Cherry: On Realizations And Difference
“In the past my feelings have been erased, minimized and mocked, and I’ve been told by people that my desires are temporary, even suggestions that it’s just a concealed desire to cheat. All of those anecdotes are included in the song.” — Rina Sawayama for Paper Magazine.
Our current society, despite the technological advancements and improvements in education, still treats difference unkindly. The world around us is one that encourages creativity that does not cross the set ‘norms’ of how a human should live and survive. More often than not are these standards not only highly heteronormative and strict, but makes the people who don’t adhere to these, or those who feel that they don’t fit in the space they’ve been reserved in, incredibly disillusioned with themselves. This is because of the fact that their social self and their personal self do not align with each other, and they’ve been taught since their birth that they can’t change the grey world around them. Like the quote above, people who don’t consider the societal norms as the formation of their identity live in the constant sense of disillusionment, non-acceptance, and disbelief especially by close ones; and this is what Rina Sawayama’s 2018 single, ‘Cherry’ explores.
‘Cherry’ is an intimate anthem penned by the singer, inspired by the glance of a woman when riding in the subway, and goes on to describe her experiences on realizing that she was pansexual (which refers to attraction to all regardless of gender). The title is derived from a Japanese folktale on a princess named Cherry, and the music video features Rina with hair the colour of cherry blossoms and other dancers who represent both the LGBTQIAP+ diaspora and the diversity in people of colour. The title is also strategic because the term ‘cherry’ is often used in popular culture as a sign of a woman’s virginity (“The image [of the cherry] is based on an idea of ripeness — and thus the virginity tends to be seen as something that, sooner or later, is due to be lost-Jonathan Green.”) and this is often weaponized by people directing hate towards women-love-women (WLW) relationships where they mock these couples by saying they haven’t had the right ‘person’ for them yet; that they aren’t ‘real’ women.
“Down the subway, you looked my way/ with your girl gaze, with your girl gaze/ that was the day everything changed/ couldn’t stay the same.”
The first verse of the song takes us back to the subway where Rina meets the gaze of the girl; her glances are described with the word ‘girl’ as an adjective, as if her gaze was different than when boys looked at her. That was the day she realized that she was different than what society told her she was; she wasn’t the same as she was before she met the girl’s eyes. She ponders over these feelings arising in her for she didn’t understand them; but slowly as she learns more about herself and these emotions she comes to terms with her identity. In the second part of the verse, she talks about how people reacted with stereotypes about her opening up about her pansexual identity; labelling her as a ‘cheater’ because of the fact she’s attracted to all kinds of people (“telling myself that it’s cheating”)- which is also a very common used by not only homophobes but unfortunately some members of the gay community as well: contributing to the rise in bi/pan erasure in an already homophobic society.
“I lead my life within a lie/ holding onto feelings/ I’m not used to feeling/ but oh they make me feel alive.”
So, to escape the world, she hides her true self. Rina leads her life as a heterosexual woman on the outside, and as a pansexual woman within herself; she lives a ‘lie’ because of the world that constants beats her and brings her down. Even though she doesn’t present these feelings outside; she clasps them like a rope one grabs to save themselves from falling off a steep cliff. They’re a part of her true self that she tries to suppress; but she breathes easy when they bring her alive every time. She has to stay the same for society, even though there’s nothing wrong with her and even though her heart beats alive with these feelings, even at times when she denies them. The heart just knows her, and is curious why she hides herself so; and it just wants to know (“when they tell you that you’ve got to stay the same/ even though you’re not yourself/ and you’ve got somebody else./even though it’s not your fault/ but your heart just wants to know.”)
“so won’t you? Will you be my cherry?/ so come on, talk to me, talk to me/ will you, will you be mine?/ I see you watching me, will you be mine, baby?/ will I be your cherry?/ so come on, talk to me, talk to me/ will you, will you be mine?”
The next pre-chorus of ‘down the subway […]’ represents the girl’s gaze bringing in not new-found feelings, but the acceptance of these feelings within Rina. She sees these feelings as a part of her own exploration of sexuality and gender, and is comfortable with herself as an individual. The phrase in the post-chorus, ‘will you be my cherry?’ can be seen as Rina asking her younger self that hid in the shadows struggling with these emotions to come out and let her come alive; because in Asian culture, cherries represent life and therefore, Rina asks her younger self to come alive with these feelings that don’t make her an outcast, but make her truly human. She convinces her own scared self by reminding her that she’s always been this way; ever since she was a seventeen-year-old (‘with one look you take me back to everything I used to be/ when everyone was 17 with no ID, no ID.’). She comforts her by telling that nothing has changed within her; that the present Rina and the self at seventeen was still the same, and asks her to love herself because there’s nothing else left in this world than her accepting herself (‘now I wanna love myself/ ’cause nothing else is guaranteed/ ’cause inside I’m the same me with no ID, no ID/ won’t you be my cherry now?’). The mention of ID can be in reference of identity; because in societal norms, you can’t change your identity even when you don’t necessarily align with the identity on the ID.
The music video is a portrayal of choice and acceptance. The dancers are surrounded by red rose petals at the beginning to symbolize not only love, but self-love. Many of the men are also seen wearing flower headdresses which represents the rejection of toxic masculinity and standards for men upheld by the patriarchy; along with satirically representing the stereotype of femininity associated with gay men. In actuality, these things have no gender and can be worn by men, women and people who identify as neither; the music video means to convey that the onus of identity falls onto the individual and the individual only, no one else. It portrays the idea that the maker of a person should be the person themselves; even when their identity shifts from its original position as they grow older and know themselves.
Because, at the end of our world, we’re all our own Cherry; and it’s we, in our most genuine selves that will create a world that accepts us better and comforts others around us.