The Mercury Prize and BRITs Are Changing Their Rules, Thanks to Rina Sawayama

The British-Japanese pop singer spoke out in 2020 about a little-known nationality clause that made UK residents ineligible for the awards.
Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama. Photo: Hendrik Schneider

The Mercury Prize and BRIT Awards have revised their eligibility criteria to allow UK residents to enter the prestigious music competitions, following widespread criticism that the previous rules were exclusionary and othering.

In July of 2020, British-Japanese pop singer Rina Sawayama told VICE UK in an exclusive interview that she had been barred from entering the Mercury Prize after being told that it was only open to those with British citizenship. Sawayama has lived in the UK for 26 years after moving to London as a child, and is signed to the British music label Dirty Hit. The hashtag #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH subsequently trended on Twitter.


“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,” Sawayama posted on Instagram on Wednesday.

Musicians who have been resident in the UK for five years are now eligible to apply for both awards, which are run by the music industry body BPI. This means that Sawayama is now eligible for the Rising Star Award at the BRITs.

Sawayama told VICE UK: “I found out this week that it was confirmed, but it’s been a couple of months since Ged [Doherty, the BPI chairman] and I chatted. Understandably these things take time, rule changes have to be approved and go through a whole process.

“I’m so, so relieved and happy that the BPI went above and beyond what I’d hoped for. I really hope this gives artists hope and gives validity to the hard work British artists all put in, irrespective of nationality. I’m just so happy!”

On Instagram and Twitter, the musician thanked those who shared the #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH campaign for “igniting this important conversation about Britishness”.

“In my 26th year of living in the UK,” she added, “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.”