Holly Phillips discusses the much anticipated release of the singer-songwriter's debut album...
Up and coming music sensation, Raye, reached number 2 on the UK Official Charts with her debut album My 21st Century Blues. She battled it out with country icon, Shania Twain, for the top spot, but, unfortunately for Raye, the Canadian sensation conquered. However, this is not the start of the London-born singer’s success. In early January, her track ‘Escapism’ featuring 070 Shake dominated the charts, soaring all the way to number one. Her success is unfamiliar within the music industry, due to the rarity of an independent artist dominating the charts the way the singer is currently doing. It is safe to say that Raye’s presence as an independent artist is a huge moment for this generation of music.
The 25 year-old singer’s independence comes after deciding to part ways with her record label in 2021, Polydor (who hosts the likes of Billie Eilish, Olivia Roderigo and Kendrick Lamar), after signing a four album record deal, however failing to release a single album since she was 14. Whilst with Polydor, she wrote for icons like Beyonce, Little Mix and Charli XCX, as well as featuring on chart-topping hits like ‘BED’ with David Guetta and Joel Corry. However, her success wasn’t reflected through the work that she was doing; she was being told she was good enough to write for Beyonce, but not good enough to release her own music? Her label was truly having their cake and eating it. When Polydor refused her the creative freedom to write songs that reflected her, she took to twitter to raise her frustrations. This was when her label finally let her out of her contract. She details her hardships within the industry in her track ‘Hard Out Here’, highlighting how the music business is incredibly male-dominated, calling for the “white men CEOs” to take their “pink chubby hands” off of her, and telling them to “fuck their privilege”. She explained to Spotify that her intention was to be “raw and explicit” about the mistreatment that she has suffered.
Her debut album tackles similar topics, addressing issues such as body dysmorphia, sexual assault, and drug abuse. Despite its main themes, it somewhat presents itself with a collage feel. Raye, whose real name is Rachel Keen, says herself that the album has a mosaic feel, disclosing that it’s not how she envisioned her first album to turn out. However this, I feel, just adds to the beauty of her story. It gives glimpses of Keen at the different stages of her life: at her best and worst, and at different ages (for example, she wrote ‘Flip a Switch’ when she was 18). It’s a compilation of songs that she has been waiting to release - that she’s been suppressed from releasing - of course it’s going to be patchwork. Not only patchwork in the themes of the songs, but the genres of the album too. My 21st Century Blues certainly showcases the singer’s talent, with soulful songs, jazz vibes and poppy tunes with an R&B edge. She told Vogue that, as a Ghanaian-Swiss Brit, she grew up with so many different influences, like jazz, soul, Gospel and R&B. This album really does highlight her routes. She even recorded some songs, like ‘The Thrill is Gone’ and ‘Worth It’, live with no digital additions and just instruments. The beauty of her artistry and originality is unmatched.
She told Cosmopolitan that she started song writing when she was only seven, after discovering that a man on the street had nowhere to live. It was called ‘Change the World’. One of Raye’s many strengths is that she knows how to tell a story, and her passion to make changes to the world are admirable. In one of her much loved songs of the album, ‘Ice Cream Man’, she details her experience with sexual assault within the music industry. She told Spotify that “1 in 4 men and women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime… and its pain that can’t heal unless it is addressed”. The song takes us through her personal experience of how a producer took advantage of her and how it left her “in a ruin”, saying that if she was “ruthless”, they’d be in a “penitentiary”. Despite her trauma, she appears strong, singing “I’m a very fucking brave strong woman”.
‘Escapism’ and ‘Mary Jane’ touch upon her battles with drug abuse. She told Spotify “substance abuse is something seldom talked about, a dangerous burden that becomes so powerful when untamed”, saying that she wanted people to “find solace” in her songs. During her difficult time at Polydor, Raye fell down the dangerous route of drug using and drinking because of her misery. She is now sober and has rediscovered her religion, as well as focusing on her music as an independent artist. As well as her own battles, she tackles the world’s conflicts in ‘Environmental Anxiety’. Saying it is her “weirdest and most chaotic song on the album”, she touches upon the climate crisis and her frustrations with world leaders. In contrast, ‘Five Star Hotels’, featuring Mahalia, ‘Worth It’ and ‘Oscar Winning Tears’ project a smooth, sexy, compelling energy, balancing the album out with a gracious dynamism. ‘Buss It Down’ adds to this with its fun juxtaposition of lyric to instrumentation; gospel singing about bussin it down, whining and shaking it. What an empowering, fun end to the album.
It’'s evident that Raye has certainly made her mark on the music industry. Sharing her most vulnerable stories and experiences with the world is a power move that will only help others overcome their own difficulties. She is definitely one to watch - our generation’s star. Go and stream My 21st Century Blues now, you won’t be disappointed.
Words: Holly Phillips