“RINA IS GOING TO HELL,” a boisterous, blood-red poster screams. Unfold the pamphlet, and Rina Sawayama’s tall cocked-hip figure stretches up from a crimson-bathed stage, her eyes slashed out with a jagged pair of Xs. “AN INVITATION TO ETERNAL DAMNATION,” the tagline reads, spreading across the bottom like a dark prophetic news ticker.
These pamphlets, which were teased on social media in the days leading up to Sawayama’s latest release, are only a taste of the infectious, apocalyptic energy brought about by the Japanese-British pop icon’s single “This Hell.” In a catchy, tongue-in-cheek criticism of hateful messages often spewed by the overzealous religious, Sawayama flips their hostility on its head, rewriting their hurled warnings and turning fire and brimstone judgement into fierce, flaming pride. “This Hell” is scintillating and full of spirit, the perfect first glimpse into her bold new Hold the Girl era.
“Let’s go girls,” Sawayama summons in the song’s opening riff, an allusion to Shania Twain’s cheeky introduction in “Man! I Feel Like a Woman.” Sawayama’s sassy sanguinity and infusion of an underlying country twang into her familiar electronic pop production imply additional influence from Twain. The artist sprinkles other pop culture references throughout her lyrics, with references to Britney Spears and “The Devil Wears Prada” creating a distinctly nostalgic vibe. Despite the track’s fresh novelty, it evokes the same carefree Y2K ebullience that other artists have been scrambling to recreate — a devil-may-care charm, so to speak.
However, beneath the lyrics rife with early 2000s imagery and the catchy pop-country production is an audacious queer anthem burning with a passion that only pop princess Sawayama herself could cultivate. Coming out as pansexual in 2018 upon releasing her single “Cherry,” the singer has always been candid about her queer identity; her recent soft, soaring “Chosen Family” performed with Elton John is an intimate ode to the queer community’s supportive love and closeness.
In contrast to the lachrymose wistfulness of “Chosen Family,” “This Hell” is exuberant and bold. The song tackles homophobic rhetoric head-on, lifting the mood and swapping out the promise of eternal punishment for an everlasting party. “Get in line, pass the wine, b—/ We’re going straight to hell,” she sings, making listeners wish they, too, had an “invitation to eternal damnation.”
Buoyant and bubbly, the song is easily danceable and endlessly catchy. Suddenly, the words “You’re going to hell” no longer feel like the spit of a threatening insult, but rather an exciting promise of community and celebration. “God hates us? Alright then!” she declares jovially, her coolness a cutting response to the infamous Westboro Baptist Church’s vitriolic, homophobic slogan.
In true Rina fashion, “This Hell” somehow combines dazzling whimsy and real substance, filling the emptiness left behind in the wake of hate. “I’m in this hell with you,” she belts in the song’s final chorus. Even as the beat pulses vibrantly, her words feel deeply personal and reassuring, promising an eternity of community, love and endless a— shaking.
Only Rina Sawayama could make hell sound so appealing.