Here’s the citizenship loophole that cost the legendary British-Japanese artist a Mercury Prize nom.
(@rinasonline / Instagram)
When Rina Sawayama dropped her self-titled album SAWAYAMA this year, it was a cultural reset. Worlds collided and time ceased to exist.
SAWAYAMA is by far one of the most praised albums of 2020 and has been on repeat for millions (including myself). The album remains one of the top-rated albums on Metacritic, and even Elton John proclaimed it his favorite album of the year.
The daring and experimental genre- blending of Y2K pop, ‘80s electronica, and heavy metal is pure bliss — not to mention the intricate artistry. Sawayama also used this album as a way to intertwine her connections to her Japanese heritage and her British upbringing.
Simply stated: she’s on some futuristic, next-level shit.
With deep, meaningful lyrics and impactful, powerful melodies, an award sweep for Sawayama would’ve been nothing short of expected. However, discriminatory UK music awards bodies had a different idea.
When the nominees for the BRIT Awards and the Mercury Prize were released, critics and fans (aka “Pixels”) were shocked that “SAWAYAMA” didn’t make an appearance. Turns out it was because of a sneaky nationality clause, mandating that nominees must be of British or Irish nationality. , And these xenophobic awards bodies have been allowed to do this to artists for years.
Rina is one of many residing in the UK who have indefinite leave to remain (ILR), which is basically the British version of the American green card. Basically, although she isn’t a citizen, she still maintains the same rights to work, live and contribute to the UK. Having lived in the UK since she was a toddler, Sawayama considers herself to be British, but British awards think differently.
In order to even be eligible for the awards, solo artists must prove their citizenship by submitting a scanned official document, like a British or Irish passport. Since Rina has a Japanese passport, and Japan doesn’t offer dual citizenship, she’s excluded from even being considered.
In an interview for Vice Magazine last week, Sawayama stated “I fundamentally don’t agree with this definition of Britishness,” and called the experience “othering.” She further voiced her concerns that “arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility.”
And I wholeheartedly agree. If awards companies are going to exclude a percentage of a nation’s population simply because they’re foreign-born, despite heavily impacting the culture and economy of said country, that’s simply xenophobic. If we don’t call out these awards for what they are — nationalistic and exclusionary — we’ll never see change.
The UK benefits immensely from Rina Sawayama’s music and cultural impact, and the fact that they won’t recognize her due to her international heritage is extremely problematic. In response, Pixels and Rina herself took to Twitter to express their outrage over the unfair situation and got the hashtag #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH trending.
Some fans speculate that British awards are afraid to nominate Sawayama simply out of fear that someone who “doesn’t look like them” will be proven to make superior music. Others point to this as yet another example of the countless instances of discrimination and racism towards Asians in the music industry. At this point, I think it’d be fair to say both are reasonable assumptions.
Despite living in the UK for 25 years — longer than some of the award nominees have even been alive, I might add — Sawayama’s still not British enough to be recognized. And why? I still don’t understand the rationale.
But for now, the only thing we can do is voice our outrage and not stop until we force these awards to do better.
And to the bigwigs at the BRITs and the Mercury Prize trying to justify their xenophobia, I’d just like to say, in the wise words of Sawayama herself, STFU!
Maya Lang is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine. She enjoys playing guitar, staying up far too late, and daydreaming about living in the '80s. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info and movie recommendations.