‘Hold the Girl’ dropped the ball

Rina Sawayama is ambitious. She’s a Cambridge graduate. She’s a musician. She wants to raise awareness about the struggles of being Asian American and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, all while embracing her inner child. She’s trying to out-do her critically-acclaimed debut album with her newest release “Hold the Girl.” 

Following up “SAWAYAMA” would be a daunting task for any artist. Sawayama’s hit single off the album, “XS” is a musical masterpiece. The song satirizes excessive modern-day consumerism at the expense of the climate, all while accomplishing one of the most interesting feats of production I’ve come across in the past couple of years. She marries modern day pop with trap beats and heavy metal riffs, completely blowing away listeners within the first 20 seconds. (Trust me, just listen to it.) Other fan favorites like “STFU!” and “Comme Des Garcons (Like the Boys)” have a similarly stunning production quality. Sawayama simultaneously carved out a niche for herself musically and garnered a loyal fanbase. Basically, she was a huge success.

Her new release, “Hold the Girl,” does a lot of things well, but it doesn’t meet the bar Sawayama set with “SAWAYAMA.” Generally, it’s been pretty successful with singles “This Hell” and “Hold the Girl” generating nearly 16 million streams on Spotify. The album’s songs address everything from anti-Asian hate, Sawayama’s complicated relationship with her mother, perfectionism, healing her inner child and accepting herself. In short, this album is all over the place. It lacks a lot of the cohesion and creativity that made “SAWAYAMA” stand out in 2020.

The most popular song of the album, “This Hell,” is a queer anthem that released just in time for Pride Month. It’s the song off “Hold the Girl” that sounds most like “SAWAYAMA.” With gnarly guitar riffs galore and Sawayama’s rockin’ vocals, she grapples with feeling unaccepted by the Church as a LGBTQ+ person. She sings a lot about this religious tension throughout the album, but it ultimately feels like a passing thought in the chaotic blur of themes Sawayama addresses. “This Hell” feels like it’s pandering to Sawayama’s loyal LGBTQ+ audience.

On the other hand, you have “Send My Love To John,” a heartfelt stripped-back guitar ballad that tells the story of an immigrant mother apologizing to her queer son for not accepting him. It’s not like “SAWAYAMA” at all. It isn’t angry and there’s no killer heavy metal riffs, but it’s sincere. It’s the only song on the album that made me feel anything. 

“This Hell” rightfully spits in the face of bigots, but “Send My Love To John” also shows that hateful people have the capacity to change. Sawayama’s introspectiveness isn’t apparent in her pop ballads, but her personal growth shines more when she isn’t focused on creating stadium anthems. She sings in “Phantom” about her tendency to people-please, crooning “Once upon a time / There was a girl pleasing the world / Dying to be liked.” Clearly, this problem still exists.

“Hold the Girl” reaches for inspiration in places other than Sawayama’s journal, though. “Minor Feelings” is named after a book by Korean-American poet Cathy Park Hong. “This Hell” tips its five-gallon hat with a classic Shania Twain “Let’s go girls!” ad-lib. She pays homage to the pop-punk ballads of Avril Lavinge in “Hurricane.” 

Sawayama spends so much time trying to please her audience and emulate other artists, she ultimately loses what makes her music so special — herself. As a queer, intelligent, Asian-American woman, Sawayama has a lot of valuable things to bring to the table. I was blown away by the creative production on “SAWAYAMA,” but that doesn’t mean that she needs to rely on gimmicks to be successful. I just want Rina Sawayama to “Gimme just a little bit (more!).”

Album: “Hold the Girl”

Artist: Rina Sawayama

Label: Dirty Hit

Favorite track: “Send My Love To John”

If you like: Charli XCX, Grimes, M.I.A.

Shamrocks: 3 out of 5

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“Everything Everywhere All at Once”: Love vs. void

Hear me out: I’m late to the party. I know this.

I knew it when I tearfully watched “Everything Everywhere All at Once” two months after its theatrical release — this summer, when I was living on my own for the first time ever. I know this now, while I write this piece about a movie that came out nearly half a year ago. And yet, people are still talking about it. It just screened at the Browning Cinema last Saturday. It’s a movie that’s sticking around.

In fact, almost everybody already knows what they need to know about it. The film has a stacked cast of phenomenal Asian and Asian-American actors. The special effects were done by a team of five VFX guys on Adobe Premiere Pro. It’s a multiverse movie that jumps from our world to Hot Dog Finger Universe to Raccacoonie Universe to Bagel-Black-Hole Universe and back again. 

Yes, it’s confusing. A lot of people didn’t get it. Those who got it, loved it.

I was one of those people.

“Everything Everywhere” is a movie that leans into its gimmick, but not without intention. While the whirlwind energy and randomness of the film may have been a deterrent to some viewers, directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert use their blink-and-you-miss-it pace to playfully explore the meaning of life in the 21st century, as a mother and her daughter search and fight for each other across a kaleidoscopic array of universes. 

The true conflict of the film is within Joy, the protagonist’s daughter, who struggles in seeing the point in life after experiencing everything (everywhere, all at once). Although nobody I know is a multidimensional being, Joy serves as the voice of my generation. She tearfully tells her mother at the movie’s climax, “Here, all we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.” 

We live in a world where people are paid to dance on little screens that we keep in our pockets.

We live in a world where we walk by homeless people on the way to get a $4 burger. We live in a world shook by a global pandemic that killed nearly 6 million people worldwide. The planet is warming because we can’t quit cooling our houses. We need to work to survive. Sometimes the people we love don’t love us back. All we get are a few specks of time where any of this actually makes any sense.

Cutting from a “Ratatouille” parody to rocks with googly eyes conversing via subtitles and then back to the main characters struggling with a difficult audit by the IRS, “Everything Everywhere” equates our daily struggles to the bizarre. It embodies Gen Z’s simultaneous overstimulation by the world and indifference to it, but only initially. 

Joy’s parents, Evelyn and Waymond, don’t accept her rebellion against them or against meaning. Evelyn desperately tries to reign in Joy’s multidimensional temper tantrum before Joy’s Everything Bagel — which essentially functions as a black hole — destroys the world and her daughter. She doesn’t know how. 

Waymond, on the other hand, says his way of fighting is kindness. Even though his monologue is a little on the nose, his attitude is what gets Joy to eventually listen.

Evelyn says, “Something explains why [Joy] still went looking for me through all this noise and why, no matter what, I still want to be here with [her].” Those who got the movie, understand what that something is: love.

Maybe I’m late to the party, but that doesn’t mean I’m not showing up. Maybe I’m just starting to figure it out. But I think that there still is a space in this universe where things make sense, where joy is waiting for us.

Claire Lyons

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