Thursday, April 29th, 2021

Rina Sawayama with Elton John – Chosen Family

Rina, with Elton. Are we still stanning?


Wayne Weizhen Zhang: If you know, you know — and I am so, so truly happy that you do.

Alfred Soto: My college students know Elton John: his biggest tunes, his sexuality, his presence in culture. They’d listen to “Bennie and the Jets” or even “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” over this well-intentioned twaddle. The breathy catch in Rina Sawayama’s voice hasn’t lost its appeal, but lyrics like “We don’t need to be related to relate” mow her down.

Samson Savill de Jong: This’ll probably mean a lot to some people, particularly some struggling queer kids, and that can only be counted as a good thing which I’m truly happy for. But this is utter schlock, and I didn’t feel anything listening to it (or at least, not the things the song wants me to). For Rina Sawayama — who normally will make something interesting even if you happen to not like it — to make this by the numbers dirge of an inspiration porn “power” ballad is particularly disappointing. The temptation is to blame Elton John’s involvement, and his singing is noticeably worse than Rina, but I’ve listened to the original and it’s only marginally better. This is the song Rina wanted to make, and for what it’s worth, as generic as it is I don’t think it’s cynical, it doesn’t come off as a calculated ploy. But no amount of goodwill can get away from how lazy, uninspired and uninspiring this song is to me.

Thomas Inskeep: I understand that duetting with Elton John often results in artists going in directions they might not otherwise, but I really didn’t expect Sawayama to sound as if she’s writing a song for a Disney princess. This is an over-orchestrated pile of overemotional goo.

Dede Akolo: This collaboration is unexpectedly very good despite my reservations about twenty-first-century terminology being used in a saccharine sweet ballad. I think I would prefer an acoustic, piano-only, version of this song that lets these two surprisingly well-paired singers shine together. The queers deserve this type of song. Sentimentally, this pulls all the right strings. Rina has an amazing lower range and Elton is… Elton John ya know? However, this song still doesn’t have the melodic line or the precise lyricism to have it really stick in my head. I would have preferred something more metaphorical and descriptive showing the scenes of queerplatonic love. It all just hits the nail on the head a little too hard. I love what it’s doing but it slipped right out of my head the second it ended. The “she’s bi-racial” song has more staying power, unfortunately.

Joshua Lu: My favorite queer Rina Sawayama song is “Cherry”, which tackles queerness by not centering it as the core message, but simply a facet of the narrative. It’s not that I don’t want to hear Rina expound on her pansexuality/bisexuality, but rather I appreciate how she doesn’t feel the need to do so — she sings about her experience, an experience borne out of this part of her identity, and no further explanation or justification is needed. “Chosen Family” decides instead to make this queerness the core message, and its preachiness actively gets in its own way. Yes, you aren’t really related to your chosen family! Your chosen family isn’t actually your family, like me and Elton John! Did you get that you don’t have to be related? There is something genuinely moving about hearing two incredibly different artists profess solidarity through their queerness, but from the tautological lyrics to the Rachel Platten piano, the song rings like an explanation of queer concepts to straight people instead of a celebration.

Camille Nibungco: “Chosen Family” never stuck out to me as a standout song from Rina’s most recent releases however I do understand its lyrical importance towards the LGBTQ+ community/alphabet mafia and having a queer icon of cultural importance like Elton John is probably really significant for her queer fans. However, with or without Elton John, I’m still pretty lukewarm about this song and my opinion hasn’t changed.

Vikram Joseph: The devil works hard, but whoever it is that Elton John’s employed to persuade pop stars that his creaky, affected vocals are worth having on their songs works harder. The album version of “Chosen Family” is absolutely soppy enough without the hyper-Disneyfied treatment it gets here, and Rina — who identifies as pansexual — uses the queer concept of the chosen family (I prefer Armistead Maupin’s more poetic term “logical family,” but sure) in a way that’s so overwhelmingly literal and sincere that it just feels somehow cheap. (In fairness, songs about queer safe spaces are always going to suffer by comparison to the gold standard of the genre). Rina’s vocals sound great, but Elton John sounds like a Simpsons parody of himself (the way he sings “genes or a surname” is, honestly, grotesque). Ditch him.

Will Adams: I don’t doubt the sincerity, but even then its original form, “Chosen Family” was marshmallow fluff levels of cloying. This re-record doubles down on the saccharine and becomes a near unlistenable ballad. Rina’s new vocal is strained, pushing for Gaga theatrics to match Elton John’s own theatrics, resulting in both singers giving unearned seriousness to the already tough-to swallow lyrics (“We don’t need to share genes or a surname!” “I chose you! You chose me!”). Contrast with the now ten years old “Born This Way” — which had the good sense to embody queer empowerment with a rip-roaring arrangement and to actually say something meaningful (“whether gay, straight or bi / lesbian, transgender life”) — and “Chosen Family” feels all the more empty of a statement.

Reader average: [4.25] (4 votes)

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5 Responses to “Rina Sawayama with Elton John – Chosen Family”

  1. Ok so when this inevitably gets TikTok virality from some 16 year old straight white kid turning it into an anthem about all the Pokemon they’ve caught (I chose you) I’ll probably see why this was panned a bit more clearly, but until then I will feel no guilt jamming to this.

  2. while writing my blurb I got “I chose you! You chose me! We’re a chosen family” stuck in my head for hours

  3. RIP me for loving this — but i’d do it again!!

  4. my spicy hot take is that the original is not just the best song on sawayama but one of the only good ones. elton sounds rubbish on this tho

  5. I, for one, welcome more Rachel Platten-core kthx