British-Japanese pop singer Rina Sawayama has been making a name for herself ever since she released her debut mini-album in 2017, and it looks like the rest of the world is finally starting to catch up! But if you think you have her all figured out, and if you’re tempted to put her in a box with some of her J-pop millennial counterparts, then you’ve got another thing coming – an entirely different thing all together.
The Cambridge University graduate turned model turned singer has roots in Hip Hop, having performed with the group Lazy Lion in college. But just like many of her millennial contemporaries, she just can’t seem to escape the magnetism and happy vibes of 90’s pop! (And who can blame her?) She admits to falling in love with turn-of-the-century sensations like Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Avril Lavigne, and Pink, all who have had a positive influence on her own work. But the twist is, that in an effort to preserve her Japanese culture and language skills as she transitioned into British culture, she also listened to her fair share of Japanese artists, like Utada Hikaru and the girl group Morning Musume. The combination of those two very different influences, you might say, have both contributed to her dynamic sound, style, and sense of self.
Born in Niigata, Japan in 1990, Rina grew up and lived in her homeland with her family until they migrated to London when she was five. Once in London, in an effort to preserve her connection to her roots, she first attended Japanese schools and then eventually transitioned into the British School system which had an enormous effect on her as an artist, as she became exposed to the pop musicians that would eventually influence her own trajectory as an artist.
It was later, during her time at Cambridge University, as she pursued her degree in Politics, that she decided to explore music and modeling. And while this may not seem like the obvious path for a rising pop phenom, it seems fitting that she found her way to music organically, as she is someone who embraces uniqueness and individuality in all aspects of her artistry.
As a songwriter, she takes on socially relevant and contemporary themes that are apropos for a millennial artist, like technology for example. In her song entitled
“Cyber Stockholm Syndrome”, she tackles themes around addiction to technology and how it informs our inability to be social with other humans. A perpetual student at heart, she approached the subject matter as only a true academic would, reading multiple studies, stories, and books on technology and people before sitting down to write the song. But its not only technology that Rina takes on in her music. With her song “Take Me As I Am”, the emerging artist shares her own experience with racism and classism while attending Cambridge University. And in our current world that is filled with fluffy pop music largely devoid of any lyrical depth, its both refreshing and relatable to hear pop ballads that actually take on more complex subjects such as discrimination, imposter syndrome, and social media inadequacy, particularly as it relates to being an East Asian millennial with a plethora of unique real-world experience.
And as if gracing the world with her musical talents were not enough, Ms. Sawayama has also begun to emerge as a fashion influencer in her own right, on Instagram and beyond. With over 135K followers on Instagram (not too shabby), she debuts some very fierce and fashion-forward looks that are perfectly suited for her attitude. From classic Burberry pieces, to 90’s inspired streetwear, to Couture, to super-edgy over the top looks, this up and coming fashionista has a way of making everything look easy and high fashion. And with an ever changing palate of hair colors (which just so happen to all look good on her: no fair!) she seems to be a walking billboard for fun, inspiration, and transformation. Oh, and did we mention she graced the pages of Vogue in May of this year? Yeah – no big deal! The model-musician looked every bit the statuesque fashion-lover, rocking Vera Wang while being photographed by Joyce Ng. And with a love for fashion it’s only fitting that she would begin to design her own styles. Currently on her shopify page, you can purchase her street-style long sleeve Alterlife T-shirts that she co-designed in a collaboration with Clarence Clarity. This custom printed heavyweight classic fit t-shirt has printed sleeve details and ribbed cuffs, as well as super thick cotton fabric that feels like a long T/sweater hybrid. And though her current offerings are minimal (currently just two T-Shirts, a couple of Popsockets, and two Vinyl’s) we have a feeling its just the beginning, and we’re here for what’s to come!
And if you think all of the exposure, the accolades, and the popularity is going to her head, you’d be very mislead. As someone who admittingly underestimates herself on the regular, and experiences anxiety when it comes to performing, she’s actually much more relatable and much more like a regular gal, than one might expect from such a talent on her way to inevitable stardom. She openly admits to feeling like an imposter, though we’re not convinced we know who she could possibly be imitating? She truly has style and talent that is all her own.
And as recently as this year, the Japanese-born, London-based model and musician has started branching out into the world of acting, taking on her first professional acting role on the new Netflix show “Turn Up Charlie” with Idris Elba (Um. Is there a hotter co-star?!). With the wide-ranging quality of her career, one might begin to ask, is there anything this lovely, talented, self-assured young lady can’t do? We’re happy to report, that so far, all signs point to no.