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Brits and Mercury Prize change eligibility rules after Rina Sawayama controversy

Written by on 25 February 2021

Non-British artists who live in the UK will now be eligible for two of the country’s biggest music awards, the Brits and the Mercury Prize, following a change of rules.

The British Phonographic Industry (BPI), which organises the ceremonies, made the announcement after facing a backlash in 2020 over singer Rina Sawayama, who was born in Japan.

Despite living in the UK for 26 years, after releasing her critically acclaimed debut album in April the star was told she was not eligible for the Brit Awards because she is not a British passport holder.

Lizzo on stage at the Brit Awards in 2020 Image: The Brits is the UK’s biggest music awards show

In an interview with Sky News last year, she said it had been a “stressful” experience but she was hopeful then that there might be change.

Now, the BPI has announced a rule change, stating that artists must meet one of three criteria – being born in the UK, holding a British passport or having been a permanent resident for more than five years – to be considered.

Sawayama, 30, posted a statement to say she was “over the moon” and thanked fans for raising awareness of the issue on social media.

Her supporters had criticised the BPI for its policy using the hashtag #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH, which at one point became the number one trend in the UK.

“I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for sharing the #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH campaign worldwide and igniting this important conversation about Britishness,” she wrote.

“Without your collective voice this wouldn’t have happened. In my 26th year of living in the UK I’m so proud that I can help make this systemic change for future generations, so that in years to come we can see a more diverse definition of British musical excellence.

“The idea that my music can be part of that is unbelievably exciting.”

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Sawayama holds indefinite leave to remain status, which grants her the right to live and work in the UK.

Japan does not allow dual nationality and Sawayama has previously said she had considered the move, but decided she did not want to cut ties with the country of her birth.