2016 has been a blazing year for Croydon’s rising star RAYE. But 2017 better be ready. Collaborations with Stormzy and Charli XCX have focused the spotlight on this determined nineteen-year-old who is taking all the success in her stride.
An arena tour of the UK supporting Jess Glynne is one hell of a first stint for the young performer. Yet despite being thrown in at the deep end, RAYE commands the stage. And as we chat backstage in Leeds, it is clear she is in her element and loving every single second.
“My first tour and I’m playing to a bloody arena,” she exclaims. While it seems obvious in conversation that this is all new to her, on stage the South Londoner is totally self-assured and in control of the 13,500-capped First-Direct Arena in Leeds. It has not always been this way for RAYE (born Rachel Keen) though. “Now I run around like a mad-woman on stage, but at my first gigs I was stuck to the mic.”
Despite being incredibly young in the game, RAYE has been on the scene since 2014. She made a name for herself soon after leaving Brit School, and swiftly fought her way up the ranks. “In two years a lot can change and I have grown up and fallen in love with music even more,” she says fondly, recalling her first support gig at Hoxton Square Bar and Kitchen, where she headlined last month.
RAYE’s success has a lot do with her sensibility and awareness of the industry. She has fully grasped the reality of being in the business of mainstream music and is refreshingly unafraid to capitalise on it. “As sad as it is, ageism does exist and people want to see a young new artist, so it’s good I have that on my side,” she says.
Many young artists get moulded and pushed around by the big cheeses of the industry. RAYE, however is having none of it. “The most important thing to do, is put your foot down on things that matter to you,” she says. Keen certainly knows what she wants and is fierce when making her own choices. “I like wearing baggy clothes” she says. “My label tell me, ‘you’re a female artist and you’re starting to do well, so you’ve got to wear X&Y’ but you have to know when to stand your ground.”
Self-assurance and perception are character qualities that have allowed RAYE to experiment beyond her initial R’n’B sound which ignited her fame. She has toyed with genres such as grime – working with Stormzy on her track ‘Ambition’, and also with Dance, featuring on the Jonas Blue hit ‘By Your Side’ which the Leeds audience lapped up. Most prominently RAYE has worked alongside pop princess Charli XCX, co-writing her recent hit ‘After the Afterparty’.
Concluding the Leeds set with the feisty break-up ballad ‘I, U, Us’, (produced by Charli XCX) showed that RAYE can confidently captivate a stage. Each tier of the audience, from the floor right to the back row, were singing in unison.
“It comes in waves,” RAYE explains, referring to her recent success, “at one point there was this new girl called RAYE. And then I signed and no one really cared anymore. Now the waves are higher and more frequent,” she says while gesturing tidal waves with her hands. “I think next year, might be the year.”
Having caused a rip-tide already, 2017 should brace itself, because RAYE is going to hit like a tsunami.