Rina Sawayama

Why Rina Sawayama’s vital callout provided the weekend highlight at Glastonbury 2023

Among the many commendable moments this year’s Glastonbury festival provided, Rina Sawayama’s callout during her Saturday night set – aimed at a certain frontman – was the most admirable of the lot, writes Laviea Thomas.

It goes without saying there have been plenty of historic Glastonbury moments over the years. From T. Rex’s last-minute replacement of The Kinks at the very first festival (back when it was called the Pilton Pop, Blues & Folk Festival), to a heap of artists, including Megan Thee Stallion and headliner Billie Eilish, calling out the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade last year, the annual event at Worthy Farm has always been a place for artists to wear their hearts on their sleeves as they hold the crowd’s attention.

On Saturday night, though, a frustrated Rina Sawayama uttered words of frustration into her mic before introducing her angsty single ‘STFU!’. “Tonight, this goes out to a white man that watches [pornography series] Ghetto Gaggers, and mocks Asian people on a podcast,” she said. “He also owns my masters… I’ve had enough.” The statement was quickly followed by blaring cheers and it only took a few minutes before her words spread across social media platforms like wildfire.

Referring to Matty Healy, Sawayama both publicly and namelessly shamed The 1975 frontman for his behaviour, demanding the artist be held accountable for his recent comments on the Adam Friedland Show podcast, and shined a light on the hold Healy has over her music.

The original podcast clip consists of Healy openly admitting to watching a demeaning, racially charged pornography series and sniggering at inappropriate micro-aggressive comments and slurs made by the hosts. You wonder what provoked him to be so tasteless, so cruel, especially on a podcast where he knew he’d get a sizable number of views on top of his already credible fame.

Healy would later defend the statements he made, saying: “I’m kind of a bit sorry if I’ve offended you. Ice Spice, I’m sorry. It’s not because I’m annoyed that me joking got misconstrued. It’s because I don’t want Ice Spice to think I’m a dick. I love you, Ice Spice. I’m so sorry.”

This half-baked apology hardly resolved the issue. An apology was expected, but the issue is the depth of Healy’s one here. No one should accept an apology that’s prefaced with phrases such as “kind of”; it sees the perpetrator take zero accountability for their actions. His tone appears as though he knows he won’t ever officially be held accountable.

Sawayama calling Healy out at Glastonbury was therefore a courageous and worthy move. She used her platform to raise awareness of an issue the music industry had swept under the rug far too quickly.

Rina Sawayama

It’s a breath of fresh air to see artists be rightfully called out for misdemeanours. Sawayama’s mention of Healy owning her masters adds an icing on the cake, too. Her words referred to the fact she’s signed to record label Dirty Hit, which is currently run by the 1975’s manager Jamie Oborne. Healy was also previously a director of the company between December 2018 and April 2023.

It’s no surprise a tired Sawayama has come out to express her feelings so openly on stage. It’s a classic example of a cis-white man once again with a degree of power and fame receiving little-to-no repercussions for their behaviour, and it’s important we hold people accountable for their actions.

Sawayama, a Japanese-born singer who abruptly made a very on-the-nose callout on stage at Glastonbury, is sure to deal with some reprimands, or at least some cold looks from fellow industry members. But whilst she didn’t audibly name Healy, we’ve all seen or heard that podcast clip she referenced.

Throughout her music career Sawayama has always had complete transparency over her political views, her creative vision and her deep-rooted self-love for her multicultural upbringing. Although not necessarily identified as the ‘outspoken’ type, she’s never shied away from expressing herself. Her output has often carried a certain verve (take the trauma-reckoning track ‘Your Age’, for instance). Even in a 2022 interview, Sawayama exclaimed: “Being iconic is daring to be different, and daring to be political.”

Rina Sawayama

Having paved her career over the last decade, Sawayama has become a notable name within pop music, but is by no means restricted to it. Her collaborations to date include a plethora of high-profile artists such as Charli XCX, Elton John, Lady Gaga and many more, and she’s proved to be quite the musical chameleon.

In an interview with The Guardian she breaks down the fundamentals of her creative vision: “Drag is turning trauma into humour and entertainment and that’s what I’m trying to do.” The truth is she’s never been one to remain in the background. Since beginning her music career, her introspective releases have explored raw subjects of childhood trauma and has defined the odds of the rock scene’s largely white, predominantly male scene. (Look no further than her cover of Metallica’s classic ‘Enter Sandman’ as an act of artistic assertion).

To put it plainly, Sawayama is the controversial type, and for all the right reasons. She isn’t afraid to explore or speak up about what’s right or wrong and making that callout on stage at Glastonbury wasn’t completely out of character for the artist.

Of course, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen women call out violations within the music industry. We’ve seen it with artists such as Kesha and her long legal battle with American producer Dr. Luke – a battle that recently concluded after more than ten years of wrangling; or Taylor Swift’s dispute with Scooter Braun over the ownership of her first six studio albums. Sawayama’s speech adds that to this list of affairs.

Rina Sawayama and Elton John

The Glastonbury discourse over the weekend has featured many talking points, from Lana Del Rey’s mic getting cut-off mid set, to UK drag race icon Bimini Bon Boulash proudly holding up a sign that read ‘Bin the Tories Anti-Trans Ban’. But above all else, Sawayama’s necessary words really struck a chord.

After wrapping-up a killer set on the Saturday evening, Sawayama returned to stage for a guest appearance on Elton John’s headline set, as the two performed ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’. Between her iconic solo set to her profound speech calling out Healy and a final farewell on the Sunday evening with Sir Elton, it’s fair to say Sawayama’s moment of courage at Glastonbury 2023 was the most admirable of the lot.

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