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Rina Sawayama says it's "heartbreaking" that she isn't eligible for the Mercury Prize and BRITs

29 July 2020, 12:20 | Written by Cerys Kenneally

Rina Sawayama has revealed it's "heartbreaking" that she isn't eligible for the Mercury Prize and BRIT awards because she has a Japanese passport.

British-Japanese artist Rina Sawayama has revealed in a new interview that she isn't eligible for the Mercury Prize or BRIT awards.

Rina Sawayama's debut album SAWAYAMA arrived in April, and upon its release, Elton John called it his "favourite album of the year".

Last week, the 2020 Hyundai Mercury Prize nominations were revealed, and SAWAYAMA wasn't included. Elton John responded to the nominations on Instagram, and wrote that Sawayama's debut album had been "overlooked".

In a new interview with Vice, Sawayama has revealed that she isn't eligible for the Mercury Prize or BRITs because of her indefinite leave to remain visa, despite having lived in the UK for 25 years.

Sawayama explains that it was "so heartbreaking" when she found out she wasn't eligible, adding, "I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried."

"All I remember is living here," she continues. "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."

The terms and conditions for the Mercury Prize state that solo artists must have British or Irish nationality to enter. Those that enter also have to send documentation proving their citizenship to the organisers. It's a similar story for the BRIT Awards too. Their terms and conditions state, "To be eligible for the British Solo Artists categories or other British categories, artists must be UK passport holders."

Sawayama's eligibility for the BRITs could be fixed with a dual citizenship, but it's impossible for her as Japan doesn't allow dual nationality, meaning she would have to cut ties with her birthplace. She says, "I have no family in the UK, they all live in Japan. So getting rid of my Japanese passport genuinely feels like I'm severing ties with them. I think a lot of people feel that way about their passports."

The British-Japanese artist reveals that she was once tempted to give up her Japanese passport, "But then I was like, it won't solve anything. 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."

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

On what she hopes to happen, Sawayama explains, "What I just want is for all the awards to look into indefinite leave and change the rules to what Britishness means to them. 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. 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."

A spokesperson for BPI, the industry body that organises the Mercury Prize and BRIT Awards, 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."

Last month, Rina Sawayama contributed a cover of Lady Gaga's "Dance In The Dark" to Spotify's first-ever Pride Singles.
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