Raye Is Making Her Voice Known

Raye Is Making Her Voice Known

The rising singer-songwriter talks about her vibrant music, sexist nightclub culture, and of course, Britney.

The rising singer-songwriter talks about her vibrant music, sexist nightclub culture, and of course, Britney.

Text: Jake Viswanath

If you're even just a casual fan of pop music, you know Raye, whether you realize it or not. The rising artist is the voice behind some of the year’s catchiest pop and held the pen that co-wrote hits like Charli XCX’s “After the Afterparty” and MØ and Snakehips’ “Don’t Leave”. Upon speaking with her, you may expect a perfectly glam and self-assured being that knows what she’s doing. She delivers, but you’re also only able to talk after 20 minutes of failed connection attempts, proving that even the best of us are vulnerable to embarrassing mishaps that leave us in a panic.

“I've got a new card and I haven't changed it on any of my anything, so my phone bill hasn't been paid,” she says, her accent thick and her laugh infectious. “So I couldn't make calls to anything overseas.” This included myself, based an ocean away from her hometown of London, where she was surrounded by music since the day she was born. “I grew up in a church, and I grew up watching my dad write songs for the church. He tried to be in a band when he was younger. My grandma was also writing as well, so I guess you could say it's in our blood.”

Her obsession with music grew to the point where she asked her dad if she could attend the Brit School, alma mater to none other than Adele and Amy Winehouse, when she was only ten years old. But when the time finally came, she realized that music school wasn’t all it seemed to be and dropped out after only completing two years. “I was in music class and it was all about jazz and rock and indie, and pop music was looked down upon,” she explains. “I learned so so much from the school but I needed to step out on my own and find my own feet without worrying about what other people at the school thought of what I was creating.”

Raye’s sound is both undefined and yet completely self-assured, meshing big pop choruses with wavy SoundCloud R’n’B melodies and a hodgepodge of influences, not because she’s not sure what she wants, but because she wants to experiment within the realm of pop. “Everything I've put out so far has kind of just been me experimenting with different vibes and pushing boundaries where I can. I did this song that has like six key changes, and I'd still say it's a pop song, but your average radio pop song doesn't do that.” Her love for other genres also inform how she writes music, specifically jazz.

“I used to go to Ronnie Scott’s, which is a big jazz club in London, and just sing there because I absolutely love jazz. And it's so weird because I'm a pop artist,” she acknowledges. “And I think the thing for me is I would consider myself a writer before a singer, which is why I think listening to Jill Scott and Ella [Fitzgerald] and Nina [Simone], and the stories they tell, and the perspective they have is just different to anything I heard on radio as a young girl, and I'm still kind of taken by it.”

Your average radio pop song also wouldn’t turn lyrics about partying into a statement on sexism, but that’s exactly what she does with her breakout solo single, “The Line,” an uber-bouncy banger that captures all the angst and excitement of waiting behind the velvet rope, inspired by her first attempt to get into a club. “I was seventeen years old with the fake ID thing, and I was so excited,” she recollects, initially with unbridled glee. “It took me ages to get ready. I was wearing my favorite trainers, I had my hair up, we were so excited. We got in the queue for about an hour and a half, and we get to the door and the bouncer's like, ‘Sorry guys, not tonight.’ And I was absolutely heartbroken.”

But it was that night where she had her first realization about the sexist culture of nightclubs, the hidden inspiration behind “The Line” and a sad reality that expands beyond country lines. “I looked around and I just got the memo, like ‘Ok if you're a girl, you have to be in this tight dress and these heels, and your hair in a certain way, your make-up done,’ and then you just see the boys waltzing in in like jeans and trainers, and I was like, ‘Naw this is so backwards.’ It was really dated how prevalent even sexism is in a club environment, in London for crying out loud.”

Raye’s commentary is nearly unheard of in a pop song, yet perfectly accurate considering the standards women are expected to meet in club culture and the potential hostility and danger they face. But she won’t let that tear down her vibe, especially when playing live. “When I perform, I just love to have a party. I love running around like a madwoman.” Her crowds feed off that energy and form a community of fun-loving karaoke kids, emphasized when she pulls out covers from beloved artists like Britney Spears. “I just absolutely adore her,” she says. “I remember growing up and being 11 or 12, dancing in the living room to ‘Toxic’ and ‘Womanizer' and all these songs. They were a massive part of my childhood and I just felt really sick when I was dancing to them, and I just wanted more than ever to play it on the stage, even for myself to be like ‘Look at where we've come, now you're doing karaoke to Britney basically on stage at your own show’.”

With her increasingly catchy singles and collaborations with artists like Nas, Stormzy, and Charli XCX (“Charli's now like my sister”), Raye really has come far from her more stuffy Brit School days — she’s even been asked to participate in Rihanna’s next writing camp — and she knows what she needs to do to push herself further. “My dreams in songwriting are really fucking coming true, and I do really believe that it’s because I'm prepared,” she muses. “I grew up hearing interviews of Lady Gaga being like, ‘You have to work hard, you have to give everything you have,’ and I'm like, ‘OK’.” But in this industry, hard work alone won’t always cut it. “This whole game is just hard work and a bit of luck, right?,” she asks, her wink nearly audible through the phone.

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