Rina Sawayama accuses Mercury Prize and BRITs of creating “border control” around awards

Rina Sawayama

Sawayama’s debut album was ineligible for a Mercury Prize nomination as she was born in Japan.

Rina Sawayama has criticised the Mercury Prize and BRIT Awards’ eligibility rules. Speaking after the Mercury Prize nominees were announced last week, Sawayama told Vice that her debut album SAWAYAMA wasn’t eligible for nomination as she was born in Japan and does not hold British citizenship.

Solo artists are required to provide evidence of their citizenship in order to apply for Mercury consideration. However, bands need only 30% of their members to meet this requirement in order to be eligible for nomination, so long as the majority of members “have their principal place of residence in the United Kingdom or Ireland”.

Sawayama, who has lived in the UK for 25 years and has indefinite leave to remain, is also unable to enter her work for consideration at the BRIT Awards, which requires all entrants for British solo award categories to hold a British passport.

The singer’s label Dirty Hit explained her immigration status to Mercury Prize and BRIT Awards organisers the BPI but received “a curt email response” explaining that “the rules weren’t going to be changing anytime soon.” Sawayama has previously been the recipient of a BPI Music Export Growth Scheme.

I’m signed to a UK label,” Sawayama said of the situation. “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 UK as well as in LA. It was mixed in the UK. My lyrics are in English, except for one verse in one song.”

Sawayama explained to Vice that she considered giving up her Japanese citizenship in order to become eligible but decided against it, saying “it won’t solve anything. I fundamentally don’t agree with this definition of Britishness. I think I’m really British, and I don’t like just sorting out a symptom of something and leaving the cause to someone else to deal with.”

She went on to say “If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic.”

When approached for comment by Vice, the BPI said: “Both The BRIT Awards and the Hyundai Mercury Prize aim to be as inclusive as possible within their parameters, and their processes and eligibility criteria are constantly reviewed.”