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Rina Sawayama 'holds the girl' at the Fillmore Charlotte

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Sawayama was originally supposed to make her Charlotte appearance at the Fillmore on Nov. 6, but rescheduled to Nov. 30 due to losing her voice.

Rina Sawayama had the audience captivated from the moment she emerged onstage in full denim regalia with the promise to take us on a journey and slay hard at the Fillmore Charlotte on Nov. 30.

And slay, she did. Sawayama was originally supposed to make her Charlotte appearance on Nov. 6, but rescheduled to Nov. 30 after losing her voice, according to her Instagram. However, if the crowd was anything to go by, the artist was well worth the wait.

The Japanese-British pop star took her devout fans on an unforgettable emotional, visual and auditory journey in a 90-minute set that included 18 songs, four outfit changes, her two loyal dancers Summer Jay Jones and Chanté and one wind machine that ethereally blew back her hair and skirts.

Sawayama’s tour celebrates her sophomore album, “Hold The Girl,” released this past September. The name comes from a phrase Sawayama learned in therapy, referring to her trying to better understand the child she was and her traumatic experiences.

"Hold The Girl" is Rina Sawayama's second album.
"Hold The Girl" is Rina Sawayama's second album.

Like the rest of her discography, this album explored intergenerational trauma and the many facets of being a queer Asian woman living in the Western world. “Hold The Girl” pulls musical influences from the pop music icons before its time, like Madonna, Shania Twain, ABBA, and Paramore. Sawayama also stated that Taylor Swift's 2020 album "folklore" was an influence on the story that she wanted to tell for her own album.

With full transparency, I confess that while I was a fan of Sawayama’s debut album, “SAWAYAMA,” I knew only a few songs from “Hold The Girl” when I entered the venue. However, I left with a renewed appreciation for the artist.

The first half of the set was intense, filled with bangers like “Your Age,” titular track “Hold The Girl” and “STFU!” from “SAWAYAMA.” As Sawayama performed glitchy club track “Imagining,” the audience jumped up and down, singing “I'm imagining / So tell me what the f*** is up? What's happening?”

She slowed it down with “Bad Friend,” a synth-pop song about a lost friendship and the artist’s personal favorite track off “SAWAYAMA.” After this, Sawayama got personal with the audience, talking about turning 30 and feeling like an adult for the first time, which prompted her to look back at her childhood experiences again. She confides that she hopes that “you’re able to give yourself the love and forgiveness that you deserve, even if the world doesn’t give that to you.”

My personal favorite performances: “Frankenstein,” a headbanger-worthy song lit up with green and blue strobe lights; “Send My Love To John,” a dusky country ballad from the perspective of an immigrant mother apologizing to her queer son with a stripped-down performance and a sea of phone lights to illuminate it; and both “Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)” and “XS,” upbeat crowd favorites from “SAWAYAMA” that had everyone singing along.

Much like Sawayama’s entrance, her exit was just as memorable, as she led the audience in an encore performance of “This Hell,” the album’s lead single. With religion being a recurring theme in Sawayama’s music, it seemed appropriate that she parted the sea of fans in half to play a call-and-response game as one of her last acts on stage.

Overall, Sawayama pulled off an incredible live music experience that transformed her most personal and painful experiences into a celebration of life and an homage to all things pop.

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Layna Hong is a digital producer at WFAE. She is a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, where she concentrated in graphic design and reporting.