Acclaimed pansexual artist Rina Sawayama ‘isn’t British enough’ to enter the UK’s biggest music awards

Rina Sawayama

Rina Sawayama, the acclaimed pansexual British-Japanese music artist, has been told she “isn’t British enough” to enter the Mercury Prize and the BRITs.

Sawayama, who used to identify as bisexual but describes herself as pan, has been praised by some of the biggest names in the music world since her debut album SAWAYAMA in 2019.

Elton John described it as a “phenomenal record”, and said when it was released that the queer artist had created “the strongest album of the year so far”.

But when the Mercury Prize announced the artists that had been shortlisted on Thursday, 23 July, Sawayama was missing from the list.

Despite having lived continuously in the UK for the last 25 years and having “indefinite leave to remain”, Sawayama is not a British citizen and so will not be considered for the Mercury Prize or the BRITs, according to their terms and conditions.

The pansexual artist told VICE that not being eligible to enter was “heartbreaking”, and added: “I rarely get upset to the level where I cry. And I cried.”

Having moved to the UK when she was a child, Sawayama said: “All I remember is living here. 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.

“I’m signed to a UK label. 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.”

Rina Sawayama found being unable to enter the Mercury Prize and the BRITs ‘othering’.

Because Japan does not allow dual citizenship, to become a British citizen she would have to denounce her Japanese citizenship, but the technicality doesn’t stop Rina Sawayama from identifying as British.

“[As an immigrant], you get to a level when you don’t have to worry about your nationality and your status and whether you fit into this country,” she said.

“Things like that bring into sharp focus, like, whether I am even British. It’s just very upsetting.”

She believes that the awards are “creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility”, and decided to speak out to stop other artists from going through the same “othering” experience.

“I don’t ever want anyone to ever feel like this,” Sawayama said, “when they’ve worked so hard on something and everyone can see that you’ve worked really hard, but the people who reward excellence in this country don’t.”