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Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama

Falling down an online rabbit hole with Rina Sawayama

The London pop musician talks us through her online obsessions – including the weird world of pimple-popping and penis-dunking

Dazed Faves is the series where we talk all things online – that surreal meme account you’re obsessed with, weird conspiracy theory subreddits, ASMR YouTubes or slime Instagrams.

London pop musician Rina Sawayama’s new mini-album RINA captures the everyday anxiety of living in the digital age. Songs like “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” and “Ordinary Superstar” should resonate with a generation of people who’ve grown up living their lives extremely online and incredibly logged in, with lyrics exploring the unusual underside of vloggers, personal brands, and self-image. It’s backed by hyperactive production from UK musician Clarence Clarity, who draws from vintage R&B and the J-Pop songs that Sawayama listened to during her childhood in Tokyo to capture the everything-at-once nature of social media and the world wide web, where raw footage of political upheavals can sit alongside bathroom mirror selfies.

Given this subject matter, we spoke to Sawayama for our Faves series, where artists talk us through their online obsessions. A person’s browsing habits can reveal a lot about a their outlook on life, and Sawayama’s selections are decidedly off-kilter in approach, entering the weird world of pimple-popping, penis-dunking and more.


Rina Sawayama: If you pull up a picture of me when I was younger, I was really into plucking my brows. There’s a picture of me when I was maybe 13 and my brows were sooo thin. I thought I was on-trend by over-plucking my brows – and I probably was, but I wasn’t doing it right. I also really liked the sensation of it, which is so gross, but… (laughs)

My friend was secretly obsessed with this (YouTube channel). He showed it to me and was like, ‘Everyone thinks this is gross. Do you think this is gross?’ And I was like, hell no. I got stuck into a complete rabbit hole.

She’s a dermatologist, Dr. Sandra Lee, I think in California. She’s Asian-American and she almost reminds you of your Asian auntie, who just wants to pop your pimples. Her chat is what makes it. She’ll be squeezing a cyst like ‘Oh my god, it’s squirting in my face!’ (laughs) You sort of go into this rabbit hole that me and my friend have gone down – she showed me a video of tonsil stones being removed, and impacted ear wax.

It’s really deep. You get really used to, like, basic surgery. But it actually really relaxes me. There’s something really satisfying about it. Another one is nail videos – watching people applying acrylic nails on people – I can fall asleep in, like, two minutes watching that. It maybe has something to do with the slowness and stillness, just zooming in on people’s skins.

I know it’s gross – I know it’s logically gross – but I love it.


Rina Sawayama: There are a loads of Asian beauty accounts, but this one is the one I really like. They represent lots of different East, Southeast and South Asian beauty. It’s all these girls taking selfies and they look so cute and beautiful and amazing.

There are all these really positive comments from other Asian girls. I hate the word ‘empowering’, but I genuinely do see that and think, ‘If my younger self had that, that’d be so nice.’ It’s so encouraging. I love these pockets of positivity; Twitter can be really terrifying.


Rina Sawayama: My friend showed me this several years ago. It’s still my favourite. Basically this person asks – and it’s not very clear if it’s a troll or not – but it’s this mum being like, ‘We’ve got a post-sex clean up area next to our bed. We’ve got a box of tissues and we’ve got some wet wipes, but we’ve also got a beaker of water to clean/dunk the penis after sex. Does anyone lay here in the mess? That is so disgusting. So please tell me if this is not normal.’

And then it’s just loads of people being like, ‘Is this serious?’ It’s just the fact that it’s on Mumsnet makes me really happy. The chat isn’t this sort of 4chan/Reddit language, it’s these very well-worded mums finding it very amusing. I thought it was really endearing.

And some of the comments are so funny. Some people like, ‘Yeah I have one too!’ and then there are some other people ‘Hell no, we’ve got water in our sports bottle.’ It evokes all of these potentially dangerous accidents waiting to happen.

It has a thousand messages on it. It’s insane, I haven’t really gone to the depths of it – I did once read a BuzzFeed articles that condensed it, like ‘The 13 best posts in the dunking thread.’ There’s also a lot of confused people, which is pretty boring.


Rina Sawayama: There’s this guy who’s just compiled all this amazing 80s city pop (into a series of mixes). He or she just really goes through crates of vinyl – I don’t recognise any of the names on there. The first song in this video has the most interesting topline. I find J-Pop toplines really interesting and very structured.

There’s loads of these videos and they’re awesome. They’re really humble, like, ‘Oh, I didn’t realise this would have a hundred thousand hits!’ (I found this when) I was having a bit of a J-Pop night and listening to lots of J-Pop. I came across an artist called Mondo Grosso who released a song for Labyrinth. This was in the suggested videos so I clicked on it and, wow, again, rabbit hole.

(I just love) the nostalgia of it. It’s like nothing I listened to growing up. YouTube suggestions are amazing.


Rina Sawayama: There are so many levels to this. (Wig snatching is when) something impresses you so much, or just takes you by surprise. Some people are like ‘You scalped me, I’m bald, my wig is gone!’ as an extension of that. I must confess, I don’t know where this came from – I don’t know if it’s like a RuPaul thing – but it’s like, ‘The wig has flown. The wig has gone. The wig has been left on a chair.’ And the extension of that is, the wig has flown to Asia.

Someone made a screenshot of this news headline like ‘the wig has flown to Asia.’ I don’t know if it’s fake – I think it’s fake. Then there’s ‘the wig is in outer space’. It just cracks me up, the idea of this little orange wig just floating around, hitting into the International Space Station. There are all these wigs of people who’ve been so utterly impressed by something.

My wig is flying all the time, my wig is on the floor. My hair’s orange and I always shop in Sainsbury’s (where their carrier bags are orange). I’d throw the Sainsbury’s bag on the floor and just be like, ‘Wig.’ It makes me happy.