Rina Sawayama’s Debut Album, SAWAYAMA, Ineligible for UK Music Awards

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Rina Sawayama has recently been denied entry to major UK music awards including The Mercury Prize and The BRITs. Despite having lived in the UK for most of her life (25 years), Sawayama is not defined as British by these awards and therefore cannot enter.

The news came when the recent Mercury Prize nominations were announced and saw the prestigious award dominated by many British female artists including Dua Lipa, Charli XCX and Laura Marling. Fans and critics alike of Sawayama’s debut studio album SAWAYAMA were shocked to see the album left off the list of nominees; a record which has made waves with its genre-bending sound.

As an eclectic album that deals with, amongst other things, Sawayama’s joint heritage from her homes in Japan and the UK, tracks such as ‘Paradisin’ reminisces on her childhood spent in London while ‘Dynasty’ and ‘STFU!’ take a more aggressive approach to Sawayama’s identity as she fights against the weaponization and fetishization of her Japanese heritage. It is these songs that make SAWAYAMA a great album, and it these songs that many would hope music awards are paying attention to. They highlight not only what a talented musician Sawayama is, but also how her dual heritage has allowed her to blossom.

It is ironic and saddening to see that this conflicting identity is what is stopping Sawayama from being recognized by these awards though. It raises many questions about what defines Britishness, and who gets to decide and reward this. While music awards don’t indefinitely classify great music or artistry, a record like SAWAYAMA and Rina Sawayama as an artist herself should be recognized for her contribution to making new and exciting music within the industry. Not only is it unfair for no recognition to be given to Sawayama, but it is also clear that this can create feelings of displacement where they shouldn’t be welcomed. Sawayama herself had stated that it felt “othering” to be left out of the awards when she was interviewed by VICE magazine.

Sawayama holds and indefinite leave to remain visa (ILR), which essentially means that she is meant to have equal rights as any other British passport holding citizen. She even benefited from the BPI music export growth scheme, which gives grants to UK musicians. In everything except for her passport, she is British. Sadly, Japan does not grant dual citizenship passports, and giving up her Japanese heritage to gain a full British passport is not an option for Sawayama – and it shouldn’t have to be. Many people have suggested that artists who hold ILR visas in this country should be considered for UK music awards, but as of yet there still exists a limitation and wrongfully erected barrier that prevents musicians like Sawayama from being nominated.

All this raises many questions; who rewards artistic excellence in this country? Who decides what represents British culture? What does it mean to be British? We should strive to stay away from the dangerous narrative where music is defined by borders, and which keeps multi-cultural artists from using all platforms available to them to showcase their talent.

Without musicians like Rina Sawayama, who use their culture to improve and innovate music, the British music industry wouldn’t be what it is today.

Listen to Rina Sawayama’s lead single ‘XS’ from her debut album SAWAYAMA below:

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