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Rina Sawayama Protest Prompts BRIT Awards & Mercury Prize to Change Their Rules

Billboard logo Billboard 2/24/2021 Paul Grein

Following a global protest by fans of singer Rina Sawayama, the BRIT Awards and the Mercury Prize have revised their eligibility criteria to allow U.K. residents to enter those competitions even if they’re not British citizens.

“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,” Sawayama wrote via Instagram on Wednesday (Feb. 24). “Starting this year, artists (like me) will be eligible for nominations even without British citizenship. The rules have been broadened to include those who have been a resident of the U.K. for five years.

“I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sharing the #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH campaign worldwide and igniting this important conversation about Britishness.”

Sawayama’s case was compelling. Her first full-length album, Sawayama, received critical raves. It has a robust 89 rating at Metacritic.com, the review aggregation site.

But Sawayama’s album was ruled ineligible because BPI, which administers the Mercury Prize (as well as the BRIT Awards, the U.K. equivalent to the Grammy Awards) doesn’t consider Sawayama to be British. Solo artists must have British or Irish nationality to be eligible. (Remarkably, part of the entry process involves sending official documentation of your citizenship — such as a passport scan — to the organizers.)

Sawayama, 30, was born in Japan, but emigrated with her family to Britain when she was 5. She has indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status in the U.K., which gives her permanent residency and the right to live and work in the country. But she’s not a British citizen.

Japan does not allow dual citizenship. To become a British citizen, Sawayama would have to renounce her Japanese citizenship, something she is reluctant to do because her entire family lives there.

In an emotional and forthright interview last year with Vice, Sawayama said that she sees herself as British: “All I remember is living here…I went to summer school in Japan, and that’s literally it.

“I’m signed to a U.K. label [Dirty Hit]. I’ve lived here uninterrupted for the last 25 years. I’m only tax-registered in this country. The whole album was recorded in the U.K. — as well as in L.A. It was mixed in the U.K. My lyrics are in English, except for one verse in one song.

“I fundamentally don’t agree with this definition of Britishness. I think I’m really British…If I was snubbed, I would be like ‘Well, OK, fine … Let’s just make a better record and move on.’ But the fact that I wasn’t even eligible is like … I don’t even know what that emotion was. It was othering.”

Many agreed with Sawayama’s heartfelt appeal, which prompted the BPI to change its rules.

This means Sawayama is now eligible for the rising star award at the BRITs, which will take place May 11 instead of its usual date in February. The show will be broadcast live on ITV.

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