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Brit Awards Change Eligibility Rules Thanks to Japanese-British Singer Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama
Greg Lin Jiajie

Rina Sawayama’s self-titled debut album is indisputably one of the most innovative pop records of recent years, a head-spinning fusion of nu-metal, Lady Gaga-style pop and ballads that is catnip for critics, fans of daring music (such as her big fan Elton John) and prestigious awards like the Brits and Mercury Prize.

So there was no small outcry when Sawayama, 30, who was born in Japan and is not a British citizen but has lived in the U.K. since she was 4 and speaks with a pronounced British accent, was told she was “not British enough” to enter qualify for the awards, which meant that “Sawayama” was ineligible for the Mercury Prize last year.

After several months of social-media lobbying — including a statement of support from Elton John, who named the album his favorite of 2020 — and a meeting with the British Phonogram Industry, the rules have been changed: Artists who have been resident in the U.K. for more than five years qualify for the main prizes, according to the BBC.

Sawayama announced the change in an Instagram post captioned “REDEFINING BRITISHNESS !!!!!! shoutout @bpi_music !!!!!” Her message reads:

“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. This has some cool implications with regard to the way Britons understand their cultural makeup, particularly in the wake of a Brexit decision that was driven in part by anti-immigrant sentiment.”

Sawayama holds “indefinite leave” to stay in the U.K. but retains a Japanese passport for family reasons; Japan does not allow dual citizenship.

“All I remember is living here,” Sawayama told Vice last year. “I’ve just lived here all my life. 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 Brit Awards confirmed the change to the BBC, saying it would apply to all its award categories, as well as the Mercury Prize.

Artists will now have to meet one of three criteria to be eligible:

  1. They were born in the U.K.
  2. They are a U.K. passport holder (including people who hold more than one passport).
  3. They have been permanently resident in the UK for more than five years.

The change means Sawayama will be eligible for this year’s Rising Star award, which recognizes up-and-coming talent, although she is not eligible for the main categories,  including best British female and best album, because her album did not reach the Top 40 of the national charts.