XS is an anti-capitalist song that mocks hyper-consumption, in the age of climate change and pollution, where we all are guilty of consumption. The artist, Rina Sawayama, is a Japanese singer-songwriter, model, and actress who lives in London. She was born in Japan but she moved to London at the age of five with her family. While in college studying political science, Rina decided to pursue music and modeling. In 2017, she self-released her debut mini-album, Rina. In 2020, after signing to Dirty Hit records, Rina released the singles “STFU!” a pop and avant-pop song, and “Comme des Garçons (Like the Boys)”, a “homage to early 2000s dance tracks”. Her third single, the rock, and 2000s R&B-inspired “XS”, was released on 2 March. Here’s an analysis of a few lines from the song:
As stated, XS talks about the dangerous phenomenon of consumerism. In the age of fake activism or slacktivism, a new term coined in recent years which means an “activity that uses the internet to support political or social causes in a way that does not need much effort, for example, creating or signing online petitions” (Cambridge Dictionary), it’s easy to look concerned about polar bears dying, the glaciers melting and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch getting bigger and bigger through posting an infographic on your Instagram story to show the world that you care.
As the artist said about her song: “it seemed hilarious to me that brands were still coming out with new makeup palettes every month and public figures were doing a gigantic house tour of their gated property in Calabasas in the same week as doing a ‘sad about Australian wild fires’ Instagram post.”.
From the first line of XS, “Hey, I want it all, don’t have to choose” we can see a double meaning in the narrator’s words. In our world where the economy is based on consumption, none of us have a say and we are all born to consume, and we get more and more chained in this consumerist ideology through obsessive advertisements and celebrities and influencers who promote a wasteful lifestyle. At the same time, the narrator “doesn’t have to choose” because she has so much money that she can buy it all, everything that she desires.
“So I’ll take that one, that one, yeah, that one too /Luxury and opulence” – we see here the person not only impulsively shopping, but buying the most expensive stuff. Luxury assures good quality in products but also assures something else: opulence, which is characterized by wealth and power. She doesn’t shop only for pleasure, but for the pleasure of being a high-ranked individual in our society, for showing off. We are influenced by celebrities and Instagram influencers to buy as much stuff so we can always wear something different and be on with the trends.
While the rich people shower themselves in Gucci and Dior, middle-class first-world citizens have an even worse habit. Fast fashion boomed in the last few years, with sites like Shein creating dupes for every trendy piece on Tiktok or Instagram. This phenomenon created the microtrend, a trend that is only fashionable for about a few weeks up to two or three months at most. After the clothing piece stopped trending, it ends up in the trash. “Fashion production makes up 10% of humanity’s carbon emissions, dries up water sources, and pollutes rivers and streams. 85% of all textiles go to the dump each year.” (BusinessInsider). Owning as much stuff makes the ordinary individual feel important and powerful, while on the other end he’s responsible for making the rich even richer.
The “I’m worth it” in XS could directly refer to the L’Oréal add, a phrase coined by the company in the early 70s to encourage consumerism, that is still used today: “Certain slogans sum up particular eras. For the decade of rampant consumerism that took place before the epic financial crash of 2008, the tagline of choice could be L’Oréal’s ‘Because You’re Worth It’. Cunningly manipulative, the line reflects the self-absorption of those times, when it appeared that all we needed to do to be happy was buy more stuff.” (Creative Review).
Of course, different ads tell us that we deserve to buy something for ourselves to feel better. The modern capitalist age is characterized by working as hard and grinding every day, giving away our time on this planet, so afterward we can go and spend the money on material things.
In the chorus of XS, the narrator states that she wants to buy a little bit more, knowing it is harmful and knowing that’s excess, but greed takes over. “I don’t wanna hear (No, no), only want a (Yes, yes)” might allude to ads and slogans where we are told to say yes to anything because it will make us feel better, an example could be the show “Say Yes to the Dress”, where brides are encouraged to buy expensive dresses that they are going to wear only once, but this overspending is excused by the fact that their wedding is going to be the best moment of their lives.
“Flex, when all that’s left is immaterial/And the price we paid is unbelievable” – the earth’s resources are limited and same for the space where once our wealth becomes garbage, and the price we’re going to pay for our planet’s destruction is going to cost us our lives, and already does as every year people die because of the highly polluted air. So, it’s really hard to believe that we’re throwing the only planet that hosts human life for earthly possessions, that, when the planet will become unlivable, are going to turn out to be completely useless.
“Make me less so I want more (More)” – this line talks about how women are the most targeted by any industry. Women earn less than men, but they are the ones making most of the purchases. Whole markets depend on women buying their products, and we’re not only talking about the fashion and beauty industry, but food, house appliances and any household item depend on a woman’s decision. When it comes to the fashion and beauty industry, things take a more dramatic turn. Women are always told to improve themselves from an early age. Whether it’s makeup, skincare, haircare, fashion choices and even diets, physical activities, recreational and spiritual activities, women are on a constant search for improvement, in almost all cases at least focused on their appearance. Even though this is not a new phenomenon, consumerism has stressed the fact that women are imperfect and need many products to become desirable individuals.
XS is a song that at first seems like a dumb pop song, but the lyrics and music video offer an important message about the world we live in right now. The music video supports the message, showing a person that is tortured and extracted “life essence” out of in order for people to consume it and be happy. The story of the music video refers to people (children as well) who suffer, for example in Asian countries, being slaves and living in dangerous and life-threatening conditions (cotton comes mainly from India, where it is treated with carcinogenic substances that cause cancer for the workers and most of the people that live in the vicinity of plantations), so that we can buy a bunch of new clothes every season. Our modern “dopamine dose” is dependent on the mountain of human lives taken every year that it requires. Regarding other songs from Rina Sawayama, Comme des Garçons, another popular song from her, talks about toxic masculinity and the male attitude and Akasaka Sad refers to the disconnect she feels towards her birthplace as an immigrant who spent almost all of her life abroad.