Rina Sawayama criticises Mercury Awards after being deemed not British enough to take part

"If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic..."


Words by: Billy Ward

Rina Sawayama has spoken out against the eligibility rules of the Mercury Awards after the shortlisted acts for this year’s ceremony were announced earlier this week.

Fans were left surprised that Rina’s debut album ‘SAWAYAMA’ wasn’t included next to the likes of Kano, Charli XCX and Moses Boyd, whose standout records put them in contention for the prize. Among those disappointed at the absence of ‘SAWAYAMA’ was Elton John, who stated in an Instagram post it was one of his favourite albums of the year.

Speaking in a recent interview, Rina outlined how she isn’t eligible to enter the Mercury Awards as a British artist under the current rules, despite living in the country for the majority of her life.

The rules state that solo artists must hold either British or Irish nationality and provide official documentation of their citizenship. This clause is also set to disrupt Sawayama’s hopes at the BRIT Awards, which states that candidates must be UK passport holders.

“It was so heartbreaking,” she told Vice about discovering she couldn’t enter her album for consideration. “I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried … 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”.

Rina moved to England from Japan when she was a child, however, only holds ‘indefinite leave to remain’ status in the UK. Dual nationality would have made her eligible for the award but Japan doesn’t allow its citizens to do this.

“All I remember is living here. I’ve just lived here all my life. I went to summer school in Japan, and that’s literally it. But 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”, she added.

“I’m signed to a UK label, 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.”

Dirty Hit contacted organisers of the Mercury Awards to explain Rina’s immigration status, however, they were told the rules would not be changing anytime soon.

“If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic”, she says. “What I just want is for all the awards to look into indefinite leave and change the rules to what Britishness means to them”

“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”.

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