Hold the Girl

Rina Sawayama

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Hold the Girl Review

by Neil Z. Yeung

Hitting while the iron was hot, Japanese-English pop star Rina Sawayama made a quick turnaround after 2020's breakthrough Sawayama thrust her to the forefront of the pop scene, refining her vision and making leaps in artistic maturity with Hold the Girl. Like similar moves by contemporaries Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish, Sawayama's drastic growth between albums -- both in sonics and emotional awareness -- is a thrill to behold. Shooting for the rafters straightaway, "Hold the Girl" launches listeners into this world without boundaries where swelling strings, a skittering beat, country-inspired twang, and a massive club chorus somehow sound like they always belonged together. Riding that energy, Sawayama drops listeners into "This Hell," an '80s-leaning gem inspired by Shania Twain that could have been a Gaga track, singalong chorus, electric guitar solo, and all. "Catch Me in the Air" -- are those seagulls and Titanic-esque flute flutterings? -- channels the Corrs and breezy Y2K-era guitar pop, flying through the clouds atop Sawayama's vocal acrobatics. "Hurricanes" takes that formula and adds a wall of guitar on a towering empowerment anthem fit for early-2000s Kelly Clarkson. The chest-pounding power ballad "Forgiveness" pushes her singing to stadium-worthy levels before the album swerves into darker territory on a quartet of standouts. The tortured "Holy" slowly percolates into a blissful techno-house anthem that finds Sawayama rising above darkness and disillusionment, declaring, "I was innocent when you said I was evil/I took your stones and I built a cathedral." Then, the caustic, industrial-lite "Your Age" puts Nine Inch Nails' anger and frustration through the grinder before the cacophonous "Imagining" fuses PVRIS' alterna-synth attack and Charli XCX's future-pop sheen with urgent alt-rock riffs and '90s house beats. After the skittering "Frankenstein" begs for relief from self-loathing and societal pressure, Sawayama allows a breather with the tender acoustic ditty "Send My Love to John" and the sweeping "Phantom," an autobiographical confessional that is as relatable as it is moving. This is one of those albums where each of the vastly different songs could be a hit and, no matter how many times it's been spun, a moment of pause is needed to fully absorb just how good it really is. Besting the already star-making Sawayama, the triumphant Hold the Girl is the sound of an artist taking their rightful place on the pop throne. Sawayama was born for this.

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