Rina Sawayama and the BPI – Redefining Britishness

In a tell-all interview last summer with VICE Executive Editor Zing Tsjeng, Rina Sawayama expressed how “othering” the eligibility criteria of British music awards was for immigrant artists. Denying Rina any nominations for her debut album ‘SAWAYAMA’ purely on the basis of her nationality caused outrage among her fans. Thankfully, those rules have now changed.

British-Japanese pop superstar Rina Sawayama was previously labelled ‘ineligible’ for nominations for the 2021 BRIT Awards and Hyundai Mercury Prize Award, both events organised by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI). Despite releasing one of the most beloved and critically successful albums of 2020, sitting at a mighty 89 on Metacritic, Rina’s visa status of ‘indefinite leave to remain’ (ILR) and lack of a British passport, shut her out from any entry into the BPI’s music award race.

The 30-year-old London-based artist has lived in the UK for 26 years, studying at Cambridge and going on to work as a model to support her entry into the music industry with the label Dirty Hit. Despite living in the UK longer than a number of 2020 Mercury Prize nominees have even been alive, Rina could still not overcome the gatekeeping of the award criteria, with her birthplace of Japan not offering an opportunity for dual citizenship. To be eligible for these awards, Rina would have to give up her own Japanese passport and concede to the BPI’s nationality clauses.

Understandably, Rina’s fans were outraged and ‘#SAWAYAMAISBRITISH’ trended immediately after she expressed her disappointment at the missed opportunity, with fellow artists such as Elton John agreeing that the trivial clause was discriminatory and profoundly unnecessary.

Sawayama announced via Instagram on Wednesday, that after conversations with the BPI, the BRIT Awards and Hyundai Mercury Prize Awards will soon begin accepting entries from artists that have been resident in the UK for five years, now making Rina eligible for a Rising Star Award at the BRITs and other future categories.

This is not only a win for Rina and the ‘#SAWAYAMAISBRITISH’ campaign, but for any and all immigrant artists residing in the UK that wish to succeed in the music industry, irrespective of their nationality. For the British Phonographic Industry to go “above and beyond” what Rina expected, it is a testament to the perseverance of the new generation of British pop stars and their fans.

Written by: Leo Dawson // Photo credit: Greg Lin

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