“Recently, I spoke up about queer rights in Japan,” Sawayama says, and I scoot a little closer to her. “The main criticism I was told about was that Japanese people were like, ‘Why does music have to be political? Music is a nonpolitical space!’ I just said that LGBTQ rights are human rights. Japan has no protection for queer people. No marriage laws. It’s wild.”
It must be hard, I say, to be chastised for supporting the queer community in one of the places you belong to, where your family is from. Being told your welcome is conditional is a lot to bear. It’s something I’m familiar with as a queer Asian myself, estranged from my mother, despite the fact that my homeland of Taiwan is the only place in Asia where queer marriage is protected.
The worldwide tour for this album — which touches on queer identity, familial belonging, and Asian cultural dynamics — has been fun for Sawayama, but with hard lessons learned. “The second album was the first time that I felt like people just don’t like me,” she says. “That might come from the queer community, from the Asian community. And I’m part of the community. Why aren’t you supporting me? But it happens. So now, I don’t read a single review. I don’t watch them. I film my shows on a GoPro and study them, but I don’t [pay attention to] what people have to say about my music or my live shows.” Or, it seems, her politics, her queerness, fundamental things about who or how she loves.
Instead, Sawayama channels her responses into her music, into “Minor Feelings,” a song referencing the nonfiction book of the same name, by Cathy Park Hong, about Asian marginalization, or in “STFU!,” a song about anti-Asian hate, or in “This Hell,” a song about resilience in response to homophobia and anti-trans politics.
It’s channeled, invariably, into the rage of the character she plays in the John Wick universe, too, the relentlessness, the grace under fire, and the will to live against the odds. To transform, in spite of the barriers, no matter the consequences. To be a chameleon, armored with beauty, luck, and a lot of will. I ask her, in the end, about healing, not about rage, not about haters, not about the violence or dismissal we experience as queer Asians in a rapidly devolving world. I want to leave the moment on a high of possibility.
“I want to take you on a journey where you arrive at a place of joy because I told a story,” says Sawayama. She is playing Madonna on her iPhone, the first sign she’s entering her pre-performance chrysalis, and her wig cap is freshly on. “I want everyone to go home feeling more themselves. The moment is only ever happening once. When people listen, when they connect, that’s special. That’s healing to me.”
Rina Sawayama’s All-Stars
These are the most valuable products in the musician turned actor’s beauty routine:
Photographer: Johnson Lui
Stylist: Anna Trevelyan
Hair: Evanie Frausto
Makeup: Grace Ahn
Nails: Naomi Yasuda
Top image: Luar Top and jacket. Theophilio pants. Shaun Leane earrings. Tiffany & Co., Maor, and Martine Ali necklaces.