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‘It’s othering’: Singer Rina Sawayama slams Mercury Prize eligibility rule

Artists must hold a British passport to be considered for the prestigious award.

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Pop star Rina Sawayama said she was left in tears after being told she is ineligible for two of the UK’s biggest music awards because she does not hold a British passport (Ian West/PA)

Pop star Rina Sawayama said she was left in tears after being told she is ineligible for two of the UK’s biggest music awards because she does not hold a British passport (Ian West/PA)

Pop star Rina Sawayama said she was left in tears after being told she is ineligible for two of the UK’s biggest music awards because she does not hold a British passport (Ian West/PA)

Pop star Rina Sawayama said she was left in tears after being told she is ineligible for two of the UK’s biggest music awards because she does not hold a British passport.

The singer, 29, was born in Japan but has lived in the UK for 25 years. To be eligible for the prestigious Mercury Prize or the Brit Awards, artists must be a British passport holder.

Japan does not allow dual nationality and Sawayama said while she has considered the move, she is reluctant to cut ties with the country of her birth.

She holds indefinite leave to remain status, which grants her the right to live and work in the UK.

In an interview with Vice, Sawayama, said the experience was “othering”.

She told the outlet: “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.”

Sawayama added: “If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic.”

Sawayama’s debut album album – titled Sawayama – was a critical success upon release in April and Sir Elton John described it as his favourite of the year.

If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that's really problematicRina Sawayama

She said it was recorded in the UK and the lyrics are in English, except for one verse in one song.

Sawayama, who said she broke down in tears when told she was ineligible, said she is speaking out to prevent the same thing happening to other artists.

“I don’t ever want anyone to ever feel like this,” she said. “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.”

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) organises both the Mercury Prize and the Brit Awards.

A BPI spokesperson told Vice: “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.”

PA