Rina Sawayama's lockdown listening: 'I'm fermenting stuff and playing Animal Crossing'

In between video games and bouts of her own new record, the British-Japanese pop star has been delving into Allie X, Halsey and Alanis Morissette

‘I quite like being at home, which is probably an unpopular opinion’ ... Rina Sawayama.
‘I quite like being at home, which is probably an unpopular opinion’ ... Rina Sawayama. Photograph: Hendrik Schneider
‘I quite like being at home, which is probably an unpopular opinion’ ... Rina Sawayama. Photograph: Hendrik Schneider
Ben Beaumont-Thomas
Interview by

Last modified on Fri 8 May 2020 04.02 EDT

I’m in my house with my housemate in nice Zone 3 London, with a garden and a new barbecue – though I forgot the coals, so I don’t know how we’ll cook anything. I’ve been fermenting stuff, playing lots of Animal Crossing and listening to loads of really mainstream music. I quite like being at home, which is probably an unpopular opinion. I’m fairly introverted anyway, I don’t really go out that much. I store up all my energy and creative juice – I have this fear if I talk too much then I won’t be creative any more. It’s a finite resource!

I’ve always been a gamer, and I think the thing I’ve genuinely been listening to most is the Animal Crossing soundtrack. Not out of choice at this point – I wake up and my brain starts singing the theme music. Dua Lipa’s album is so good, I love every song on it, especially Levitating. I wasn’t a huge fan of her until this album to be honest, but I think these songs are incredible. I love her music videos, too, and her livestreams, doing performances from her house during lockdown. The whole thing has been perfectly packaged – it’s a real pop moment.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Allie X. Her latest record is really good – very deep and meaningful, a really personal album. Kacey Musgraves, but that hasn’t changed in two years and I should stop talking about it – change the record, hun. None of my friends stan Halsey but I really like her. Maybe when you’re as big as she is, with Without Me being one of the most streamed songs of the decade, I can imagine the pressure is there to try and do another song like that. But she just does whatever the hell she wants to do at this point, and her record sounds like that. The mix of genres is quite similar to what I wanted to do with my record – I love that she’s mixing country in there – and her collaborations are very smart: the track with Alanis Morissette is great.

I’ve been listening to Alanis’s Jagged Little Pill again, actually. It’s so good: the songwriting, the poetry. Hers is a voice that you don’t really hear in pop these days. And I’ve been listening to Avril Lavigne’s debut again, Let Go. I remember listening to that album at 12 and thinking, yeah, I’m a rock chick (you’re not, it’s Avril Lavigne) and wearing white tank tops and my school tie to mufti day, thinking I was all that. It’s great to see Avril and Alanis still out there doing their thing. The way people see potential in pop can be quite toxic, especially for women – I think their potential is very much tied to their beauty. So whenever I see artists like these who have been working for a long time, I want to support them, because I know this industry can be tough for women who are above a certain age to be respected as the skilled songwriters, musicians and entertainers that they are. I’m turning 30 this year, so it’s really good to have that as a benchmark where I’m not like: why am I not Billie Eilish, why am I not 15?

Honestly, I’ve been listening to my own record, too. I know that sounds so annoying, but I’ve been trying to convince myself there’s nothing wrong with it for the last three months. I just love it! When you write a record, you don’t fully appreciate it as an album until right at the end when it’s done and you can’t do anything about it – finally I’m able to listen to it and enjoy it. It’s so true what people say about your first record, that you’ve had your whole life to write it. It’s a culmination of all my childhood experiences, traumas, memories, and my family and their traumas. I feel like I’ve written a family album: growing up somewhere where you don’t connect, my parents’ divorce, my mum not being able to speak the language here. It’s been the most healing thing ever. The album starts by asking whether a dynasty of pain is going to end with you – and I feel like I have ended it for myself. My stance now is to bring something that’s not corona content: I want to bring a bit of normality and joy into people’s lives.

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