During her performance at Glastonbury, alternative pop star Rina Sawayama laid bare her frustrations. As she prepared to perform a cut from her 2020 album SAWAYAMA, “STFU!,” a familiar ride cymbal reverberated through the night air – that of Korn’s “Blind.” Over the backdrop of the nu-metal classic, Sawayama took a seat, furrowed her brow, and expressed her displeasure with The 1975 frontman Matty Healy, blasting him as “a white man that watches ‘Ghetto Gaggers’ and mocks Asian people on a podcast.” She added, “He also owns my masters, I’ve had enough,” before doubling down on her alt-metal aggression by interpolating the bridge of Limp Bizkit’s “Break Stuff.” The message was as loud as the distorted guitars: Rina’s pissed.
This might be surprising if you only knew Sawayama from her collaborations with Elton John, but her embrace of nu-metal is far from sudden. “STFU!,” which features a mixture of low-tuned riffage and hip-hop-influenced drums, already has the bones of a long-lost nu-metal chart-topper even without the backing of “Blind” or “Break Stuff.” “XS” sneaks buzzsaw guitars into a dance-pop banger, and it only takes one listen to her cover of “Enter Sandman” to confirm that Sawayama knows her way around an over-the-top rock tune. She’s long been incorporating the signature stylings of the metal-rap-pop fusion — and she’s not the only one.
Nu-metal, once written off as a regrettable phase in pop music’s past, has become a primary influence for a crop of artists from a diverse set of backgrounds who exist outside of the traditional metal landscape.
“I wanted to make kind of aggressive, clowny music. I wanted it to be perplexing, bizarre – the opposite of cute, indie girl rock music,” explains the artist Sasami, whose latest album bolstered her indie songwriting with the unmistakable mark of nu-metal. “I kind of intuitively found myself getting more and more into heavy rock music, and I would scream a lot even when I was performing my first album — and there’s no screaming on that album. It was a really mellow album, but I just got really aggressive live. So, I knew when I made Squeeze that I wanted to bring a much heavier sound to it.”
And bring a much heavier sound she did. In contrast to the sometimes noisy, often accessibly beautiful indie rock of her self-titled debut, Squeeze ramps up the rage tenfold. From the industrial grit of opener “Skin a Rat” to the chugging “Sorry Entertainer” to the avant-garde aggression of “Squeeze,” the new batch of songs reframed Sasami Ashworth as unafraid, confrontational, and ready to blow the roof off of any room her band might play. Just take a look at the album art for proof.
“When I toured my first album, I had pretty much an all queer/femme band, and so we had the classic [problem] of having to deal with male sound people and male venue people,” Ashworth says of leaning into metal. “[There was] this kind of angst about having to constantly prove ourselves as worthy musicians, so there was a general undercurrent of anger bubbling.”