Rina Sawayama is a pop wizard. She has an uncanny ability to take all of the very best tropes of the genre, put them all in an aural blender and emerge with a beautiful smoothie of music. Her latest offering, the seasonally thematic "Valentine (What's It Gonna Be)" is a similar feast for the ears, and tells a story of fleeting, uncertain love: "Making promises is dangerous / I'm just a phase / I'm just your Valentine," she sings on the chorus.
Rina's a maximalist, and "Valentine (What's It Gonna Be)" doesn't defer from that path. It's a track full of hooks and singalongs, and even on a lyrical level ("All I want is everything," she sings) we're informed of Rina's go-big-or-go-home tendency. From its openings, where the bass brings to mind classic R&B slow jams, to its big hitter of a chorus, which eventually soars to a melodic bridge underlined by the electric guitar that has become a Rina hallmark, there's so much going on here that it's hard to take it all in on one listen (this, of course, just means you have to play it over and over again, as I've been doing all morning.)
It follows, then, that this track is also a reminder of Rina's magnificent magpie qualities: she has the ability to take influence from and pay tribute to various artists through her music without ever feeling unoriginal, or like she's copied them. As Noisey's Daisy Jones wrote last November, her 2017 mini-album RINA is, amongst many other things, a "concise masterclass in reimagining throwback pop influences". That's also even true of standalone tracks like "Valentine (What's It Gonna Be)" – here there are shades of Kelela (who Rina will play a support slot for at London's Roundhouse next Thursday 22 February), and of 90s boybands like NSYNC, whose sound I can always hear coming through Rina's much cooler reinventions. In any case, all of this is to say that if you've forgotten to buy a Valentine's gift for the beloved music aficionado in your life, just send this their way instead: it's much less cliche than chocolates.
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