Rina Sawayama Says Being Groomed by a Teacher as a Teenager Informed Her Album

"You have no autonomy most of the time — and especially if you're in a school setting, if a school teacher is coming on to you, that's an abuse of power"

Photo: Kamara Morozuk

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Sep 28, 2023

No stunt training for John Wick: Chapter 4 could have been as gruelling as the "intense" therapy pop star Rina Sawayama went through. Following 2020's SAWAYAMA, she released her sophomore album — the vulnerable Hold the Girl — in 2022, and has now revealed that much of it was informed by her experience being groomed by a school teacher at age 17.

In a new interview on the BBC Three and World Service In Conversation series, Sawayama explained that Hold the Girl emerged out of extensive sessions in sex and relationship therapy — as well as the revelation that she had been groomed, which she couldn't understand as such until she became her abuser's age.

"This is the first time I'm talking about this, but essentially, through doing sex therapy — sex and relationship therapy — I realized that really something that I thought was a relationship that I had, when I was 17, was actually I was groomed. Then why that realization happened in my 30s was because I was finally his age," she said. "I remember distinctly how uncomfortable that made me, but I didn't put the two and two together. And it was through this very intense form of therapy, which I feel so lucky to be able to have access to, that I was able to come to terms with that, and it completely broke my whole world apart."

Sawayama recalled being slut-shamed and having anxiety attacks at the time, and generally feeling like she had lost her sense due to the shame she developed around her sexuality. "Seventeen to me is a child — you're in school, you have no autonomy most of the time — and especially if you're in a school setting, if a school teacher is coming on to you, that's an abuse of power. I didn't realize that until I was his age," the pop star reiterated.

"Writing [Hold the Girl] was one of the hardest things, but also when I finished it, it was one of the most incredible experiences. And now it makes me so happy when I see especially like women or femmes in the audience connecting to it because I haven't talked about this in specifics," she added. "I've just said it's about a period in my life when I was younger, but I know the truth and when I look out to the audience, and I see femmes or women connecting to it, I'm like maybe you know what I'm talking about, maybe you're feeling it right now."

As for her next record, Sawayama admits that she isn't sure what she's going to write about — but she's not eager to revisit this trauma. "I would love a day where I can just write a song that's just about love or sex," the singer-songwriter said. "I'm getting there."

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