Model-Musician Rina Sawayama Is a Star On the Rise

On a warm June evening last year, the crowd at London’s Village Underground got an unexpected jolt when a platinum-haired Rina Sawayama joined Charli XCXonstage to put her own euphoric spin on XCX’s anthemic chart-topper “Backseat.” Since the release of her 2017 EP Rina, Sawayama has become accustomed to playing packed venues. But this was different. The concert finished at 4:00 a.m. Two hours later, the Japanese-born, London-bred model and musician was on set for Turn Up Charlie, the new Netflix comedy starring and produced by Idris Elba.

Music, let alone acting (the Elba production is her first professional gig), is a fairly recent endeavor for Sawayama, who graduated from Cambridge in 2012 with a degree in politics, psychology, and sociology. Her education has left her with an expansive sense of her place in the pop firmament. Admitting that she finds it “really hard to write about generic love,” she embeds her nostalgia-laced songs with twenty-first-century sociopolitical imperatives: internet addiction, pansexuality, and how Asian culture is appropriated by the mainstream. “I am really conscious of how I am represented,” Sawayama says, calling out the often one-note perception of K-Pop and J-Pop juggernauts such as Tokyo-based Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, who has fully embraced the kawaii-cute style of the Harajuku girls.

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