Rina Sawayama heals her inner child on sophomore album ‘Hold the Girl’


Cover of Hold the Girl by Rina Sawayama, featuring Rina with extremely long fake nails, posed with arms folded across her chest, one arm hold the elbow of the other one, which lays diagonally across her torso. She is in an all black suit that covers her head except her face and goes down into an orb shape that covers her legs completely. The background is vibrant red with a wisp of smoke to the upper right corner of the frame.

Recommended Tracks: “Holy (Til You Let Me Go),” “Your Age,” and “Frankenstein”
Artists You May Like: Charli XCX, MUNA, and Caroline Polachek

Any good therapist can tell you that healing is not linear—a phrase that usually comes in the aftermath of presumed failure, externally or internally—and Rina Sawayama’s Hold the Girl laments the same.

With a nearly cinematic introduction and a reverent reference to acclaimed novelist Cathy Park Hong’s collection of poetry, “Minor Feelings,” is anything but a minor feeling. The ache, the angst, the suppressed hurt crescendo to a fever pitch that crests and wakes across the album. When the synth chorus and tinny siren ring out, it’s a catalyst for the deeper truths of the record; Sawayama’s grief is not invisible, not unimportant, not erasable—but she is finding ways to forgive, nonetheless.

Most importantly, she is learning to forgive herself. The titular track, as well as “Phantom,” delves into younger, self-effacing tendencies and Rina’s desire to reunite with the imaginative, innocent parts of herself. While the latter’s chorus soars, the song lacks the same impassioned cry of “Hold the Girl,” and I found myself seeking that matrix’s rawness, but instead finding a soft, albeit beautiful impression.

As she says in the chorus, “Forgiveness is a winding road,” and unfortunately it is for the song, too. While the message is an important one, the melody of “Forgiveness” feels more cyclically strenuous than even the self-care. “Hurricanes” also falls victim to its own storm warning. It fails to show traction or progression, instead opting for a full-blown cat-5 that never really lands.

Where the storminess of the album is most impactful is on the anger-charged tracks, starting with “Holy (Til You Let Me Go).” The tolls of church bells are ominous, as are the atmospheric background and echoic vocals that cut through the darker anecdotes of Sawayama’s past, recounting how she “was innocent when you said I was evil.” In juxtaposition, Rina kicks the door in on “Imagining,” with electronic-infused frustration sonically reminiscent of Halsey’s “Nightmare” and Charli XCX’s “Femmebot,” simultaneously.  If you don’t love the track immediately, it will still stubbornly stick in your mind. Arguably one of the best songs of the album is “Your Age,” where she criticizes
scathingly obliterates the neglectful actions of people in her youth. Somehow, this recognition of the monsters she refuses to become and refuses to be silent about is another version of self-forgiveness and self-actualization.

A lighter, camp-esque track, “This Hell” precedes much of the album’s emotional excavation and serves as the mainstream dance-club anthem that fits in Rina’s repertoire, but not necessarily in the grand scheme of this work. However, “Frankenstein” builds on the driving rhythm that the former couldn’t quite encompass, with insane drum work and an addictive post-chorus.

While “To Be Alive” is Rina’s proof that she wasn’t buried alive as feared in “Minor Feelings,” the real proof is found in the moving, breathing tracks of the record. One of these is “Catch Me In The Air,” a song that may only ever reach its full potential in a stadium of thousands of people with their own reasons for screaming “The risk you take, the pain you create…I hope that you’re proud.” Nonetheless, it soars through headphones, alone in a bedroom with just a windowsill between here and the world.

Another song, maybe the saddest amidst this collection, is alive because of its real-life history and impact. “Send My Love To John” is sung from a different perspective, one that many may never see play out. While some of the lyrics feel rudimentary, Rina brings the acceptance to life in a way that only someone who wants it can. Though some elements of the album did not fit with its prevalent motif, this song alone proves her standing as an artist. When Rina said she could “be your Frankenstein,” one things for sure: she’s a genius with experimentation.

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Ways to Listen: Hold the Girl

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