Dirty Hit's Jamie Oborne on how Rina Sawayama is building a modern pop 'juggernaut'

Dirty Hit's Jamie Oborne on how Rina Sawayama is building a modern pop 'juggernaut'

Jamie Oborne has spoken about Rina Sawayama’s positive impact on the music industry in a new interview with Music Week.

The Dirty Hit label boss signed Sawayama off the back of hearing her early single STFU! and is currently guiding the campaign for her second album Hold The Girl, which is due for release on September 16. Dirty Hit is working the release with management company House Of Us.

“When you first meet Rina, she has a real presence, she’s a force of nature and I felt that energy as soon as she stepped into my office,” said Oborne. “When she played STFU!, I found it hilarious. We bonded over that. It was the first time someone had got the joke, I think.”

Oborne paid tribute to Sawayama’s successful campaign to change the BPI’s rules on eligibility for the BRITs and the Mercury Prize, which now allows artists who have lived in the UK for five years or longer to enter.

“I definitely feel like Rina is impacting the music industry in a positive way,” he said. “I was on that journey with her. We both spoke to the BPI and [chief executive] Geoff Taylor and [former chairman] Ged Doherty, when he was still there, who was so generous with his time. They listened and they made changes because, fundamentally, what she was saying was correct. I think she’s pretty courageous, you know? I hope that the music industry sees her as a positive force for change.”

I definitely feel like Rina is impacting the music industry in a positive way

Jamie Oborne

Oborne also praised Sawayama’s eclectic approach to pop songwriting.

“I can’t think of anything more embarrassing than colouring an artist’s vision and Rina felt like a perfect fit for us,” he said. “It had its own momentum before we were involved, Rina and Will [Frost, manager] had done some amazing work, so we’ve just helped them build on that. I feel like if you affect culture, then everything falls into place. And I have no doubt that Rina is affecting culture.”

Oborne also weighed in on the fact that despite a strong presence across DSPs and social media, Sawayama is yet to truly cross over into the mainstream.

“The truth of it is, she hasn’t had a hit song,” Oborne said. “She hasn’t had huge mainstream media looks. She hasn’t had all those things that we associate with an artist breaking. And yet, I went to three shows in New York a few months ago where she had sold 8,000 tickets in two minutes, that’s like two-thirds of Madison Square Garden.” 

But Oborne suggested that things could be about to change.

“My point is, we will hopefully get all those media moments you associate with being a pop star but, regardless, she’s building this juggernaut,” he said. “I think she’s going to be huge. Next year, she’s one of the lead parts in a John Wick movie. It blows my mind. She’s got incredible ambition.”

Manager Will Frost suggested it’s about time the music industry wakes up to Sawayama’s talent.

“Press and the fans have been screaming about her for years,” he said. “And the traditional industry is now catching up because the screaming is deafening at this point. But you have to be realistic. Rina’s music is political, complex and she pulls from places not heard as much, so the production can be quite full-on or the arrangements aren’t the norm.” 

Product manager Tom Connick added that Sawayama’s whole team would like to see her rise to the top.

“We’d all love Rina to be a main pop girl,” he said. “But it’s about making sure we do that on her terms. She’s redefining that herself. In five years I can see her being a household name. And for a queer, Asian woman to achieve that, will be really important.”

Read the full interview in the new issue of Music Week, out now. Subscribers can read it online here.

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