Raye had tears of joy streaming down her face as she proudly held onto her Official Charts plaque to celebrate her first number-one single with “Escapism” ft. 070 Shake. “No. 1”, she wrote alongside the Instagram video uploaded on 6 Jan. — a seemingly to-the-point caption celebrating her success, ahead of her debut album release on 3 Feb. Still, her industry peers know her journey to the top has been anything but smooth. “YES YES YES YES YES YES YES,” wrote singer Jojo under Raye’s clip, while Zara Larsson commented: “The whole world is so happy for you!!!!” Rita Ora added: “You did that. Congrats. Bravery gets you far, sis,” while Kehlani cryptically addressed Raye’s journey, adding: “Your old label gotta kiss your feet.”
The support directed at 25-year-old Raye had little to do with her feverishly catchy TikTok-viral tune that had just topped the charts, but more to do with her courage, resilience, and self-belief. Needless to say, it has been a challenging ride for Raye, who only eighteen months ago told NME she’d “put her neck on the line” to call out execs at her record label Polydor. Why? Because they kept denying her the opportunity to release her debut album despite being signed to them since she was fourteen. Her talent at that age aside, Raye’s work over the following seven years with Polydor, including songwriting for the likes of Beyoncé, John Legend, Little Mix, and Rita Ora, was something to behold. But staggeringly, even then, she couldn’t reap the rewards of her efforts.
“Many female artists have fallen prey to the shackles of an iron-clad record label contract and the false lure of fame, fortune, and artistic freedom.”
In June 2021, Raye had enough and called out the label on Twitter, stating “I have been on a 4 ALBUM RECORD DEAL since 2014 !!! And haven’t been allowed to put out one album. ALL I CARE ABOUT is the music. Im sick of being slept on and I’m sick of being in pain about it this is not business to me this so personal”. A bold move that highlighted the singer had reached breaking point.
In a separate statement, she added that she was parting ways with Polydor as they had “different goals artistically”. In response, Polydor said it was “saddened” at Raye’s tweets, offered her support, and wished her well for the future — a statement which honestly felt like a patronising cop-out to many followers online. It also didn’t address the issues of what an evidently frustrated Raye has brought to the surface: rampant misogyny and toxic masculinity in a music industry solely focused on creating manufactured pop stars for the male gaze.
Unfortunately, this isn’t something only the Croydon-born singer has had to face. Many female artists have fallen prey to the shackles of an iron-clad record label contract and the false lure of fame, fortune, and artistic freedom. Have you ever heard of males going through all that turmoil to create the music they want or have their voices heard at the table? No. It wouldn’t happen to men, but it’s an entirely different story for women as every aspect of our lives is put under a microscope and threatened if we don’t comply.
“Every girl I know in this industry has some sort of story to tell me. The studio is such a vulnerable space. And if you say something, you create an enemy who will spread rumours or blacklist you – and you need those connections to open doors for yourself,” Raye, who shows no signs of stopping her fight for justice, explained to Cosmopolitan. “Even though the people decide very much what’s consumed on the outside, inside, the music industry is still very much a gatekept society.” Her words are candid, to the point, and confirm that she will not be scared into hiding. The fact that she dares to speak out against the treatment of women, no matter the context, is empowering.
“Raye has taught me to listen to my gut. If you know something doesn’t feel right, listen to yourself because no one has your back more than you do.”
Raye used what was once designed to knock her down, flipped it around and turned it into her strength to create the life she envisioned on her own terms. What a music label, made up of apparently some of the most prominent power players, couldn’t achieve for her over seven long years, Raye did herself as an independent artist in a fraction of the time. If that isn’t a power-boss move, I don’t know what is. Banished are manufactured songs about love, as she sings about topics such as sexism, addiction, and fighting to get her voice heard on her impressively personal new album, “My 21st Century Blues”, which has not only been therapy for herself but will no doubt resonate with so many women.
If there’s anything that Raye has taught us it’s that even in the face of adversity, we should always stay true to our authentic vision. Yes, even if that means leaving the supposed reassurance of limitless resources at our fingertips, because too many cooks in the kitchen certainly do spoil the broth. If Raye doesn’t encourage us to call the shots in our own lives, and take stock of those who genuinely couldn’t care less about our wellbeing, I don’t know who will.
For me personally? Raye has taught me to listen to my gut. If you know something doesn’t feel right, listen to yourself because no one has your back more than you do. In Raye’s own words as she held her Official Charts no.1 plaque: “This is proof [you should] back yourself, no matter what. Thank you, this is mad. These are happy tears.”
And all I can say to those who let her down is dumb decision.