Raye is ready to tell you who she is.
The 22-year-old singer-songwriter made it onto virtually every radio station in 2016 as the voice of Jax Jones’ earworm hit ‘You Don’t Know Me’, which quickly became a worldwide hit and mandatory club track. But more recently, the Londoner has been baring her soul on her own songs that simmer with heart and bite.
When she rings for our interview in January, I take a moment to pick up, and when I do, she’s singing to herself on the other end.
“I have basically spent most of 2019 writing and collecting my stories, in the formats and sounds I want. I’m an artist, artist, artist — a muso, muso, muso,” she tells me. “Everything has to be perfect. Everything has to be honest. Everything has to be real.”
Ahead of her first solo show in Dubai at RedFestDXB on February 6, we talk about the power of heartbreak, the soulful black women who shaped her sound and why her zodiac prevents her from lying.
Your solo songs ‘Please Don’t Touch’ and ‘Love Me Again’ both have an urgency and a heartache quality to them. What kind of experiences inspire you, musically?
I mean, one thing about me being a Scorpio woman is that every song you’re getting is very honest and very real. I’m not the kind of person who can make a story up or lie. I’m very honest and in-your-face on a track. These songs were created in moments of heartache. ‘Love Me Again’, I was so heartbroken. ‘Please Don’t Touch’ is almost a progression of that — it’s like, a protective barrier for women. ‘Please don’t touch me if you don’t mean it’ — it was a sentence I needed to empower myself with, to not let someone close to me unless it was genuine and heartfelt. I’m here writing songs about the deepest, darkest parts of my heart.
What are you working on for this year? Can we expect a new EP, an album, maybe?
You know what? 2020, I think, is the year of a Raye album, which I’m incredibly excited about.
Really? What kind of direction are you going in?
You can kind of hear from ‘Love Me Again’ and ‘Please Don’t Touch’, it’s different to a lot of my other releases. That’s the beginning of my sound and how I want to express myself. It’s very honest. It’s vulnerable. I also have some really exciting features coming out. Jax and I have been working on something that’s coming soon, as well.
2016 was a breakout year for you, in terms of big collaborations and hits. What was it like when ‘You Don’t Know Me’ took on a life of its own?
Absolutely crazy. It was one of those things: you can’t plan it, you can’t pay for it. It’s when the music connects. Jax and I were both invisible in the UK before ‘You Don’t Know Me’ came out and it became so big, so fast. We just looked at each other, like, ‘Wait, what?’ It’s how I started to learn how to perform, playing that song in Malta, France, even Dubai. Everyone in the crowd is singing every lyric.
I remember when the song first came out, I couldn't get it out of my head. Does that ever happen to you as an artist with your own songs?
Well, this is the thing. You have to imagine, before a song is released, how many times an artist has to hear the bloody song before it even comes out. [Laughs] So by the time I’m performing it and selling it and promoting it, it’s just like second nature — the song is so ingrained, so embedded [in you]. I’ve heard it millions of times. There are mixes, masters, edits. I’m sure that song annoyed so many people because it was on the radio for so long, but I can never be annoyed by my [own song].
Who are the artists who inspire you, or the artists you grew up on?
How do I start? Nina Simone, Jill Scott, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, a lot of amazing, soulful black women. I listened to a lot of church music growing up, a lot of gospel. That’s how I learned to sing. And then, obviously the pop music of the time, Beyonce, Rihanna. Alicia Keys is a big one, that’s the first album I ever bought.
It feels like we’re on the tip of the iceberg, getting to know you as an artist. What do you want people to learn about you?
That’s my mission with my music this year is just to be myself. I spent a long time trying to be what I thought a pop artist or pop star needed to be. I had this pink hair and I was like, I need to wear bright clothes and my music needs to [sound] like this! This year, I just want people to get to know the real me.
The UK has been huge on the global scene as of late. What was it like growing up as an artist in the UK?
It’s been a challenge, a beautiful challenge, learning how to see the math side of music. As a songwriter, [I was] learning how to create the perfect song for the UK, for Europe, for America. It’s actually very strategic. Being in London and the UK has taught me how to become the most incredible songwriter. There’s a lot more creative freedom in America, because it’s such a big market, so there’s a huge audience for R’n’B, for hip hop, for trap, for soul. But in the UK, it’s very small, niche audiences. So, I have to learn, ‘OK, how can I take what I do and translate it to UK radio?’
Every start of year, we do a roundup of the albums that are coming out. This year, the majority of pop albums are by women and women of colour. Do you sense a shift yourself?
A thousand per cent — and about time, too. People like Beyonce and Rihanna have led the way to basically allow people to really embrace women of colour and to not see it as any different to women not of colour. We’re really working on filling that gap, [with] the dominance of Jorja Smith, Mahalia, Mabel, Stefflon Don — all these girls just absolutely tearing it up. Ray BLK, SZA, Normani, all these girls. And it’s about damn time, you feel me?
Raye on what she has planned for RedFestDXB: “I have a set that I’m very excited to play. I’m going to be performing my new song, ‘Please Don’t Touch’ as well as the old bangers. I might perform one new one. I’m kind of debating whether or not I should, but I think I should!”
WHO’S PERFORMING AT REDFESTDXB?
Martin Garrix, Young Thug, Bastille and Raye perform on February 6. Stormzy, Machine Gun Kelly, Noah Cyrus, Cheat Codes and Becky Hill perform on February 7. The two day festival will take place at the Dubai Media City Amphitheatre. Tickets start from Dh395 per day.