“Hold The Girl” Embraces Lifelong Lessons and Harrowing Journeys of Self-Acceptance


Aidan Johnson, Editor in Chief

Rina Sawayama’s sophomore album, “Hold The Girl,” is the product of lifelong lessons and harrowing journeys of self-acceptance. Sawayama, 32, embraces all aspects of herself in an excellently well-crafted album, providing a significant level of depth in sound production, vocals, and lyrics.

The album’s focal point is complex and spans several overlapping ideas from concepts of “self-love” to themes from Sawayama’s past, such as immigration and her experiences as a queer Japanese-British woman. Sawayama also touches on the cultural expectations placed on her by her family, a theme also prevalent in her first album “Sawayama.”

The album’s opener, “Minor Feelings,” also the shortest track on the album, serves as an introduction to “Hold The Girl.” “All my life I’ve felt out of place,” Sawayama delivers in an airy yet strong voice, detailing her experiences with acceptance and a lack thereof. She reflects on her purpose and what her emotions represent in a grander scheme, such as her role as a musician in delivering those emotions through her art.

The album’s title track, “Hold The Girl,” embraces a bolder sound, which is evident from an experimental mix of instrumentation, combining both electronic and string elements. “Sometimes, I get down with guilt / For the promises I’ve broken to my younger self,” reflects Sawayama, as she elaborates on her complex emotions, the central focus of the previous track “Minor Feelings.” “Hold The Girl,” also the album’s second single, is masterfully representative of the album’s thesis of self-reflection, as Sawayama reconciles with both her past and present selves, unifying herself through “I wanna remember, she is me, and I am her.”

“Forgiveness,” another standout track on the album, is almost hymnal in composition, as Sawayama contemplates her difficulty in letting others’ wrongdoings go. She embraces an extended metaphor of a “highway” and “winding road” in this power ballad, heavily evident by the song’s chorus: “I’m looking for signs / For some kind of highway to letting it go, but / Forgiveness is a winding road.”

“Your Age” shifts gears and reflects on Sawayama’s Japanese heritage, as Sawayama contemplates her parents’ values and how she has realized that her own are vastly different. The song is appropriately more experimental, combining electro-pop elements as opposed to the album’s more familiar “rock” ballads. “’Cause now that I’m your age / I just can’t imagine / Why did you do it? / What were you thinking,” she sings, challenging her family’s authority over her.

Sawayama continues in this direction with “Frankenstein,” a bold track that draws on themes of Mary Shelley’s classic novel about a monster who navigates his purpose within the human world. Sawayama opens the song with, “Put me together, thread a needle / So I’m like other people, without all of the evil,” which pays homage to Victor Frankenstein’s creation of a monster brought to life. The track has a Halloween-esque sound, perfectly reflecting its subject material with an appropriate level of creepiness without detracting from the album’s electro-pop sound.

The album’s most emotional track, “Send My Love To John,” is also its best narrative. Sawayama authors the song from the perspective of an immigrant mother with traditional cultural values, who sends her unnamed son a letter discussing her past mistakes and expressing sorrow. “And I’m sorry for the things I’ve done / I misguided love to my only son. Trying to protect you, but I guess I was wrong / So send my love, send my love to John,” Sawayama laments in the song’s chorus. Without directly mentioning it, Sawayama is able to imply that John is the son’s  partner and that the mother, who has now begun to accept him, sees where she went wrong, which is perhaps best expressed in the song’s bridge: “And I see that he takes care of you / From the food he makes, he’s there for you / In all the ways I never was.”

Sawayama closes the album with two strong tracks: “Phantom,” and “To Be Alive,” which are both power ballads with pop-rock elements. “Phantom,” the album’s fourth single, once again explores Sawayama’s division between her current and past self. “If I could talk to you, I’d tell you not to rush / You’re good enough / You don’t have to lose, what makes you you / Still got some growing to do,” she sings, referring to the ghost, or “phantom,” of her past self.

“To Be Alive” similarly emphasizes Sawayama’s growth, beginning and ending with the same line: “Flowers still look pretty when they’re dying,” which ends the album on a bittersweet, yet hopeful note. Through the final track, Sawayama circles her themes back to those of “Minor Feelings.”

Overall, the album shines in its lyrical vulnerability. Sawayama doesn’t shy away from expressing her full self, exposing her true feelings and deepest thoughts in a form akin to therapy. This translates well to her vocals, making for an all-around powerful and impactful album. “Hold The Girl” is a musical masterpiece that will likely resonate with many listeners.