Pop Star Rina Sawayama ‘Not British Enough’ for UK Awards

Jul 31, 2020 | CULTURE, Japan, NEWS, POP

British-Japanese superstar Rina Sawayama became vocal about her frustration concerning her ineligibility for two major music awards in the UK despite calling the country her home for the past 25 years.

Twenty-nine-year-old artist Rina Sawayama criticized Mercury Music Prize and BRIT Awards for having rules that make her ineligible to win prestigious music awards. Despite growing up in the UK for the past 25 years and considering herself British, Sawayama is still barred from submitting for the domestic categories of Brits and the Hyundai Mercury Prize because she does not have a full British or Irish citizenship. 

“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,” she said, adding that she is even signed to a UK label.  

The talented singer released her debut album in April which received critical acclaim, and was even dubbed to be “eligible to be celebrated.”  

Sawayama’s Citizenship

Sawayama was born in Japan, which is one of the countries that forbid dual citizenship. The 29-year-old star now faces a dilemma, and she admits that she is reluctant to renounce her citizenship because of strong family ties.  

“It’s also a thing of, my whole family lives in Japan. What if they get sick? I can’t risk any bar to any entry into Japan.” 

Aside from this, renouncing her citizenship will also set her back £2,500. Sawayama will also give up her passport until the process is granted, which could take quite a while. 

“And I really don’t think for an award show that’s something that people should even think about giving up.” 

Compared to other national awards like the Turner Prize and Ivor Novello awards, the applicants for Brit Awards and Mercury Prize are required to show proof of citizenship before they can qualify. Both awards are organized by the British Phonographic Industry or BPI.  

According to a spokesperson from BPI, “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.” 

“If I was snubbed, I would be like, ‘Well, OK, fine… Let’s just make a better record and move on,’” she says. “But the fact that I wasn’t even eligible is like… I don’t even know what that emotion was. It was othering,” she shared 

Clamor for Inclusivity

Thankfully, the singer has been told that the nominations for the Mercury Prize will be reviewed, and the BPI has previously said that they want to be as inclusive as possible. The event also sparked by a social media campaign. #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH even began to trend on various social media platforms.  

According to Rina, she didn’t even plan on saying anything about the issue, major publications such as BBC and the Guardian wrote to her. Elton John even posted about it on his Instagram. 

“Congratulations to all the nominees for this year’s @mercuryprize. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to make that list. So I want to shamelessly plug two artists that were overlooked. New music from Rina Sawayama – @rinasonline and Westerman – @westermanmusic are two of my favourite albums of 2020. Check them out,” he captioned.  

In an interview with Radio 1, the singer shared that she has spoken to BPI and they have confirmed that they are looking at making changes, but as of press time, there haven’t been any changes yet. Despite this, Sawayama said that she “just want all the little Rinas around the world who immigrate to the UK as children, for whatever reason, to feel as though they can achieve greatness through just hard work and also be awarded for it.” 

Inclusivity when it comes to awards are a must, millions of people would not have heard about Bong Joon Ho’s masterpiece film Parasite if Oscars snubbed it. The film reaped four Academy Awards which include Best Original Screenplay, Best International Feature Film, Best Director, and Best Picture. Hopefully, this inclusivity leap will also translate in the music industry.