After Rina Sawayama released her effervescent sophomore effort Sawayama earlier this year, the record became one of the top-rated albums on Metacritic and Elton John even dubbed it “the strongest record of the year by far.” When she began the recording process, Sawayama told her label that her main goal for the album was to win a Mercury Prize, one of Britain’s most coveted trophies. Fast-forward to last week and the Mercury Prize unveiled its shortlist of nominees, but Sawayama’s name was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t because her album didn’t deserve a nomination, but because the singer apparently wasn’t eligible.
Sawayama addressed the issues with the Mercury Prize and the Brit award show credentials in a recent interview with Vice UK. Apparently, both the Mercury Prize and Brit Awards necessitate UK citizenship in order to be considered for the prize. Sawayama was born in Japan but has lived in the UK for 25 years on an “indefinite leave to remain” visa, longer than Mercury Prize nominee Dua Lipa has been alive. But because Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship, the singer can’t become a full UK citizen without revoking her Japanese passport. “I’ve just lived here all my life,” Sawayama said. “I went to summer school in Japan, and that’s literally it. But 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.”
The singer further explained her frustration with the rules: “I’m signed to a UK label. I’ve lived here uninterrupted for the last 25 years. I’m only tax registered in this country. The whole album was recorded in the UK as well as in LA. It was mixed in the UK. My lyrics are in English, except for one verse in one song. […] 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.”
Sawayama said that all of her family is in Japan, so becoming a full-fledged UK citizen would feel like she was “severing ties” with her relatives. “I have no family in the UK,” she said, “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.”
The singer said that she once contemplated giving up her Japanese passport to become eligible. “Because I wanted it so bad,” she said. “But then I was like, it won’t solve anything. 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 and her record label, Dirty Hit, have pressured both the Mercury Prize and Brit Awards to review their entry rules in order to allow immigrants to be considered, but per Vice‘s report, they received a “curt” response saying the rules weren’t going to change any time soon.
Sawayama is out now via Dirty Hit. Get it here.
Some of the artists covered here are Warner Music artists. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.