Rina Sawayama concluded the North American leg of her “Ordinary Superstar” tour with a blowout performance Thursday night at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco.
The diva rolled out certified hits and unreleased demos, whipping the audience into frenzied catharsis. Sawayama exuded pure star power while exploiting the intimacy of the cozy venue to great effect. And secondary elements, from choreography to costume, seemed carefully curated to help the pop star dazzle. Even the interstitial music, a playlist of throwback J-pop, impressed the audience with its tastefulness.
Self-love was the theme of the night, starting with opener Dorian Electra. With campy theatricality and cheeky irreverence, Electra performed a set of slick, politically charged Europop (Electra themself is from Houston). Nuance wasn’t a priority; rather, Electra played straight to the crowd. Their set was frank and unambiguous, designed to be understood and enjoyed at face value. Such qualities are ideal in a supporting act when the artist’s work is less than familiar to the audience.
In a twee pencil mustache and a costume recalling Jared Leto’s Joker look, Electra sprinkled a series of pro-LGBTQ+ pronouncements throughout their performance. Each was accompanied with a smirk that seemed to say, “Isn’t it obvious?” The vagina was in the spotlight, with “Clitopia,” a song about the clitoris, and “Vibrator,” a song about vibrators. Electra ended their set being vibrated to death by their backup dancers, Florida Man and Celeste.
The clear standout was “Career Boy,” which equates corporate work with consensual erotic bondage. With Cascada-like lust, Electra belted out an ode to “the man” that revealed a desperate need for work-life balance. “Career Boy” should be on any self-respecting pophead’s playlist. Dorian Electra is destined for pop royalty.
But of course, the queen of the night was Sawayama herself. Throughout the show she inhabited a host of characters: at times the fierce explorer, at others the femme fatale. By the end of the night, she was just Rina, an ordinary superstar.
The star walked on in cyberpunk biker gear to the tune of “Alterlife” and her fans’ maniacal screams. When the song’s visceral guitar riff landed, Sawayama slowly lifted off her helmet. Before launching into the first verse, she bellowed “San Francisco!” to a predictably enthusiastic response. The heavily sci-fi influenced opening number was an auspicious reminder of Sawayama’s fiery charisma and stage presence.
Sawayama paired her set with several costumes evoking the glitz and glamour of eras past. In a white bodysuit recalling Marilyn Monroe’s iconic style, Sawayama sang “Where U Are,” “Tunnel Vision” and “Dynasty,” an unreleased anthem that showcased her operatic range. One of the night’s most delightful moments occurred during the opening of “Tunnel Vision.” As in the song, Sawayama let out a “what?” to start off the track, but the delivery was so convincing that the artist seemed genuinely taken aback. Observant viewers could see Sawayama afterward barely restraining a satisfied smile, perfectly in line with the humor of the song.
Later in the show, Sawayama wore what could best be described as a chain mail leather flapper outfit. Performing “How We Were Then,” another unreleased track, Sawayama played the starlet in an old-school Hollywood fantasy. She reached out to the clamoring crowd — after the show, a fan excitedly announced that he had a photo of himself touching her hand. Then she faced away from the audience for another of her megahits, “Take Me As I Am.”
Sawayama saved her most iconic songs for last, with the one-two punch of “Cherry” and “Ordinary Superstar.” But a hidden surprise remained as an encore for her San Francisco crowd, which Sawayama acknowledged had been her loudest. Sawayama shared that she had felt ashamed about her extremely phonetically straightforward last name because “no one could say it.” She asked the audience members to say her name, and they gamely complied.
Sawayama then debuted a superslapper “song for the haters,” “Flicker.” The track is a reminder to “remember your name” in the face of doubt. Surely no one will forget Sawayama’s any time soon.
Contact Seiji Sakiyama at [email protected].