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BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize rules on Britishness changed following #SawayamaIsBritish campaign

By | Published on Thursday 25 February 2021

Rina Sawayama

UK record industry trade group BPI has changed BRIT Award and Mercury Prize rules regarding which artists it classes as British. The move comes after Rina Sawayama was overlooked for last year’s Mercury because she does not hold a British passport – despite the fact that she has lived in the UK for 26 years.

Under the new rules, artists will be eligible for the BPI’s British artist awards if they were born in the UK, hold a UK passport, and/or they have been permanently resident in the UK for five years.

“I’m over the moon … that following a number of conversations, the BPI has decided to change the rules of eligibility for the BRIT Awards and Mercury Prize”, Sawayama said on social media last night.

When the Mercury Prize shortlist was announced in July last year, it was something of a surprise that Sawayama’s album ‘Sawayama’ was not nominated, because it was definitely one of the twelve best British album’s released in the previous year. However, it later emerged that she had not even been considered because she did not meet the necessary criteria.

“It was so heartbreaking”, she told Vice at the time. “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”.

“I’m signed to a UK label”, she continued. “I’ve lived here uninterrupted for the last 25 years. I’m only tax registered in this country. The … 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 … I fundamentally don’t agree with [the Mercurys’] definition of Britishness”.

There would have been no issue if Sawayama had dual nationality, for which she would be eligible were it not for the fact that her country of birth, Japan, does not allow its citizens to hold such status. She could only gain British citizenship by giving up her Japanese passport, which she has chosen not to do in order to retain links to her family who still live in the country.

After the news broke that Sawayama could not be considered for British artist categories at the BPI’s award ceremonies, fans campaigned for a change to the rules online, using the #SawayamaIsBritish hashtag. In August, Sawayama revealed that she had met with reps for the awards and that such a change was now being considered.

Continuing her social media statement yesterday, Sawayama said: “I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sharing the #SawayamaIsBritish campaign worldwide and igniting this important conversation about Britishness. Without a 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”, she continued. “The idea that my music can be part of that is unbelievably exciting”.

Although it’s too late for ‘Sawayama’ to be considered for the Mercury Prize, the rule change means that she will be eligible for this year’s BRITs Rising Star award – although not the main awards, because of another rule that an artist’s album has to have appeared in the Official Charts Company’s top 75.