Rina Sawayama: 'BPI reviewing music prize rules'

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Image source, Hendrik Schneider

British-Japanese pop star Rina Sawayama has been told rules that stopped her being eligible for Mercury Prize nominations will be reviewed.

The singer has lived in the UK for 25 years but is ruled out of some of the country's biggest music prizes because she doesn't hold a British passport.

Her story inspired a social media campaign.

The body that organises the awards has previously said it aims to be as "inclusive as possible".

Both the Hyundai Mercury Prize and the Brit Awards are organised by the BPI.

Rina's told Radio 1 Newsbeat she's spoken to the BPI - and says they've told her they're looking at making changes. But there's been no new official statement yet.

"I'm really, really happy," she says.

"I just want all the little Rinas around the world who immigrate to the UK as children, for whatever reason, to feel as though they can achieve greatness through just hard work and also be awarded for it."

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The 29-year-old has indefinite leave to remain in the UK, which gives her permanent residency and the right to work.

But under Mercury Prize rules, solo artists must have British or Irish citizenship. The system meant that in 2005 New York-based singer Antony and the Johnsons was able to win the award despite having lived in the US for 22 years.

"I've literally lived here for 25 years, all I know is living in London," Rina says. "This record is in English. I released it through a UK label. My team is UK-based and I don't just want my work to be considered, I also want the so-many people who worked on this record to be considered."

Japan does not allow dual citizenship and Rina has considered renouncing her Japanese passport in order to gain British citizenship.

But due to cost - £2,500 - the time it takes, and the fact that you have to give up your passport for a while, Rina chose not to.

Image source, Hendrik Schneider
Image caption,
The album has a score of 90 on review aggregator Metacritic, making it one of the year's best-reviewed records

"It's also a thing of, my whole family lives in Japan. What if they get sick? I can't risk any bar to any entry into Japan."

She adds that for some people citizenship is "their only connection to their motherland, only connection to their family".

"And I really don't think for an award show that's something that people should even think about giving up."

Rina says she hadn't planned to say anything about the fact she's ineligible. But when nominations for the Mercury Prize came out both the Guardian and the BBC wrote that Rina had been snubbed, and Elton John posted about her on Instagram.

"It's not that I was annoyed I didn't get nominated. I could just take that on the chin and just move on. But this is that I wouldn't even be eligible. It was really heartbreaking."

An initial interview with Vice caused #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH to begin trending on social media, as people pointed out prizes, like the Turner Prize and Ivor Novello, which don't require nominees to hold a British passport.

"Immigrants contribute a lot to UK music and culture and in a measurable way. So we just need to make sure that the the award ceremonies reflect the diversity and the modern idea of Britishness that encompasses all different types of visas and situations."

A spokesperson for the BPI previously told the BBC: "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."

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