Music

Rina Sawayama prompts BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize to change rules after she was deemed ‘not British enough’

Lily Wakefield February 25, 2021
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Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama performs on stage at O2 Academy Brixton. (Redferns/ Gus Stewart)

Rina Sawayama has prompted “systemic change” in the rules of the Brit Awards and Mercury Prize, after she was deemed “not British enough” to be nominated.

The Brit Awards and the Mercury Prize have confirmed they will now accept artists who have been permanent residents in the UK for five years after their organiser was criticised for excluding Rina Sawayama, the acclaimed pop star, over her citizenship status.

Last year, Sawayama was omitted from the Mercury Prize shortlist despite achieving phenomenal success since her debut album SAWAYAMA in 2019.

The artist was born in Japan, but has lived in the UK for 26 years and has been given “indefinite leave to remain”. However, because she is not a British citizen, she was excluded according to the terms and conditions of the BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize.

At the time, she told Vice that not being eligible to enter was “heartbreaking”, and added: “I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried.”

But now, after months of tireless campaigning which saw the hashtag #SawayamaIsBritish trend in the UK, the BPI, which organises both the Brits and the Mercury Prize, has reviewed its criteria for what defines a British artist.

Sawayama celebrated the rule change on Twitter Wednesday (24 February), writing: “I’m over the moon to share the news that following a number of conversations, the BPI has decided to change the rules of eligibility for all nominees for the BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize.

“Starting this year, artists (like me) will be eligible for nomination even without British citizenship. The rules have broadened to include those who have been a resident of the UK for five years.

“Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sharing the #SawayamaIsBritish campaign worldwide and igniting this important conversation about Britishness. Without your collective voice this wouldn’t have happened.

“In my 26th year of living in the UK I’m so proud that I can help make this systemic change for future generations, so that in years to come we can see a more diverse definition of British musical excellence.

“The idea that my music can be a part of that is unbelievably exciting. I was to thank [Vice journalist] Zing Tsjeng for sharing my story and the BPI and Ged Doherty for having these important conversations with me.”

She finished her statement: “So one last time: SAWAYAMA IS British!”

According to the BBC, the Brit Awards confirmed the change in rules, which will now apply to all of its categories.

Artists will have to meet one of three criteria to be eligible: they must have been born in the UK, be a UK passport holder, or have lived in the UK for more than five years.

Elton John, who has supported the artist and said described her album as a “phenomenal record”, wrote on Twitter: “Fantastic news from BPI that they have revised the rules on who is eligible for the Brit Awards and Mercury Prize.

“I was so sad for Rina Sawayama when she was excluded from the Mercury Prize last year but I’m happy to see the rules changed so the next generation of multi-cultural British talent can be recognised. #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH.”

Related topics: BRIT Awards, Elton John, mercury prize, Rina Sawayama

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