Rina Sawayama Is a Finalist for Brit Awards' Rising Star Award

Rina Sawayama
Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for The Business of Fashion

Rina Sawayama attends the #BoF500 gala dinner during New York Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019 at 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge on Sept. 9, 2018 in Brooklyn City.

“I really can't put into words how much this means to me given that I wasn't eligible for this award a few weeks ago," Sawayama said, who is joined by Griff & Pa Salieu as finalists.

An artist of color will win the Rising Star Award at the Brit Awards for the second year in a row. A bold prediction? No. Just a statement of fact. All three artists on the shortlist for the award -- Griff, Pa Salieu and Rina Sawayama -- are artists of color.

Until a recent rule change, Sawayama wasn’t eligible for the award because she was born in Japan. The Brit Awards and the Mercury Prize changed their rules to allow artists who were born elsewhere but now live in the U.K. to compete.

In a statement supplied by the Brit Awards, Sawayama alluded to the obstacles she had to overcome to be nominated.

"I literally fell to the floor when I found out that I'd been nominated for Rising Star,” she said. “I really can't put into words how much this means to me given that I wasn't eligible for this award a few weeks ago and now that door has been opened for future generations of artists like myself. Thank you so much to everyone who voted for me, it means the world."

The other two shortlisted artists were born in the U.K. (even though their parents were not), so they would have been eligible even under the old rules. Griff is the daughter of a Chinese mother and a Jamaican father. Pa Salieu’s parents moved to the U.K. from The Gambia.

The winner of the award, which was formerly known as Brits Critics’ Choice, will be “selected by an invited panel of music editors, critics from the national press, online music editors, heads of music at major radio and music TV stations and more,” according to a press statement. The winner will be announced on March 19 -- almost two months before this year’s Brit Awards on May 11.

Sawayama’s album has received critical raves. It’s one of just 12 albums released in 2020 with a rating of 89 or above at Metacritic, the review aggregation site.

Sawayama, 30, is the oldest of the three shortlisted artists. Pa Salieu is 23. Griff is just 20. Sawayama and Pa Salieu have both appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.

Emeli Sandé was the first artist of color to win the Rising Star Award, in 2012. Jorja Smith won the award three years ago. Celeste won it last year.

Looking at all artists who have won the award, Adele was the first winner, in 2008. Other winners, not already named, were Florence and the Machine (2009), Ellie Goulding (2010), Jessie J (2011), Tom Odell (2013), Sam Smith (2014), James Bay (2015), Jack Garratt (2016) and Sam Fender (2019).

Adele and Smith also won the Grammy for best new artist. Florence + the Machine, Bay and Smith received Grammy nods in that category, but didn’t win.

Griff (who was born Sarah Faith Griffiths) made note of the number of major stars who have been nominated for the award in her comment to the Brits. “It's kinda terrifying how many legends have been nominated for this award. I never ever ever expected making beats in my music room after school could eventually lead to a Brit nomination … So to be nominated for a Brit award three years on is completely surreal!!!!"

Pa Salieu’s reaction to his nomination was simple gratitude. "I am very grateful to be shortlisted for this Brit award. Love & blessings every time! Thanks to everyone supporting my journey so far."

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