Music / News

Rina Sawayama blocked from Mercury Prize

The singer-songwriter released one of the best albums of the past year but is currently ineligible for many of the UK's most prestigious music awards.

Last week, on 23 July, the shortlist for this year’s Mercury Prize was released, recognising albums by former HUNGER cover stars Stormzy and Dua Lipa, as well as the likes of Charli XCX, Kano and Porridge Radio.

With female acts dominating the nominations, it seemed like the award show, criticised in recent years for being “out of touch“, was making a necessary step in the right direction. But on closer inspection, a few things didn’t add up.  Where were the female artists of colour? Why were no openly queer artists nominated?

In criticism of the shortlist, and its unfortunate white feminist leanings, two absences became glaringly clear: FKA Twigs’ sophomore album MAGDALENE and Rina Sawayama’s debut SAWAYAMA. The vulnerable, earth-shatteringly emotive MAGDALENE was frequently included in “Best Album of the Year” round-ups and SAWAYAMA’s daring leftfield pop gained a coveted 89 per cent rating on Metacritic. In most critics’ minds, there is little doubt these two releases are Mercury Prize-worthy.

Whilst we’re still waiting for an explanation about Twigs, Rina has opened up about the real reason she didn’t appear on the shortlist. Speaking to Vice earlier today (29 July), the Japanese-British musician explained that she is ineligible for the award due to having indefinite leave to remain, a visa category which permits permanent residency and right to live and work. The Mercury Prize terms and conditions stipulate, however, that entrants must have a British or Irish passport in order to be considered.

In the interview, Rina emphasised that, in addition to living in the UK for twenty-five years, she is signed to a British label and recorded her album in the UK: she is a British artist, making British music, no matter what The Mercury Prize thinks. To Rina, all this amounts to is cultural gate-keeping and xenophobia: “If arts awards are creating their own sort of version of border control around their eligibility, I think that’s really problematic.”

Since the interview’s publication, #SAWAYAMAISBRITISH has been trending on Twitter and Rina has encouraged the public to tweet and write to The Mercury Prize, as well as The BRITs (which has similar stipulations) and Mercury Prize organiser BPI Music, to encourage them to reconsider their entry guidelines.

29 July 2020