A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

A Student Publication of Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA

SACMedia

“Hold the Girl,” a reflection of going into commercial success

A review of Rina Sawayama’s “Hold the Girl”
Illustration+by+Anthony+Solorzano+for+SAC+Media
Anthony Solorzano
Illustration by Anthony Solorzano for SAC Media

In her sophomore album “Hold the Girl,” Rina Sawayama navigates through the turmoil of healing her inner child and giving more than needed in her pursuit of making a name for herself.
The British-Japanese singer and songwriter released her studio album on Sep. 16, 2022. Sawayama concluded the Hold the Girl era with her “Hold the Girl Tour: Reloaded,” in October 2023.
Longtime fans criticized Sawayama’s performances that brought new life and meaning to the album. Building upon the critical success of her debut record “SAWAYAMA” and the 2000s pop and Nu-Metal sound, “Hold the Girl” is a western pop-rock-oriented album. “Hold the Girl” allowed Sawayama to gain commercial success for the first time in her career as it charted number three on the UK Billboards album charts.
“Hold The Girl” is a personal record unraveling the issues Sawayama faced as a queer Japanese immigrant in the United Kingdom. All but one of the 13 tracks stem from Sawayama’s perspective.
Similar to Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” “Hold the Girl” uses pop as a means of healing and acceptance. Sawayama falls flat when she tries to compact tracks with too many themes and sounds that make it hard to grasp onto one idea. As a result, the tracks feel like half-baked concepts with a campy undertone that doesn’t translate the homage she was trying to pay.
The album opens with a long breath as warm synths swallow your ears. In “Minor Feelings,” Sawayama reflects on her feelings toward the prejudice she faced growing up. The soft-spoken intro is given little time to breathe as the title track quickly picks up the pace.

 

 

“Hold the Girl,” the album-titled track, has an array of orchestral trumpets, strings and piano chords over a UK garage beat. The song plays similar to Sawayama’s previous work having two different sounds that can feel so alienated from each other if not used correctly.
The chorus drills the idea of holding your inner child closely using garage vocal chops. Sawayama self-reflects in the verse about taking in the trauma and hardships she faced growing up as, “Sometimes I just wanna run away/leave behind that old me/start again.” It feels like a never-ending cycle that she has to push through, “Then I’ll remember who I’m really made of/and she’s been hide-and-seeking/ waiting all alone.”

 

 

“This Hell” allows Sawayama to cheer on and celebrate with those around her. The track is a campy, uplifting country-pop-queer-anthem that pays homage to Shanaia Twain as much as it does to Britney Spears.
The track answers the question: “If we’re going to hell, why not make it a party?” Celebrating the anti-queer rhetoric that has been thrown in the face of queer individuals throughout the decades.

 

 

“Catch Me in the Air” is a love letter to Kelly Clarkson and the Corrs as much as it is to her mother. The song plays as a rock anthem that feels like a release and acceptance from a single immigrant mother who tried her best.

 

 

These two tracks have a clear message, sound and personality within them that puts a Sawayama spin on a commercial sound that celebrates her upbringing.
The middle of the album deals with the negative realizations that Sawayama dealt with while growing up. She faces her religious trauma in “Holy (Till You Let Me Go),” which is a dance beat song that feels commercially akin to Lady Gaga’s “Chromatica.”

 

 

“Your Age,” is a grungier pop rock track that is held back by the pop vocals and lyricism that Sawayama is known for. These tracks lack forward thinking and balance. The exploration of the sonic soundscape of the 2000s that Sawayama explores gets swallowed by the corniness and obnoxious sound that plagues the album.

 

 

During the second half of the album, Sawayama moves away from the sounds of the 2000s and explores Western guitars as a bridge to keep the sonic identity of the album. The change allows her to find the footing and identity of the album.
Sister tracks, “Imagining” and “Frankenstein” keep it frantic and fast. These songs are about gaslighting and being put together by a loved one. The songs are coherent and give the album two undeniable hits that allow Sawayama to get loose.

 

 

The last three tracks are placed together for a typical somber and bittersweet moment. “Send My Love to John” is written from the perspective of a mother who apologizes to her son after years of not accepting him due to her religious beliefs.
It’s the only track written from someone else’s perspective and not Sawayama’s. This technique allows her queer fans to relate in a deeper meaning to her music. The identity of the song fits more with her self-titled album.

 

 

The ballad “Phantom” backpedals into the healing of an inner child while giving a watered-down contemporary sound. As the guitars fade out, the emotional whiplash strikes like the beginning of the record. It feels like a single tear is dropped and wiped before it lands making it feel like a fresh start. What should feel like a celebration and acceptance, leaves room for growth.

 

 

“Hold the Girl” feels like a form of self-sabotage in an attempt to reach for the stars. While it left Sawayama with history on the charts, the sound of the album is commercially compared to her last work.
Her previous work like her EP “RINA” and her first album “SAWAYAMA,” shows social awareness about the world around her. “Hold The Girl” is able to cement itself in her discography as a personal reflection and the inner struggles she faced.
At its best, it’s a fun, danceable and uplifting record. At its worst, “Hold the Girl” feels rushed, half-baked and an excuse to put her voice on the radio. It’s worth a listen just to see the contrast between her new sound and her previous album.

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