Last week Elton John and Anglo-Japanese musician Rina Sawayama collaborated on a remix of “Chosen Family,” a queer anthem released in April of last year on Sawayama’s debut album, SAWAYAMA.
The two pop powers became unlikely friends after Sawayama’s album was released last spring, when John named the project his “Favorite of the Year” on his Apple Music radio show, “Elton John’s Rocket Hour.” . Since then, John has supported Sawayama’s efforts to expand the participation of non-British citizens in the Brit Awards and Mercury Prize contests, so it’s no surprise that the two have ultimately collaborated musically.
The pairing might seem unexpected, but despite their existence in two different eras of pop, Sawayama and John get along surprisingly well. Both have taken on a chameleon role in the pop industry, successfully fusing elements of R&B and rock into their work, and have achieved critical acclaim. Especially in “Chosen Family”, the two artists also share a passion for supporting LGBTQ + causes. Sawayama, who identifies as both bisexual and pansexual, and John, who is openly gay and often referred to as a “queer icon,” both have considerable following in the LGBTQ + community. The song’s emphasis on the theme of “chosen families” seems particularly intimate given their tight-knit queer fanbases.
The term “chosen family” means a group of non-blood friends and relatives who act as a makeshift family for those whose biological families do not accept them. It’s a concept prevalent in the queer community and highlighted in TV shows like “Pose,” which focuses on drag ball culture among black and Latin LGBTQ + communities in 1980s New York City. Essentially, the idea of a chosen family rests on the idea that while traditional family members do not always support their queer parents, the queer community is more than willing to take on this role if necessary.
With the continued passage of anti-trans and anti-gay laws in the United States – in particular, a bill allowing schools to inspect the genitals of student-athletes in Florida last week – it is clear that the just existing as a queer person is an emotional issue. tax experience. Describing the purpose of the “chosen family,” Sawayama says, “The concept of the chosen family has been around for a long time in the queer community because many people are kicked out of their homes and ostracized from their families to go out or just live faithfully in. themselves. I wanted to write a song literally for them, and it’s just a message and this idea of a safe space – real physical space.
This is exactly what the track does, promising the listener that they “don’t have to share genes or a last name” or “be related to be related”. It’s heartfelt and uplifting, giving the overall effect of a warm embrace in a world that’s constantly hostile to queer people.
“Chosen Family” appears to be on a Disney soundtrack, something I don’t generally consider to be merit. Still, Sawayama and John are so genuine on the trail, it’s hard to bear any ill will towards him. In fact, the new recording is just as sincere as the original.
Instead of the spare techno beats of the album version, a soft piano accompaniment comes to the fore on the new version. John’s vocals never rival Sawayama’s in terms of clarity and strength, but the duo’s vocals blend into such triumphant harmony at the end of the piece. Not a revolutionary reinvention of the song, but with emotional violin waves and tender lyricism, “Chosen Family” is an important life mantra wrapped in a honeyed pop exterior.
“Chosen Family” doesn’t feel gimmicky or cloying, probably because it’s a collaboration of two artists who actually belong to the queer community (I love Taylor, but “You Need to Calm Down” felt a bit selfish. ).
In an interview with the New York Times last week, Sawayama said, “… queering a space is kind of what I’m trying to do with music by injecting a bit of interest into areas other than music. heterosexual love. ” There’s a queer sense of autonomy on the track, which makes it all the more empowering.
Sawayama and John connect two generations of queer pop on “Chosen Family,” while reminding us to surround ourselves with people who are willing to give us unconditional love and support, no matter who we are.
Daily arts editor Nora Lewis can be reached at [email protected]