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Japanese-British Artist Rina Sawayama Is Ineligible For Major British Music Award Shows: “It Was Othering”

by Nadia Gapur

Meet Rina Sawayama, a Japanese-British triple threat: she can do it all as a singer, songwriter, and model. Not to mention, her self-titled record Sawayama was hailed by those at Metacritic and the like all the way to the revered Sir Elton John. Not too shabby at all. Looking back, she recalled a time when her record label, Dirty Hit, asked what she wanted to achieve with her forthcoming album, and she casually replied, “I want to win a Mercury Award.”

This would be feasible if it weren’t for the fact that both the Mercury Prize and the Brit Awards have nationality clauses that made Sawayama ineligible to even enter. Both music awards require solo artists to have British or Irish nationality, and the Mercury Award even requires the competitors to send legitimate proof of citizenship to the coordinators. Although Sawayama was born in Japan, she moved to London at a very young age.“But the fact that I wasn’t even eligible is like… I don’t even know what that emotion was. It was othering,” she told Vice in a recent interview.

While Sawayama is not a British citizen, she has an indefinite leave to remain (ILR) status. This means she is treated equally to British citizens and has every right to live and work in the country. Random trivia: Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship. There was a time when Sawayama considered relinquishing her Japanese citizenship to be considered for the awards, she told Vice. But her family is still based in Japan, and to do that felt like she was “severing ties with 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,” she told Vice. “If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic.”

Honestly, it is the awards’ own loss. As Sawayama says, organizations like the Mercury Prize aim to champion diversity, but their definition of “British” counters that. “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,” she said. 

If you haven’t already, please listen to her album Sawayama, which Elton John dubbed “the strongest record of 2020 so far.” It’s a perfect, uplifting album for 2020. (Personally, my favorite is the energetic, hype-yourself-up “Comme Des Garçons (Like the Boys).”)

Header Image via YouTube 

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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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