Up Next: Rina Sawayama Is Not the Asian Britney Spears

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The 27-year-old pop star and model is vocal about the lack of Asian representation in fashion and music.

By Alexandra Weiss

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Rina Sawayama in London. CreditDaniyel Lowden for The New York Times

Name: Rina Sawayama

Age: 27

Hometown: Niigata, Japan

Now Lives: In a split-level home in Southwest London that she shares with four friends.

Claim to Fame: Ms. Sawayama is a model and musician whose catchy pop anthems examine millennial relationships with social media and technology. She uses her Instagram to speak out about the lack of Asian representation in fashion and music, and to open up a dialogue about the pressures of social media with her followers.

“Social media creates a really skewed measure of aspiration that you feel like you have to reach every time you log on to Instagram,” she said. “I want to make people feel less alone.”

Big Break: In 2017, a few years into her modeling career, Ms. Sawayama was inspired by James Scully, a casting director, who spoke out about model mistreatment and racism at castings for Balenciaga and Lanvin’s fall presentations.

She shared her feelings on Instagram, mentioning the time she was listed as an “Asian addition” at a photo shoot. The post, and her continued call for diversity, caught the attention of Versus Versace, which placed her in its fall 2017 campaign. “I went through a period of being really angry,” she said. “But it takes someone to actually say something for things to start to change.”

CreditDaniyel Lowden for The New York Times

Latest Project: In October, Ms. Sawayama released an eight-song mini-album, “Rina,” that chronicles her experiences as a woman of color, both online and in the music world.

“I wanted to repurpose the bubble gum pop mold of Britney and ’N Sync and write about something political,” said Ms. Sawayama, who graduated from Cambridge University in 2012 with a degree in political science. She also started a street wear-inspired line that includes T-shirts and hats.

Next Thing: Ms. Sawayama released a video for her single “Ordinary Superstar” earlier this summer and plans to return to the studio to complete another album. She also intends to expand her fashion line. “I think of my brand as just another way to create community,” she said. “I really want people who aren’t fans of mine, and who have never even heard of me, to want to wear the clothes.”

No Comparisons: Ms. Sawayama describes her music, which mixes pop, hip-hop and R&B, as “left-field pop.” “I’ve found in music that people — and especially with emerging artists — talk about us in terms of comparisons,” she said. “Like, ‘She’s the next Britney Spears.’ But there really are no popular Asian artists. So, who am I the next of? Because I’m not the next Britney or Adele. I’m just myself.”

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