UK pop singer Rina Sawayama released her sophomore album Sawayama to widespread critical acclaim (including a cosign from Elton John) last year. But even with the project’s success, she wasn’t eligible for the Mercury Prize or the Brit Awards, two of the UK’s biggest music awards, because of her citizenship status. However, after publicly calling for a change in the rules, Sawayama was successfully able to convince both awards to alter their eligibility rules.
Sawayama has been living in the UK for 25 years on an “indefinite leave to remain” visa because her birth country of Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship. Until Sawayama’s campaign last fall, both the Mercury Prize and the Brit Awards were only available for musicians with UK citizenship. But after the singer spoke with the heads of the BIP (British Phonographic Industry), the Mercury Prize and Brit Awards have officially expanded their rules to include musicians who have lived in the UK for just five years.
Announcing the exciting win on social media, Sawayama thanked her fans for first starting the viral #SawayamaIsBritish movement:
“I’m over the moon to share the news that following a number of conversations the BPI has decided to change the rules of eligibility for all nominees for the BRIT awards and Mercury Prize. Starting this year, artists (like me) will be eligible for nomination even without British citizenship. The rules have broadened to include those who have been a resident of the UK for 5 years.
I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sharing the #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH campaign worldwide and igniting this important conversation about Britishness.
Without your collective voice this wouldn’t have happened. In my 26th year of living in the UK I’m so proud that I can help make this systematic change for future generations, so that in years to come we can see a more diverse definition of British musical excellence.”
Further speaking about the rule change in an interview with BBC, Sawayama said she was at first worried to speak up over the fear of getting “blacklisted” from the music industry. “Part of me worried that I was going to get blacklisted from the music industry for bringing this up. But I’m glad I did and actually, they went above and beyond by including those who were born in the UK as well. I was expecting maybe ten years of residency here as a rule, but five years is amazing.”
Rina Sawayama talks to @BBCWorld about The Brits and the Mercury Prize changing their eligibility rules after she fought it:
"Part of me worried that I was… going to get blacklisted from the music industry for bringing this up. But I'm glad I did." pic.twitter.com/tX2HhyJGI3
— Pop Crave (@PopCrave) February 25, 2021
Read Sawayama’s full Instagram post below.