RAYE reflects on her career highs and lows

At 26 years old, singer-songwriter RAYE made history in March at the 2024 BRIT Awards when she won a record-breaking six trophies in one night, including Song of the Year for “Escapism.” 

“I started crying from the first award, and my mom is like, ‘Get it together.’ I’m like ‘I’m trying to get it together, mom,'” she said.

Just 18 months earlier, RAYE was performing in small clubs, and her record label had shelved her debut album.

“To hear that is really crushing,” she said. 

Feeling lost and ashamed of her music, she found inspiration in a Nina Simone quote in her bedroom: “An artist’s duty is to reflect their times.” 

“I’m thinking in my head, what am I doing? I’m just ashamed of everything I put my name too musically, which is a really difficult feeling to process as an artist,” said RAYE.

In a series of impulsive tweets, RAYE publicly criticized her label, declaring, “I’m done being a polite pop star.” She recalled, “I had nothing left to lose at that point.” 

Her tweets went viral, and within weeks, she was released from her contract. RAYE began making the album she had always wanted to create, funding it with her own money

“When you believe in something, you have to go for it,” she said.

The road to music stardom

Born Rachel Agatha Keen, the singer grew up in London, the eldest of four girls and the daughter of a Ghanaian-Swiss mother and British father. A road trip across America with her dad and uncle at 14 fueled her passion for music.

She sat cross-legged on the floor under a trombone player at Preservation Hall in New Orleans, Louisiana. Wide-eyed and amazed by the experience, she knew she wanted to be close to that kind of music, she recalled.

RAYE attended The BRIT School, the same academy that produced stars like Adele and Amy Winehouse. Signed at 17 to a four-album deal, she released none. Instead, she found success writing dance tracks, scoring hits with artists like Jax Jones and David Guetta.

But RAYE had other music she wanted to make. Her album “My 21st Century Blues” includes “Ice Cream Man,” a powerful song about sexual assault she started writing at 17. 

“It makes me a bit emotional, but it was a powerful thing that I got to, in my own way, be loud about something that I think forces a lot of us to just shut up and swallow and just pretend didn’t happen,” she said.

Her smash hit “Escapism” addressed her battles with substance abuse. She called 2019 a dark year for her where she relied on faith to help her through it. 

“I think if I wasn’t able to pray and I just pray to God for help, and you know, it is a lot of black healing that was needed,” she said.

“Escapism” went top 10 globally and hit platinum in the U.S. Last fall, RAYE played at London’s Royal Albert Hall, a dream come true. 

“I think it is probably the most indulgent experience a musician can grant themselves when you translate your entire album into a symphony, and you have a 90-piece orchestra — and a 30-piece choir on a stage performing it with you,” she said. “Now, I’ve had a taste of this life, and it’s what I want. It’s an expensive life, but one to aspire to.”

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