Rina Sawayama pops off against microaggressors in her unrestrained new song, “STFU!”
By now, Rina Sawayama should be recognized as one of the most exciting musicians to watch in the pop scene thanks to the sheer power of 2017’s RINA EP (and a slew of successful 2018 hit singles). Though her musical persona readily tapped into the intricacies of 90s pop princess production, the London-based musician could easily continue to churn out nostalgic hits and we’d still be fervently listening. But on her newest release, “STFU!”, that era seems to be put on hold for a brasher and more aggressive change of pace.
On the very-accurately punctuated song “STFU!”, Sawayama brings a growling energy that always seemed hinted at in her past releases but never fully realized. Amidst a swirling storm of nu-metal guitars and a thrashing headbanging beat, Sawayama fully unleashes and is out for blood. “How come you don’t expect me / To get mad when I’m angry? / You’ve never seen it though I know I’m not the only one / How come you don’t respect me? / Expecting fantasies,” she accuses. But even when she’s throwing hands on the sweet-sounding chorus (itself comparable to the eye of a storm thanks to an eventual return to the frantic guitars), there’s still a decadent sugary center in the middle of all the chaos. Sawayama’s longtime producer Clarence Clarity cleverly balances the brimming rage with friendly pop production–retaining the familiar elements of Sawayama’s artistry while transitioning into a more unrestrained sound.
Especially since “STFU!” is a song that deals with “the RAGE against microaggressions” in a statement from the artist herself (clearly pointed to on the reactionary title and explosive lyrics), the visual is likewise a reflection of everything she’s fighting against. Directed by Ali Kurr and the musician herself, the video follows Sawayama as she partakes in a disastrous first date with a person who is unknowingly (or perhaps even knowingly) making racist, unfunny comments towards her in an attempt to bond with her. She is interrogated about singing in English, is personally compared to Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh, and is even asked for advice about his new fan-fiction piece told from the perspective of a “little Japanese woman” (“It’s kind of like a new-age Memoirs of a Geisha,” her clueless date admits.). As Sawayama is forced to sit there and take these microaggressions head-on, it’s clear who those cathartic “Shut the fuck up!” moments are for. But perhaps the worst part is, those kinds of experiences happen far too often and not everyone is able to speak out in the explosive way that she can.
Next time you find yourself face to face with bigotry, “STFU!” will surely be on repeat in your head–or better yet, finally be said out loud.
Rina Sawayama’s new album will be released on Dirty Hit in 2020.
Li-Wei Chu is the chief editor of From the Intercom. When he’s not editing drafts and searching for new artists to cover for the website, he loves watching cult films, cooking, and listening to his ever-growing collection of vinyl records. You can follow him on LetterBoxd and make fun of his taste in movies here!