In early 2013, London-based Japanese singer and producer Rina Sawayama released a sultry future soul single titled Sleeping In Waking. It was a breakout moment, but upon reflection, not quite the moment she was looking for. "Sleeping In Waking did quite well in terms of coverage," she says. The song picked up blog support quickly and was championed by Zane Lowe, BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6. "It was exciting, but I realized that in a weird way, I didn't feel like I'd earned it," she admits. "I wasn't that deep into songwriting yet. There wasn't much meaning behind was I was writing, and I didn't know what sort of sound I wanted yet."
Despite this, let's fast forward because now a Rina Sawayama song sounds how the internet feels in 2018: a nostalgic pick-and-mix of Max Martin’s 90s hits, 00s dance-pop, 80s synths and even anime theme-tune-worthy rock. The overall effect is somewhere between Mariah Carey and PC Music.
Sawayama’s embrace of both the internet and its ills might seem a little strange at first, but hers has been a life spent defying expectations. The warm but laser-focused 27-year-old was raised by a Japanese single mother in north London. Without a music background she decided to hit the school route. Her intelligence got her high marks through high school, and then she went and studied politics, psychology and sociology at Cambridge. After graduating, and still rebuilding her confidence, Sawayama reconnected with Asian culture, revisiting the J-Pop she had grown up on, and melding its quirks into the music she was now desperate to produce.