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7/30/20

British-Japanese artist Rina Sawayama has raised questions about the fairness of eligibility criteria for the Mercury Music Prize. Despite living in the U.K. for 25 years, she’s ineligible for the shortlist due to a nationality clause.

Sawayama's self-titled debut received high-profile praise from the likes of Elton John as well as The Guardian, Billboard and Rolling Stone and would have been an obvious inclusion in the Mercury list. Without a U.K. passport—which she can’t get unless she denounces her Japanese citizenship—Sawayama can’t be nominated for a Mercury or BRIT Award under the current rules.

She moved from Japan to the U.K. as a toddler, has indefinite leave to remain, is signed to a U.K. label Dirty Hit and says she is tax registered in the country. She’s also received funding from the BPI Music Export Growth Scheme. She’s calling for a change in the eligibility criteria.

“What I just want is for all the awards to look into indefinite leave and change the rules to what Britishness means to them,” she said. “The concept of Britishness has been in the public discourse in the most negative way possible—it has become very, very narrow in these last five to six years. I think the arts are somewhere that they can reverse that and widen it up. It's up to the award bodies to decide what Britishness really encompasses—the very things that they celebrate, which is diversity and opportunity.”

A BPI spokesperson said, “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.”