The Tokyo-born musician and model tackling online anxiety and fashion-world prejudice
“Being east Asian and trying to be a pop singer in the UK where there is no precedent has sometimes been quite hard,” says London-based musician and model Rina Sawayama. “There aren’t many east Asian singers in the western pop world.”
Sawayama’s music, which she describes as “cute R&B with a subliminal pop sheen”, takes influence from her early childhood in Tokyo, where she weaned herself on J-pop (having “literally missed the boat” on the Spice Girls). Her glistening track “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome”, the first from her planned album, tingles with a Justin Timberlake-esque guitar hook and spotlights anxiety in the digital age.
In 2017, Sawayama reacted on Instagram to a Paris Fashion Week controversy over the alleged mistreatment of models at a fashion shoot casting. “Although I’ve never cast for big shows like that, I was really shocked by what (casting director James Scully) wrote, and I’ve experienced racism on set so many times,” she tells Dazed.
Luckily for Sawayama, who recalls being asked to dress up as a geisha and serve tea on a job she was led to believe was a streetwear shoot, her own agency is strongly supportive of her modelling and music career. “I feel so lucky, because (the two pursuits) mutually benefit each other,” she says. “Ultimately, I want a young ‘me’ to be able to feel like they can be the next east Asian model and singer with red hair and tattoos.”