“I have a real love and admiration for women in this industry. It takes a different type of guts and a different type of gravy…” nods RAYE. It’s a sentiment that feels particularly pertinent for the 24-year-old pop star; today, after a lengthy and subsequently very public industry battle, RAYE is speaking to DIY as a free woman. More than just an abstract notion, she’s also currently in LA to finally finish her debut album - a record she’s been wanting to make since she was 16.
Trapped in a four-album deal with ex-label Polydor for seven years - with the powers that be there reluctant to back a full-length record - RAYE felt creatively stifled until last summer, when she decided enough was enough. Letting rip on Twitter in a series of posts that called out Polydor’s limiting approach to her art, the singer was subsequently released from the deal, able to pursue a career as an independent artist.
The RAYE we speak to today is a world away from the somewhat deflated person we’ve seen in the public eye over the last few years. The excitement at her newfound freedom is palpable, but wounds don’t heal overnight and her experiences are the grounding for her upcoming (but still quite hush-hush) LP.
To date, there’s been the absolutely stonking “fuck you” of a first single ‘Hard Out Here’: a not-even-thinly-veiled address to her former employers. “All the white men CEOs, fuck your privilege / Get your pink chubby hands off my mouth,” she snarls.
With the party line being that everything was smoothed over with Polydor post #Tweetgate, did this track upset the apple cart all over again? “Definitely. Not everyone was happy with that song, but whatever!” RAYE laughs. “I’d rather someone passionately hate something that I’ve made than not have any opinion on it at all. So hate it all you want - I’m gonna keep saying what I’m gonna say!”
What she has to say is of note, too - telling the story of a young woman in an industry that all too often doesn’t look out for young women. Collaboration is at the core of what RAYE does - “not just features”, as she’s keen to point out, but the joy of getting creative people together in a room and learning from each other. “It’s just magical,” she says. “It’s the essence of what music is.”
Last month, she shared a photo in the studio with Leigh-Anne Pinnock of Little Mix. She’s cagey on the details but is quick to shout her out, as she is Mabel. “I’m just so proud of her and for any woman who has existed in this industry for as long as Leigh Anne and Mabel have. I’m inspired by them. We inspire each other,” she nods.
“I’m very open. I can’t lie - which is why I’ve had such a problem in my career.”
Though RAYE might have been the one to speak out, she insists her frustrations aren’t unique. “Every woman I’ve crossed paths with has shared experiences in every single sense of the word,” she says. “Not to be dramatic, but there’s this underlying thing when you’re a woman that you’re to be controlled and sculpted and guided. The treatment with male artists is chalk and cheese.”
Coming into the industry as a young teenager, initially RAYE thought it was a lack of experience that was making it hard for her to be heard. “I was 14 when I started doing sessions. I assumed it was because I was a child that every time I would walk into a room, there’d be this huge fight that has to take place in order to prove yourself. That was a daily occurrence,” she recalls. “But I thought, surely once I’ve got some accolades or credits, then that changes? But if anything, it got worse. It was just this uphill battle to be heard and be respected. Sadly every woman I know relates to that. But you know, we move and we keep going!”
This ability to pick herself up and go again is quite astounding considering what the singer has been through. Next single ‘Black Mascara’ - the only electronic track on the album - addresses a particularly dark moment. “The overall theme [of the record] is being a woman in this world and taking a step back to process all of the shit that’s actually been done to me, things that I’ve had to hide behind the scenes,” she explains. “I wrote that song specifically about a time when I got my drink spiked by a man I really liked. I trusted him. I’d got to a good place where I found some sobriety and peace of mind, and then this happened and I immediately went to the darkest place.”
The incident left RAYE broken and, when the label put further delays on her album, she found herself heading down a bad path. Creating ‘Black Mascara’ helped her heal. “I went into the studio and played the weird chords on the piano and said to the guys I was working with, ‘Guys, you need to not argue with me’,” she recalls. After recording “500 different vocal layers,” she was done. “It was perfect. I listened to it a lot and it was real medicine for me. The good thing about music is that you can put your pain somewhere beautiful.”
As for what else we can expect from the album: it’s anyone’s guess. RAYE insists it’s as diverse as she is. “I’m a mixed-race woman. I’m British-Swiss-Ghanaian. I’m a mix up, you know? From my childhood, it’s been a walking identity crisis for me.”
In a system that pressured her to be one thing (“Who are you? Nobody knows who you are. Can’t you just pick a flipping style?” she narrates back of previous questioning voices), RAYE could never deliver. “I was like, ‘What the fuck? That’s not me. That’s not who I am.’ I wish I could be that way so bad, but I wasn’t born that way.”
Now free to experiment, we’re promised a long-awaited debut album that pulls from different genres and moods and reflects the many different facets of her personality: facets that don’t fit comfortably in one box. “The throughline is the stories and the things that I’m talking about,” RAYE says. “I’m a Scorpio. I’m very open - as you can tell from this fucking interview… I can’t lie, which is why I’ve had such a problem in my career. I’ve got so many opinions on things that I’ve been suppressing. But yeah, sonically it’s very fucking exciting. Very liberating. And I think it will shock a lot of people.”
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