Rina Sawayama Says Nationality Clause Keeps Her Out of BRITs, Mercury Prize

Rina. Photo: David M. Benett/Dave Benett/Getty Images for NETFLIX

Rina Sawayama is undeniably one of the breakout stars of 2020, off her debut album Sawayama’s intoxicating blend of 2000s pop, nu-metal, and R&B through a late-’10s PC music lens. But she won’t get recognized for that in her home country of England, she told Vice UK in a new interview, due to nationality rules for honors like the Mercury Prize and BRIT Awards. Sawayama has “indefinite leave to remain” in the U.K., as a Japanese citizen who grew up and currently lives in the country. “All I remember is living here,” she said. “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.” According to Vice, her label, Dirty Hit (based in the U.K.), emailed the Mercury Prize — which honors the country’s top album each year and released its short list last week — explaining her immigration status, but was told the prize had no intention of changing the rules. “It was so heartbreaking,” Sawayama said. “I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried.”

Sawayama could be eligible for the BRITs, the country’s equivalent of the Grammys, if she had dual citizenship — but Japan doesn’t allow citizens to hold citizenship in another country as well, and her family is in Japan, she 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,” the British Phonographic Industry, which administers both awards, told Vice UK. Sawayama has called upon the awards to update their rules, noting that just 30 percent of a band’s members must be U.K. citizens, and half must reside in the country for a band to be eligible for the Mercury Prize. “The concept of Britishness has been in the public discourse in the most negative way possible — it has become very, very narrow in these last five to six years,” she said. “I think the arts are somewhere that they can reverse that and widen it up. It’s up to the award bodies to decide what Britishness really encompasses — the very things that they celebrate, which is diversity and opportunity.”

Rina Sawayama Says She’s Ineligible for British Awards