Rina Sawayama on her immigration status making her ineligible for Mercury Prize: “it was othering”
The shortlist for the 2020 Mercury Prize, whose mission is to "celebrate and promote the best of British music recognising artistic achievement across a range of contemporary music genres," came out last week, featuring releases from Charli XCX, Dua Lipa, Laura Marling, Michael Kiwanuka, Porridge Radio, Stormzy, Anna Meredith, and more. One name that didn't make the list, however, is British pop artist Rina Sawayama, who released her debut LP, SAWAYAMA, back in April. In a new interview with Vice, Rina says she's "heartbroken" by the omission, because she wasn't able to even eligible to be considered. While she moved to the UK from Japan as a child and has lived there for 25 years, her immigration status, indefinite leave to remain (ILR), makes her ineligible.
According to the Mercury Prize's terms and conditions, to enter, "Artists must be of British or Irish nationality. Artists are of British or Irish nationality if they hold a passport for either the United Kingdom or Ireland and/or a birth certificate from the United Kingdom or Ireland ('British' or 'Irish' respectively)." They also require proof of citizenship to be submitted.
"I'm signed to a UK label," Rina told Vice. "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."
That label, Dirty Hit, tried explaining Rina's immigration status to the Mercury Prize, but Vice reports that they were told, "the rules weren’t going to be changing anytime soon."
"All I remember is living here," Rina told Vice. "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."
"If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that's really problematic," she continued.
"If I was snubbed, I would be like, 'Well, OK, fine... Let’s just make a better record and move on,'" Rina went on. "But the fact that I wasn't even eligible is like… I don't even know what that emotion was. It was othering."
"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," a BPI spokesperson told Vice.