Griff, Pa Salieu and Rina Sawayama nominated for Brits Rising Star

A nomination for Sawayama, born in Japan but with indefinite leave to remain in the UK, reflects the BPI’s recent change in definition of British artists

The nominees for the Brits Rising Star award, aimed at tipping the future of British pop, have been announced.

Griff, Pa Salieu and Rina Sawayama are the latest cohort to follow in the footsteps of previous winners such as Adele, Florence + the Machine, Sam Smith, Jorja Smith and last year’s winner, Celeste.

Most striking is Sawayama’s nomination. Until very recently, the 30-year-old pop star was not eligible for the Brit awards or the Mercury prize, both run by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), because the British-Japanese musician didn’t hold a British passport or dual citizenship, but indefinite leave to remain after 25 years spent living in the UK.

After she highlighted her situation in July 2020, a BPI spokesperson said: “Both the Brit awards and the Hyundai Mercury prize aim to be as inclusive as possible within their parameters, and their processes and eligibility criteria are constantly reviewed.”

On 24 February, the BPI announced that it had changed the eligibility criteria, stipulating that artists must meet at least one of the following requirements: being born in the UK, holding a UK passport or being permanently resident in the UK for more than five years.

Beloved among fans for her clash of early 2000s pop styles with a nu-metal aesthetic, Sawayama she “fell to the floor” when she heard of her nomination. “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.”

Elsewhere on the shortlist is Griff, AKA 20-year-old Hertfordshire songwriter Sarah Griffiths. She was previously nominated for the Ivor Novello Rising Star award, and came fifth on this year’s BBC Sound of 2021 poll.

Citing Taylor Swift as an influence, Griff taught herself production and songwriting and signed with Warners in 2018. She has since released one EP and a steady stream of stylish electropop singles that bear the influence of Phil Collins-era pop – and which have earned the approval of Swift herself.

In a statement, Griff recalled crying as she watched Stormzy’s landmark performance at the 2018 Brit awards. “I don’t think I really knew what that emotion was at the time, but I think it was just an overwhelming sense of aspiration. So to be nominated for a Brit award three years on is completely surreal.”

Pa Salieu won this year’s BBC Sound of … ballot. Radio 1 DJ Annie Mac said the 23-year-old Coventry rapper had “a unique perspective on Britain”, telling “stories of friendship and family, of violence, exclusion and racism, and they act as timeless evidence of British street life at the turn of the new decade”.

Guardian music critic Alexis Petridis said Salieu’s debut mixtape, Send Them to Coventry, had a unique musical footprint, tapping into the “ominous atmospherics of grime and the minimalism of dancehall”

Salieu expressed his gratitude at the nomination. “Love and blessings every time! Thanks to everyone supporting my journey so far.”

The Rising Star award is open to British artists who, as of 28 February 2021, have not yet had a Top 20 album or more than one Top 20 single. The winner will be announced on 19 March ahead of the ceremony on 11 May – delayed from its usual February date by the coronavirus pandemic.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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