Finally taking the Portland stage after being postponed for two years, Rina Sawayama and opener HANA gave the sold out Roseland crowd a glimpse into pop future. Cover photo by Meg Meyer. Courtesy Rina Sawayama.
Photo by Meg Meyer. Courtesy Rina Sawayama.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck the music industry, alt-pop icon and genre-bender Rina Sawayama was scheduled to play a show at the Holocene in Portland way back in April of 2020. But of course, the world had other plans. When the industry was shut down due to the virus’ spread, the show was forced to be postponed for the foreseeable future.

Cut to two years later. Over the course of the pandemic, Rina Sawayama’s popularity has skyrocketed. When her initial Holocene show was scheduled, Rina had yet to release a full-length album, only boasting a few singles from SAWAYAMA in addition to her debut 2019 EP, RINA. But when her debut album dropped in April of 2020, there was nowhere for Rina to go but up. And that’s exactly where she went.

With the show finally rescheduled, the Dynasty Tour had upgraded from the 312 capacity Holocene to the 1,400 capacity Roseland Theater. And not to be understated, every one of those 1,400 seats were taken—the show sold out well in advance of its new date.

This brings us to the night of the long-overdue and highly anticipated arrival of Rina Sawayama to the Rose City. Well before Rina was set to take the stage, an already packed crowd filled the floor of the Roseland Theater. There was a definite buzz in the air, as early 2000s pop hits—mixed with plenty of modern hyper-pop—played through the venue speakers.

But before Rina took the stage, the sold out Portland crowd had another treat in wait. Synthpop singer-songwriter and producer—and frequent Grimes collaborator—HANA made her way on to the stage. Working as her own DJ, HANA came out of the gate with an ethereal vocal performance, her voice filling the room, echoing layer upon layer as a fan on stage blew her bright purple hair behind her.

Playing through a half hour opening set, HANA’s set felt like the soundtrack to a sci-fi fantasy epic. Her voice soared over gorgeous synth productions for the majority of her set, though she also switched things up when she brought out an electric guitar for the more acoustic cut, the beautiful “Cowboy Bebop”.

Though HANA’s sound and presence is much different than Rina’s, her future-focused pop brand was the perfect compliment to the pop dynasty about to be unleashed.

Opening her set with “Dynasty”, Rina Sawayama took the stage by force, immediately coming through with a massive stage presence that could fill a packed arena. Dressed in a bright, blood red jumpsuit and heels, she exuded an energy of pure fire. And that power seeped into every moment of her 18 song set.

With the room already alight, Rina launched into her track “STFU!”, a perfect example of her boundary-pushing brand of alt-pop, blurring the lines between pop and heavy nu-metal. Backed by two dancers, the trio put their all into the heavy guitar sounds, thrashing their hair in perfectly choreographed fashion. It wasn’t even two songs in, and the crowd had already witnessed something breathtaking. Rina took a pause.

“I know the last two years have been fucked up,” she told the crowd. “This show was supposed to be so long ago, but you’re here and I’m so grateful… Thank you for making me feel loved, thank you for making me feel heard, thank you for making me feel confident.”

Going right into SAWAYAMA track “Comme des garcons”, Rina continued to keep the energy high, and with her godly presence, kept all eyes on her as she ran the stage.

Photo by Meg Meyer. Courtesy Rina Sawayama.

Though it could certainly be easy to get caught up in the spectacle of it all, completely losing oneself in simply watching the performance unfold, Rina Sawayama made sure to play to the intimacy of this moment as well.

Sitting down with her accompanying guitarist, Rina put her pristine vocals and pure emotion front and center with an acoustic rendition of “Chosen Family.” It’s a tearjerker of the song, and arguably one of the best tracks on her record. And in such a personal and touching live package, its message hit home.

Through the whole room, phone lights went up, creating a sparkling starscape as the crowd hung on every word. Midway through the song, before the final chorus, Rina addressed the crowd.

“I’m so proud of you. For everyone here who has to fight to be themselves every single day… No matter what you’re going through, everything’s going to be okay. I love you.”

Just as she’s able to so seamlessly blend genre, pushing past its boundaries, Rina Sawayama proved that she could also thrive under any live condition. Her fiery energy could easily fill a stadium, but she also knows how to make those intimate moments in a small venue feel extra special and personal.

As she rounded out her set with a throwback (“Cherry”) and a glimpse into her second album (“Catch Me in the Air”), it felt like the two year anticipation was worth every moment. And even though it couldn’t be in as small a setting as the Holocene, getting a glimpse into pop future in even as small a venue as the Roseland felt like a rare treat.

Editor / Founder | + posts

Bren Swogger (they/them) is the creator and editor of Indie/Alt Magazine. Bren started Indie/Alt as a music blog during their sophomore year of high school, and after a long hiatus, relaunched it as an online entertainment magazine in 2021 for their capstone project at Pacific University. After 10 years in the music journalism industry, Bren has a long-standing passion for live music, but also loves to explore their passion for other artistic outlets. You can find Bren writing voraciously, adding to their never-ending stack of TBRs, and marathoning classic horror films.