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The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

‘Hold The Girl’ isn’t just an album, it’s a journey through the self-healing process

In her second studio album, Rina Sawayama seeks to honor her lost inner child. She employs conscientious lyrics yet stays true to her signature genre-blending sound.
The album cover for “Hold The Girl.” (Photo courtesy of Dirty Hit Record Label)
Dirty Hit Record Label
The album cover for “Hold The Girl.” (Photo courtesy of Dirty Hit Record Label)

The camera pans to a darkened room. A horrifying, sharp-clawed, pure gold monster lurks in the corner. Within seconds, a team of scientists punctures the creature with a needle to harvest a glistening, golden essence from it. While one could reasonably assume that this scene is derived from the newest blockbuster horror movie, it is actually a description of the music video for “XS,” the breakout single by Japanese-born and UK-based artist Rina Sawayama. 

Sawayama’s aforementioned single and eponymous debut album received universal praise from critics and listeners alike, who acclaimed its deeply personal message. “XS” details Sawayama’s harsh distaste for the capitalistic society in which she was raised, an opinion regarded as highly controversial by many. It was this drastic emotional transparency interwoven throughout the album that drew the attention of industry legends Sir Elton John and hyper-pop artist Charli XCX

Following her emergence into the public eye, Sawayama dropped her second studio album, “Hold The Girl,” on Sept. 16, employing much of this same brash, emotionally-charged discourse. 

In “Hold The Girl,” Sawayama explores the lingering effects of her intergenerational trauma and details the tumultuous journey she underwent to finally confront her demons, so to speak. The album’s opening track, “Minor Feelings,” operates more as a prelude than an actual song. In just over two minutes, she commits to finally acknowledging the emotions she repressed during childhood.

If we think of “Hold the Girl” as addressing the five stages of grief, then “Imagining” portrays the first phase of denial. The track details the sensation of hiding pain and trying to neglect the past. A reference to lidocaine, an anesthetic drug, is used to describe how Sawayama would rather feel completely numb than address her debilitating anxiety and trust issues. The combination of a fast-paced tempo and excessively distorted vocals gives the track an almost psychotic feel.

“Your Age” is representative of the anger phase of trauma recovery. The country/rock-inspired song strays from the heavily introspective lyrics interspersed throughout the album. The words are blunt and scathing. “Why did you do it? What the hell were you thinking?” Sawayama demands answers from the people who hurt her in the past, showing little signs of empathy. 

The track “Forgiveness” reinforces the idea that the healing process can be messy and complicated. Sawayama croons that “forgiveness is a winding road” as she details the universally relatable experience of being stuck between stubborn bitterness and seeking the closure that forgiveness brings. The ballad’s slower melody further emphasizes that healing is a drawn-out process that cannot be rushed. 

“Phantom” is a sensational anthem full of raw emotion that embodies the depression phase of grief. In the track, which contains some of her most impressive vocals to date, Sawayama cries out that she’s “tried everything to fill up the void” that her childhood trauma created. Essentially, the “XS” singer recognizes that she can no longer function under her optimistic facade. She belts that she needs to reconnect with her inner child so that the phantom lurking in the outskirts of her mind disappears.

After dragging us along on her emotional roller coaster, Sawayama fittingly ends the album with “To Be Alive,” a track that illustrates total catharsis. Sawayama reaches the acceptance stage of grief as she declares “I finally know what it feels like to be alive.” The song lyrics are notably written in the past tense, further emphasizing the idea that Sawayama has put all of her complex emotions behind her. “Catch Me In The Air” also demonstrates newfound emotional maturity. The pop singer pays homage to her mother and thanks her for providing the courage to be herself, singing, “I was afraid, but you left your wings on me.” 

While the album is a somewhat disorienting mix of genres, it ultimately summarizes the multi-faceted aspect of trauma recovery. Rina Sawayama bore her soul on “Hold The Girl,” creating a surprisingly accurate depiction of the immigrant experience. Whether you love the diverse blend of rock, country, electronic and pop elements, or detest it, it’s Rina Sawayama’s captivating storytelling that makes “Hold The Girl” shine.

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About the Contributor
Marques Watson, Deputy Life Editor
Marques Watson (‘26) is majoring in elementary education in Peabody College. He is originally from Dallas, Texas. When not writing for The Hustler, Marques can be often found studying Spanish, reading a good mystery novel or scouring the internet for new vinyls to collect. He can be reached at [email protected]
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