Not British enough? Why is Rina Sawayama being denied awards?

This week, news broke that Japanese-British artist, Rina Sawayama is not eligible for the prestigious Mercury prize and the Brit Awards. Since then, social media outlets have been outraged for the singer, who has lived in the UK for over 25 years.

The reason behind this verdict? Rina doesn’t hold a British passport, and despite living in the UK for the majority of life, this invalidates her as ‘British’. Naturally, Rina has been devasted by the news, taking to social media for support and an explanation.

Who gets to decide how ‘British’ you are?

What is it that qualifies us as British? Is it how long we’ve lived here, whether we went to school here, or our contributions to the country? For the deciding body of The Mercury and Brit awards, ‘Britishness’ all boils down to having a passport.

Under the British Phonographic Industry’s (BPI) ruling (the organisation in charge of both the Mercury Prize and Brit Awards) all solo artists must have British/ Irish nationality to be considered for an award. Before being considered, artists must submit official documents supporting their citizenship.

Although Rina has lived in the UK for 25 out of her 29 years of life, she does not hold a UK passport. Due to Japanese immigration laws, Rina is unable to have duel-citizenship and instead has an indefinite leave to remain (ILR) visa; granting her limitless stay in the UK and the right to work.

Rina chose to keep her Japanese passport and citizenship in order to remain close to family members; many of whom still live in Japan. As she states in an interview earlier this week with VICE “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.”

Although Rina does not hold citizenship, BPI have considered her to be British in the past. In 2018 they gave Rina a grant from their Music Export Growth Scheme; a system designed to support British Musicians and organisations that are trying to advertise their music abroad. The BPI seem to believe that Rina is British enough to receive funding, yet not British enough to be credited for their work. Where is the logic behind this?

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.

Rina Sawayama

A new kind of rejection

Whilst in conversation with VICE, Rina spoke about the overall sense of rejection that has come about since finding out that she is not considered ‘British’ in the eyes of the BPI. She stated, “If I was snubbed, I would be like, ‘Well, OK, fine…let’s just make a better record and move on.'”

However, this wasn’t the case. Her album, ‘SAWAYAMA’ has been met with critical acclaim, scoring 89/100 on Metacritic and 8.3/10 on AnyDecentMusic?. Rina then went on to say, “but the fact that I wasn’t even eligible is like…I don’t even know what that emotion was. It was othering.”

Soon after this realisation took flight, both Rina and her fanbase began to take to social media to voice their upset. The hashtag #sawayamaisbritish began to pop up on both twitter and Instagram, becoming the number 1 trend in the UK.

It wasn’t just the public that was outraged by the BPI’s oversight of Rina’s work, Elton John chimed in to express his shock at SAWAYAMA’s lack of nomination.

What’s next for Rina?

Although Rina pays taxes, has a British accent, has lived here for nearly the entirety of her life and has contributed to the British music industry in a multitude of ways, BPI consider her to be less British due to where she was born. 

She is also signed to a British label Dirty Hit, who have been in contact with the BPI in order to try and explain the complexities of her immigration status. According to VICE, BPI responded with a “curt response”.

The possibility that Rina could be considered for these awards is not impossible. If the BPI took into consideration each different nominee’s circumstances, it would allow more British artists to be recognised for their work.

This is not an impossible task. The Ivor Novello Awards have done this seamlessly, allowing non-British citizens the chance to be nominated as long as they’ve lived in the country during that calendar year. It is ridiculous that BPI have a ruling that allows bands to only be 30% British/Irish, which half living in the UK, yet solo artists who have lived here their entire life are snubbed due to not being born here.

Yesterday it was announced that BPI are reviewing Rina’s case, most likely due to the social media outrage that they have faced. Although it is not certain that Rina will be nominated, all we can do is wait until they realise their terrible mistake.

As Rina says, “it’s up to the award bodies to decide what Britishness really encompasses”. 25 years living, learning and growing in England? You’re right BPI, that definitely doesn’t make you ‘British’ enough.

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