Pop savant Rima Sawayama dazzles at the Fillmore


Rina Sawayama launched into the country ballad portion of her show accompanied by a softhearted acoustic guitar. Adorned in a luminous white outfit, reminiscent of Y2K stage looks from Janet Jackson and Britney Spears, the Japanese-British singer-songwriter slowed the pace of what had, until then, been a high-octane, dance-heavy performance.

“I hope that through being with each other and through the process of growing old, growing up, that we’re able to give ourselves that love and forgiveness that no one gave us back then. And that we’re able to love ourselves totally for who we are even though the world might not tell us so,” she told a reverent crowd Tuesday night at the Fillmore in Silver Spring, Md.

Then, Sawayama sang “Send My Love to John” from her latest album, “Hold the Girl,” a vulnerable ballad made even more tender by her resonant, unclouded vocals. Inspired by the experiences of a friend, she wrote the song from the perspective of a mother coming to terms with her faults, including her homophobia toward her own child.

Throughout the show, the “John Wick: Chapter 4” actor shared how going back to therapy and learning how to reparent herself helped her creative process. “Hold the Girl” continues to showcase the appetite for genre-blending that garnered critical acclaim for her 2020 debut, “Sawayama,” but with airier, gossamer textures instead of her previous molten grip.

Sawayama was born in Japan and moved to the U.K. at age 5. In recent interviews, the now 32-year-old recalled childhood experiences such as connecting with classmates through pop music and sharing a bedroom with her mother until she was 15 due to financial hardship, straining an increasingly tenuous relationship.

The Cambridge University graduate released a spate of singles starting in 2013, building toward her self-released debut mini-album, “Rina,” in 2017. Wearing its ’90s R&B and ’00s pop influences on her sleeve, “Rina” offered a taste of the genre-mixing that would get even more flavorful and layered in the following years. She signed with independent label Dirty Hit, home of the 1975 and Beabadoobee, in 2019.

Sawayama rescheduled the D.C.-area show from earlier this month because of health concerns linked to her voice.

The opening act, Baltimore-based DJ Kotic Couture, prepped the night with a high-energy, pop-fueled set, which felt like a fitting tribute to Sawayama’s own influences.

When she finally took the stage, her vocals were agile and soaring, maintaining a freshness and vitality even as she danced across the stage for some 90 minutes. Backup dancers Chanté Simpson and Summer Jay Jones, and live instrumentals from drummer Simone Odaranile and guitarist Emily Rosenfield, added more depth and vibrancy to Sawayama’s already charismatic performance.

As Sawayama kept up with multiple outfit changes, an onstage thunderstorm and memorable choreography, her voice remained a beacon of light. The riotous “Frankenstein” and nu-metal favorite “STFU!” revealed her pop superstardom potential, while the fun “This Hell” and a gorgeous cover of Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” expanded her range as a melodic raconteur.

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