‘Ah shit, my laptop’s about to die – hang on, let me get my charger,’ a slightly grainy Rina Sawayama shouts from her screen. Welcome to interviewing pop stars in the time of Covid – a process facilitated by Zoom, a piece of technology none of us had heard of a year ago.
As Sawayama frantically scrambles to plug cables in, I’m treated to a view of her new place in south-east London – or at least, the ‘glorified shed’ that the 30-year-old Japanese-British musician is currently calling her rehearsal room and gym. Like many of us, March’s lockdown precipitated a realisation that a houseshare is not the optimal place to spend a pandemic. Like fewer of us, she was able to do something about it. ‘I was like, “I can’t live here any more,”’ she says, widening her eyes in mock distress, ‘and then as soon as [lockdown] lifted, I was like: Right, I’m out.’
She might be in nesting mode – our chat is prefaced by a warning that she’s got painters in and they might accidentally cut off the wifi – but right now Sawayama is one of the most hotly tipped acts to emerge out of the UK. A day after we speak, her worldwide TV debut on ‘The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon’ is announced. She hits 100 million streams on Spotify a few days later.
It’s all because of ‘Sawayama’ – her dizzyingly extravagant debut album. It’s a record that leapfrogs genres with the dexterity of a mid-concert Gaga costume change, spanning glamorous house and anthemic queer balladry and sampling everything from a Beethov