UK Awards Deem British-Japanese Singer Rina Sawayama Not British Enough For Entry

Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for NETFLIX.
Singer Rina Sawayama's debut album, SAWAYAMA, is one of the most critically acclaimed works of the year so far, and yet because she doesn't hold British citizenship, she's been reportedly barred from being able to submit for two major music awards: the Mercury Prize and the BRITs. (Sorry, but if Sir Elton John calls your record “the strongest” of the year, that should at the very least automatically grant you citizenship, maybe even knighthood).
In an interview with VICE UK, Sawayama, who moved from Japan to the UK as a child and has remained there for 25 years, explained that she was "heartbroken" that she couldn't enter as a British artist and cried over it, something she admitted that she rarely does.
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The terms for entry into both the Mercury Prize and the BRITs require artists to have British passports. Despite living in the UK all her life, Sawayama is doesn't have dual-citizenship because Japan doesn't allow it, and she doesn't want to cut ties with that part of her heritage (though she's considered it). She is on a indefinite leave to remain (ILR) visa, which is similar to citizenship, as it allows holders to work and maintain permanent residency in the country.
But when her UK label, Dirty Hit, explained this to the Mercury Prize, the officials replied saying the rules weren't likely to change.
Ironically enough, Sawayama is a recipient of a grant for British artists and music organizations called BPI, which organizes both award competitions. "I feel like I've contributed to the UK in a way that I think is worthy of being celebrated, or at least being eligible to be celebrated," Sawayama said.
A spokesperson for BPI told VICE: “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.”
Following the publication of the article, Sawayama spoke out on social media, writing "I just wanna dream the same dream as everyone else." The hashtag #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH trended on Twitter. Even Sir Elton John is upset.
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Many fans and others responded to the news with outrage, and pointed out other UK awards that assess "Britishness" less narrowly and don't require a passport. Sawayama also pointed out that the record was recorded in the UK (and LA), It was mixed in the UK, and all but one verse of her lyrics (which explore her British-Japanese identity) are in English. But in the end, she stressed that the issue is much more about the bigger picture.
"I don't ever want anyone to ever feel like this, when they’ve worked so hard on something and everyone can see that you’ve worked really hard, but the people who reward excellence in this country don’t...” said Sawayama. “...It's up to the award bodies to decide what Britishness really encompasses," she continued, "the very things that they celebrate, which is diversity and opportunity.”

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