — the small venue’s intimacy evoked high excitement from the crowd, marking the significance of returning to live performances. Sawayama’s art truly touched the hearts of audience members, providing the healing we need during these turbulent times.

Sawayama’s music is admired for encompassing a wide range of genres, including elements of rock, R&B and Y2K pop. She is also known for her brilliant taste in fashion, with bold colors and statement pieces accompanying each of her looks. The night was filled with costume changes for both the singer and her two stunning backup dancers, ranging from streetwear with baggy pants to an all-white set to a 2000s-inspired look with low-cut jeans. The start of her show had incredible swagger — she opened with “Dynasty,” the first song on the album, in a fully red two-piece with a cropped red jacket. After greeting the audience, thanking us for the support and for “changing [her] life,” she jumped into her hit “STFU!,” removing her jacket and revealing a matching red cami. The audience chanted the iconic chorus and fun lyrics like, “Have you ever thought about taping your big mouth shut, ‘cause I have, many times.”

Rina Sawayama performing in front of fans at The Warfield theatre
(Photo: KYLA FIGUEROA / The Stanford Daily)

She then played “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)” — a song that, in my opinion, would suit any runway show. It is a boost of confidence, especially with the repeated line “I’m so confident,” which Sawayama emphasized before the start of the song. For a brief moment during the bridge, the melody disappeared, and there was a brief pause. Sawayama asked the audience to “get low,” building suspense for the outro. The crowd soon erupted into jumping and dancing.

Sawayama reminds me of Doja Cat: both artists maintain “real” energy while being incredible onstage performers. For instance, before the song “Akasaka Sad,” Sawayama bluntly declared that “this song is about depression.” Her tone implied the statement was a joke but also simultaneously admitted to her own struggles with mental health. In the song “Bad Friend,” Sawayama opened up about her mistake of “being too caught up in herself,” and reminded the audience to not forget about loved ones around you. And in “Love Me 4 Me,” she put forward the notion of “needing to love yourself before you can love others,” acknowledging obstacles that can come in the way of self-appreciation and emphasizing the importance of self-love.

Sawayama identifies as queer, and her song “Cherry” discusses her sexuality. During a groovy disco-funk rendition of the song’s intro, she called it her “coming out” song. She is also an ally of the trans community: during “Love Me 4 Me,” she asked the audience to look each other in the eye and say, “Trans lives matter,” creating a validating moment during the show. 

The artist dealt directly with the current state of the world. During a long costume-change sequence, audio clips from the news played in the background — topics and issues ranged from climate change to the pandemic to racial justice. A space once filled with music was replaced by a moment of reconciliation. The serious moment, however, did not deplete the energy in the concert hall one bit; in fact, Sawayama’s voice appeared within the clips, reminding audience members of their ability to change the world and our resiliency of the past two years. Fists up, unified, empowered and inspired, the crowd chanted her name and welcomed Sawayama back with open arms for the song “Who’s Gonna Save You Now?”

Rina Sawayama performing in front of fans at The Warfield theatre
(Photo: KYLA FIGUEROA / The Stanford Daily)

The show maintained a captivating energy for its duration: I never stopped dancing and swaying. It was a party, a celebration of love — colorful strobe lights immersed me further into the music, particularly the green lighting in “Snakeskin” and the colors of the bisexual flag during “Cherry.” Other elements, like the feigned saxophone playing and exaggerated dance moves during “Paradisin,” also added to the energy. There was the typical phone-flashlight moment during the touching “Chosen Family,” where that sense of unity within the audience continued as Sawayama sang about agency in relationships. And this excitement, ready to take whatever she gave us, howled when Sawayama showed us a song from her next album: a rock ballad titled “Catch Me in the Air.” While performing, she hinted that the new album is “coming sooner than you think.” After “Cherry,” the supposed last song, an encore ensued, giving the audience more with “XS,” “F*ck this World (Interlude)” and a solo performance of her collaboration with Lady Gaga titled “Free Woman.”

When we emerged from The Warfield, my friends and I were stuck in a state of admiration. We had only good things to say about Rina Sawayama — how talented she is, how theatrically amazing the show’s design was and how good-for-the-soul the event was. It was a beautiful experience to share.

“Rina is the ‘it girl’ we all need,” Drew Feinman ’23 said. “For someone who never listened to her music before, I was completely absorbed by her energy. It was cathartic to be there.”

“The whole thing felt triumphant; there was a sense of agency that was important, especially after the past two years with the pandemic,” Danny Ritz ’23 added.

Driving down 280 back to Stanford with the night sky hanging over us, my friends and I continued to unpack the amazing show and enjoy this memory-making moment. Big things were coming — the eventual end of school year and, even further down the road, graduation, the search for a career, midterms, projects, finals and all the personal and global stressors that are impossible to avoid. But we weren’t afraid of the future; the energy and love in Sawayama’s music carved room in our lives for continuous resiliency, release of negative energy and, in return, warmth and healing to help us keep pushing into the unknown.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Kyla Figueroa ‘24 is a Vol. 260–262 Managing Editor for The Grind and a staff writer for Arts & Life. She is a junior from Stockton, California studying English with an emphasis in Creative Writing and minor in CSRE. Ask her about the indie rock and pop music scene, the coming-of-age genre, and Slaughterhouse-Five at kfigueroa ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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