Glastonbury is a rite of passage for so many of the world’s greatest musicians. From Elton John to Billie Eilish, the festival has been a victory lap for the top artists of the day. It is also, for many artists, a launching pad for airing out those who have done them wrong. Last year artists like Phoebe Bridgers and Olivia Rodrigo (with special guest Lilly Allen) used the Glasto stage to take jabs at the American Supreme Court in the wake of repealing Roe V Wade. This year it was Rina Sawayama making headlines for using the Glastonbury stage to call out a notorious racist and misogynist, Matty Healy. For those of you who don’t know him, Matty Healy is the frontman to the 1975 and moonlights as a searingly bigoted individual. Healy’s band have even leaned into his reputation for questionable remarks by including a gag in their live performances where he starts saying something seemingly offensive before cutting him off with their instruments.
Healy has come under fire from many people over the past few months due to his comments on the Adam Friedland Show in February, where he made a collection of racist and misogynistic remarks about various groups and individuals. On the podcast, he proudly mocked Ice Spice, an American rapper, making assumptions about her heritage being Hawaiian, Chinese, or Innuit before imitating the accents of each cultural group. He later went on to mock Japanese people, Rina herself was born in Japan and moved to the UK as a child. He also went on to say that he actively enjoys content from Ghetto Gaggers, a pornographic website that makes content many consider to be blatantly racist and overtly degrading of women of colour.
While he did later publicly apologise for his comments about Ice Spice, many suspect this was partly due to being linked to Taylor Swift and her receiving heavy criticism from her fans for dating a racist and misogynistic man. Many suspect that her recent collaboration with Ice Spice on the remix of her song ‘Karma’ was damage control for Healy’s comments about the rapper, and further speculation surrounds their relationship ending quickly because of disappointed Swifties feeling this was a line crossed. Personally, I appreciate that Taylor can make her own choices over who she dates, but I couldn’t help rolling my eyes knowing just how problematic Healy is. While their relationship fizzled out as quickly as it began, only lasting about a month, it is relevant to Rina’s story in a very unexpected way.
Why Rina Called Him Out
Rina Sawayama and Matty Healy are both signed to the same label, Dirty Hit, where Healy and 1975 manager Jamie Osbourne are executives. In a lot of record deals, artists are strongarmed by label execs into signing over the ownership of their masters, famously, this happened to Taylor Swift at Big Machine Records, where she recorded her first six albums. Masters in a music context refer to the distributed recordings of music and are one of the most valuable musical assets one can own alongside publishing rights to a song. Basically, when we stream a song on Spotify, the audio we hear is the masters recording, and someone owns that specific recording. Masters mean a lot to artists because they are part of the ownership of a song and are also where a large amount of income can be generated from use in films, television, and advertisements.
In her Glastonbury set, Rina introduced her song, ‘STFU!’, from her debut album SAWAYAMA with “I wrote this next song because I was sick and tired of microaggressions. So, tonight, this song goes out to a white man who watches Ghetto Gaggers and mocks Asian people on a podcast. He also owns my masters. I’ve had enough.”
“I wrote this next song because I was sick and tired of microaggressions. So, tonight, this song goes out to a white man who watches Ghetto Gaggers and mocks Asian people on a podcast. He also owns my masters. I’ve had enough.”Rina Sawayana, Glastonbury
When I tell you this moment gave me chills as I watched it on my TikTok feed. Rina is one of the handful of Asian figures making moves in pop music, and while she is very successful, she is still on the come up and making a move like this calling out an established artist like Healy with a huge fan base is a big move and very brave. The pain and belittlement she must have felt hearing Healy insult Asian people while owning the art of one of the most influential AAPI figures in music is unimaginable. She went on to sing ‘STFU!’ with more conviction and stage presence than anyone else all Glastonbury weekend. Having been to a Rina concert before, I can guarantee that she is a phenomenal live vocalist and her music is some of the best pop music to have been released in years.
What makes this so important
While Taylor Swift and other artists like JoJo have experienced issues around their masters and have gone on to rerecord parts of their discographies to reclaim ownership of their music, both of these women are White. Rina is a Japanese woman in an industry where outside of K-Pop acts, Asian women are practically invisible. Using her advanced platform, and the biggest stage of her career so far, to advocate for herself and the ownership of her music is monumental. In her speech, Rina showed women of colour that the time for letting White men dictate their art and laugh in their faces is over.
As of now, Dirty Hit and Healy have yet to comment on Rina’s call-out, and the reality is he probably won’t. If he does, can we expect it to be anything other than another chance to joke along and play into the act of being the internet’s edgy hipster boyfriend? I would guess not. Even in his apology to Ice Spice, he joked around to the audience at his show and basically pulled the age-old ‘nice guy doesn’t know he’s being an idiot’ act. In the past, Healy has been able to rest on the laurels of a devoted, largely female fanbase to prop him up and make sure he isn’t in the internet’s naughty corner for too long. Rina frankly said, fuck that.
Healy and the 1975 came to prominence in the early 2010s from a largely Tumblr-driven fan base of young women, and from those origins, he has been able to largely skate on thin ice by the grace of the women who propelled him to mainstream fame. I think that Rina using her platform to call him out symbolises a call to arms for a lot of his fans to look at him differently and realise that we can’t always separate the art from the artist. It is especially poignant because a lot of the 1975’s audience are also big Taylor Swift fans, and as previously discussed, she too has felt the rub of not owning her own masters.
Rina showed up for herself and brought to our attention something that is important, not only for her but for all of us. She could have easily dealt with this behind the scenes and remained quiet in the public eye, but she instead chose to be her own advocate. In a year where women in music have continued to push the boundaries and call out misogyny, Rina is taking a stand for herself and remains defiant in the face of racism and sexism. That is something that every woman, every person of colour, and every LGBTQ+ person can relate to. Be more like Rina, be your own advocate. Also stream Rina Sawayama besties.
This article is a commentary.