Annot(e)tations is a column by Austin Nguyen that shines a light on the hidden gems of recently released albums or singles that may have flown under your radar. This week, he discusses Rina Sawayama’s “Comme des Garçons.”
From the warp-speed spaceship synths of “Cherry” to the vocal-chord-thrashing nu-metal screams of “STFU!”, Rina Sawayama has never been your “Ordinary Superstar” (pun very much intended). Sawayama eschews the categorization of “cult artist” through her popularity and remaining in the echelon of pop that circumvents mainstream affectations.
“Comme des Garçons (Like The Boys),” as a result, comes as a bit of a surprise, seeming to latch onto the disco-tinged success of Dua Lipa’s chart-topping “Don’t Start Now” for Sawayama’s own bid at the Billboard Hot 100, but don’t get it twisted.
This isn’t some sidewalk strut from “Saturday Night Fever” repurposed for modern use; this is music for the dance floor void, sharpening in the catwalk confidence of Paris Fashion Week into a weapon of dark violet fluorescence (and before you ask, no, Frank Ocean’s namesake on “Endless” does not and cannot compete).
Barely five seconds in, “Comme des Garçons” is the track that waits for nobody, the introductory question (“Can I just record you doing that?”) almost cut off by the slinking synth bass and heel-toe clacking beat that cue the lights to the main attraction.
Her eyes seem to flutter across the people at the soundboard, hands tapping the mic head once, then twice, before asking, “Is it on?” But these moments of amateur-hour anxiety — they’re all feigned, and couldn’t be farther from the truth about Sawayama.
She vogues onto center-stage, makes her presence performative by leaning into words (“I woke up todaaay/ To wash my fears awaaay”) from morning stupor and constricting the hazy club atmosphere with punctuating hyperventilations before the tension releases: the spiraling “WHEEEWS!” of rollercoaster euphoria and the lush synths of a swooshing Macintosh Flurry screensaver.
“Don’t f*** with me…/ Take you down like judo,” she flexes to keep the momentum going, and even through the radio-static filter of Yaeji’s “Raingurl,” you can hear the eye-rolling apathy of Sawayama checking her nails and letting her crown speak for her, a sheen of self-aggrandizement coating each word.
In a world that constantly tries to diminish people to their ethnicity (as explored in Sawayama’s prior single “STFU!”) and for a freeway-speed hustler who “should never be afraid to have it all” though, self-assurance doesn’t equate to braggadocio as much as it does to survival. It doesn’t equate to embracing the undeniable sense of belonging that disco has always represented in queer culture (Sawayama has come out as pansexual) when other places, people, and music genres were unforgiving.
The opening drums from Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers” close out here instead, break up the blurred chaos of the club with their percussive edge, like a follow-spot beamed down onto Sawayama while the singer makes her final strides across the runway.
It’s the anticipation before she turns around for her final pose, one last photo for the magazine covers, and what better way to end the show than with a poised kiss goodbye with closing lyrics “I’m so confident.”