In a new interview with the BBC, Rina Sawayama revealed that she was groomed — a term used in the U.K. to denote gaining the trust of a minor for sexual abuse — by one of her teachers when she was 17 years old.
During the interview, conducted prior to her performance at New York Pier 17 last month, Sawayama said she wrote her most recent album, Hold the Girl, after several sessions of sex and relationship therapy. It was during those sessions that she understood she’d had an inappropriate relationship with an older man.
“I was groomed,” the singer confirmed. “It was by a school teacher. Seventeen to me is a child. You’re in school. If a school teacher is coming onto you, that’s an abuse of power. But I didn’t realize until I was his age.”
The legal age of consent in the U.K., where Sawayama has lived for most of her life, is 16. But for the singer that didn’t make it right. She recalled being “slut-shamed” by her peers and said the experience left her with a lot of self-loathing.
“I completely lost my sense of self,” she told the BBC. “I dissociated from my body. I just felt so afraid.”
She added that during her therapy sessions she was able to create some closure, which is where the LP’s title comes from. “I would revisit my 17-year-old self, hold her close, and tell her that it wasn’t her fault,” Sawayama said.
The song “Your Age” reflects specifically on Sawayama’s recent realization about what happened with her teacher. She told the BBC that watching fans connect with the songs on Hold the Girl has been helpful.
“When I look out to the audience and I see women or femmes connecting to it, I think maybe you know,” Sawayama said. “Maybe you have experienced this too.”
She confirmed that she hasn’t yet started working on her third album, but is interested in evolving past her trauma when it comes to songwriting. “I hope that I don’t have to write autobiographically all the time,” she said. “I don’t want any more traumas to come out. I would love a day where I can write a song that’s just about love or sex. I’m getting there. I am getting there.”
While Sawayama has previously discussed how therapy and past trauma led her to write Hold the Girl, this is the first time she’s disclosed what that trauma was. “For me, it’s important that the listener is able to listen to it as a pop record first without that background, [and] make their own feelings about it,” she told Rolling Stone UK. “And then, when I’m ready, I think I will be able to talk about what it’s actually about.”
Elsewhere in the interview Sawayama called out the male-dominated music industry, saying she purposefully tours with a diverse crew. “The heads of the music industry are still a lot of straight white men,” she noted, “so I work with people I want to see more of in the industry.”