Pop iconoclast Rina Sawayama: ‘Drag is turning trauma into entertainment. That’s what I’m doing’

The British-Japanese pop star’s genre-mashing second album is the product of her hard-won self-knowledge. She talks about reckoning with her Asian identity, forgiving her mother and her determination to be happy

I’m not sure exactly what I expected the hyper-glam, gleefully camp indie-popstar Rina Sawayama’s opening gambit to be, but it’s safe to say it wasn’t an update on her current mortgage rate. “It went from 1.4 to 3-point-something,” she tells me incredulously, moments after I enter the glass terrace of the London members’ club where she is eating breakfast. The repayments on the house she bought in the south of the city a couple of years back are “literally going to double!” she exclaims between mouthfuls of porridge. “I was like: what the fucking fuck?!”

The cost of living crisis probably won’t be the first thing that springs to mind when you dive into Sawayama’s world, where arch genre-blending meets enormous choruses and rawly emotional lyrics. Yet in another sense, Sawayama’s choice of conversation topic seems fitting. The 31-year-old Cambridge graduate’s current heights – critical adoration, a Brit nomination, nearly 5 million monthly Spotify listeners – are the result of a lonely, exhausting and expensive decade-long climb up a music industry ladder that she had to build for herself. You don’t become a self-made pop powerhouse without being across the details.

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