With her critically acclaimed second album, Hold the Girl, now a year old, Japanese and British artist Rina Sawayama is opening about the pain that inspired it. In a new interview, she shared that, as a teenager, she was groomed by a school teacher. The album was one way to reclaim her younger self. “I would revisit my 17-year-old self, hold her close,” she told the BBC, “and tell her that it wasn’t her fault.”
Disclosing her experience for the first time, Sawayama explained how sex and relationship therapy led her to acknowledge what happened. Now 33 years old, she has realized the inappropriate power dynamics between herself and the teacher.
“Seventeen to me is a child,” she said. “You’re in school. If a school teacher is coming onto you, that’s an abuse of power. But I didn’t realize until I was his age.”
The seventh song on the album is actually titled Your Age, and this new interview now illuminates the meaning of its confrontational lyrics. “I am the number you can never divide,” the song goes. “You crossed the line but multiplied the lies/ I survived a social suicide/ Decisions were not mine/ …’Cause now that I’m your age/ I just can’t imagine/ Why did you do it?/ What the hell were you thinking?”
The phrase “social suicide” may refer to a period in which Sawayama was “slut-shamed” when her peers discovered what had happened. “I completely lost my sense of self,” she recalled. “I dissociated from my body. I just felt so afraid.”
Although Hold the Girl is inspired by trauma, it also represents a healing moment for Sawayama. “Writing that album was one of the hardest things,” she said, “but it was also one of the most incredible experiences.”
Their first children’s picture book, 2020’s Peanut Goes for the Gold, tells the story of a nonbinary guinea pig who becomes a gymnastic star.
In the future, she hopes to make music that can speak more positively about love and sex. “I’m getting there,” she said. “I am getting there.”
In the meantime, Sawayama’s candor and vision for change in the music industry is a big reason why her artistry resonates so well with queer fans. Never one to shy away from hard conversations in her music, she is also more than willing to discuss the struggles queer women like her still face behind the scenes.
“The heads of the music industry are still a lot of straight white men, so I work with people I want to see more of in the industry,” she said.
As a result, her fanbase has likewise found her music healing. “When I look out to the audience and I see women or femmes connecting to it,” Sawayama said, “I think maybe you know, maybe you have experienced this too.”