Monday, August 13th, 2018

Rina Sawayama – Ordinary Superstar

Not that ordinary!


Eleanor Graham: Oh god, this is so audaciously, soupily, glitter-lipgloss-lovehearts-taped-to-tween-magazines, half-remembered-chick-flick noughties. Please inject it straight into my veins.

Abdullah Siddiqui: Rina Sawayama is a reinvention of the early 2000s pop diva. Her sound is effortless and her image is arresting. The production on all of her 2017 debut RINA maintains just enough anachronism to be nostalgic but incorporates more than enough surprises to be exciting. “Ordinary Superstar” is a genuinely charming summation of everything she’s bringing to the table. 

Vikram Joseph: The hill that I’m currently willing to die on is that “Ordinary Superstar” comes as close as anything to the absolute platonic ideal of a pop song. I submit as evidence the adorably cheesy strings/spoken-word intro, the Dev Hynes-circa-2013 production and gratifyingly thicc “Everything Is Embarrassing” beat, the realisation that what you thought was a killer chorus is merely the best pre-chorus this side of “The Louvre,” and the fact that Rina Sawayama is an untouchable queen in the video. It’s not deep, but it doesn’t have to be. I’m fairly sure the people across the road have seen me dancing absurdly to this in my room over the last few weeks; I regret nothing.

Katherine St Asaph: Falls into the PC Music/LIZ trap of being too arch and self-referential about the fact that it’s a millennial pop song, a flailing of hands at the fourth wall that the actual songs never needed to do — not even “Lucky,” clearly very much in the hopper. (Also in the hopper, if we’re talking early-’00s, is the pronoun change from Vertical Horizon’s “Everything She Wants.”) Nor did the production back then sound this labored over and un-sparkling. The end result is less “nostalgic hit” than “soundtrack from a Disney made-for-TV movie, and not even the Cheetah Girls.”

Jonathan Bradley: “Ordinary” more than “superstar”; Sawayama wanders uncertainly around her track’s school disco slow-dance synth. “Don’t you want to be ordinary with me” is endearing as a wallflower come-on, but the song is constructed like it’s supposed to be a Hannah Montana theme for the outsiders, and her “I’m just like you!” delivered with end-credits sparkle is a misdirect that muddles the entire lyric. It seems as if Sawayama can’t figure whether she’d prefer to slip into the dancefloor darkness of Solange’s True or go all-in on the Lizzie McGuire-Josie and the Pussycats subject matter. Either is good!

Iain Mew: An ordinary superstar, but larger than life.

Will Adams: Vies for the ebullient nostalgia of early ’00s pop-rock, attains about a quarter of the sparkle.

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: When writing about grand, sweeping pieces of pop music, there’s often an urge to talk about image or narrative — the story going around a pop song rather than the song itself. This is largely justified. The music of any pop star since at least Madonna (and probably as far back as Elvis) has been bound up intensely in that star’s self-presentation, their look. This is true of Rina Sawayama; she was a professional model before she was a professional singer, and still carries that glam with her. But focusing too much on the image around “Ordinary Superstar” (its incredible video, for one) misses the point to some extent. “Ordinary Superstar,” despite its focus on celebrity, would be an absolute banger even if it arrived completely anonymously. On this track, Sawayama displays a complete mastery of the little things: the melding of the ethereal choir and her casually spoken intro, the way her voice seems to strain against the chug of producer Clarence Clarity’s guitars, her constant stream of sotto voce asides. All these serve to temper the track’s melodrama and add layers of complexity. You can read “Ordinary Superstar” as pure pop anthem — it certainly sounds like one — but it makes a more interesting work in its details.

Reader average: [8] (7 votes)

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4 Responses to “Rina Sawayama – Ordinary Superstar”

  1. This was unexpectedly divisive!

  2. I’ve been conflicted about this since I first heard it but I think I’m with Jonathan and Katherine on this. The “don’t you want to be ordinary with me” line is a bit too on the nose for me and is the exact point in the song where I feel the tricky tightrope walk that is its Disney Channel new sincerity approach loses all charm. Great video though.

  3. another belated update: I knew I remembered this song title from somewhere

  4. (which means I take back the “the real songs were never on the nose” because I GUESS THEY WERE)

    (this is from the soundtrack to the hills)