Sawa isn’t like most Japanese electropop idols. Instead of swimming in cutesy appeal and gaudy theatrics, she likes to go snapping pictures of ghosts in haunted mansions and go golfing with giraffes. She wore a ducky neck pillow on her head in one photo. She’s a little bit more Kyary than she is Perfume, living in her own magical imaginarium and exploring it though her music. Much like said artists, the music she deals is of the electronic dance J-pop variety, though she has a somewhat smaller focus on the “dance” aspect of the genre. Her music is actually closer to pure electronic pop, at least on her debut full-length album Welcome To Sa-World, released in 2010. Though she has been quiet since the album’s release, new material has been announced for release in September, which leaves us with the question: how stoked should we be for it?
Welcome To Sa-World runs on a theme surrounding Sawa and her amazing amusement part, Sa-World. This theme is briefly entertained by spoken-word interludes scattered across the album, and overall it suits the sound well, for an album fueled by party vibes and fun times galore. Though she doesn’t quite have the personality of someone like Kyary Pamyu Pamyu, she can be pretty amusing from time to time. Her image may be toned-down compared to others, but her music proves to have all the pieces necessary to be a fun album. However, it comes at a price.
Sawa’s vocals are a mixed bag. Her nasal delivery is a bit of an acquired taste. Some might describe her tone as whiny or even annoying. Her occasional falsetto and adlibs are pleasant enough, even though they’re usually placed at times that would have sounded better without any vocals at all. This leads to one of Sa-World’s major problems – the vocals hold the spotlight a little too much. The electronic instrumentation is virtually hidden underneath Sawa’s voice most of the time, and they don’t belong that way either. Though her voice is perfectly competent and has a charm of its own, it isn’t suited to do all of the work. Relegated to the background instead, the electronics can’t deliver an adequate amount of energy or zest, and the album falls short because of it. This is unfortunately because they’re pretty fun sometimes, if a little uninteresting.
The resulting songs end up being pretty hit-or-miss. Several of them are simply too saccharine, even for fans of this candy-sweet genre. This is likely a product of the focus on vocals. Sometimes it works – the chorus of “Merry-Go-Round” sees her execute a pretty sweet melody with all the highs a good party song needs, and she uses a bit of restraint to satisfying results on the flighty track aptly titled “I Can Fly”. “Throw Him Away” is a standout track, throwing away (ahahahaha!) the album’s tropes in favor of a lighthearted shibuya-kei sound. On the other hand, you have tracks like “Many Colors”, a song that doesn’t sit very well on the ears with its constantly over-sentimental crooning, and I’ve heard the melody for “Planet-T”s chorus done before on every street in generic-gooey-pop-land. The single “Swimming Dancing” treads awkwardly between being the best track on the album and being totally cringeworthy, depending on your personal affinity for blaring supercharged electronics and Sawa’s vocal delivery, which is fueled with plenty of vigor but isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Everything else on the album is fairly forgettable, besides her strange lust for chocolate arising in the album’s epilogue.
Fans of Kyary will be entertained by her surreal hobbies and maybe her totes adorbs smile, but approach with caution. There are truly great moments on Sa-World, but they won’t be for everyone.
Happy Summer ~
“Ai Ni Ikuyo”
“Throw Him Away!”
“I Can Fly”