What were you doing at 19 years old? Were you smashing the charts with unstoppable house tunes or penning songs for megastars like MØ or being bessie mates with Charli XCX? Well then you’ve definitely not lived the life that RAYE has. She might be a teenager, but her career to date would make your nan feel like she hasn’t truly lived.
After dropping out of Brit School to write songs for people like Rihanna, RAYE’s now a pop star with her own lane to tear up. She comes across as a rebel sweetheart of sorts; smiling from ear to ear and endlessly chat- ty, while her song lyrics are full of stubbornness and swagger. “Please step back, it’s my style you’re crampin’” she lips on Jax Jones’ You Don’t Know Me, before launching into a chorus that everybody has been singing along to for about six months straight.
RAYE chatted to us about what pulled her towards pop in the first place, working with Charli XCX and why, despite its shit weather, London is the one place she never wants to leave.
Hi Raye! You’ve lived here in London your whole life. Do you ever dream of moving somewhere sunnier?
Probably not. My goal is to have two houses, but the UK will always be home. Whenever I’m away from it for too long I just get really homesick!
So where would this second house be?
This is gonna sound so mental, but I really want a house in India! It feels like opposite of living here. I did some charity work there a couple of years ago and had the best time of my life. The food is great. The people are great. Going there [feels like] I’m truly getting away. [Is that] a weird answer?
It’s a very anti-‘popstar’ answer!
I know – it’s definitely not LA!
You’ve done writing camps for stars like Rihanna before. Is that anything like summer camp? Are there marshmallows on sticks?
It’s not like summer camp sadly. They’re kinda weird but always very productive. You’re really under pressure to work hard, and when we’re under pressure we act in different ways. But it’s good! I’ve made some really cool friends at writing camps, like Charli [XCX].
That’s fun! What’s your relationship like with Charli now?
It’s hilarious! I love her so much. I was doing a university ball in Swansea and she was playing after me. She was like, “Raye! Come on during my set!”. I was jumping around so much [that] the next day I couldn’t feel my calves! She’s brilliant though. We’re working on some new stuff that’s coming very soon.
You’ve been powering through pop since you were a kid almost. Have you always liked having the upper hand?
I’m a little bit of a control freak yeah, [but] I love finding people who challenge that in a constructive way. I don’t like settling for the first option that comes. I am learning more and more about what I want my music to sound like and how I want to come across, whereas two or three years ago [that would have been different]. I’m so confident and sure of what I do. My manager got me a record deal with 50% creative control, so they can’t do anything without me approving it first, which is rare.
Your surname is Keen – are you a go-getter?
Oh gosh, do you know how many times I got that in school? I was always the first one with my hand up [so] I guess I lived up to my name. I throw myself into everything!
Guys, calm down! This is just the beginning!
As a kid, you went to church every weekend and your dad led the sermon. What are your thoughts on gospel music?
I love it! You can hear it taking off [in pop]. It’s such a beautiful root [for me] and I’m so glad that I was able to get lost in it at such a young age. I think it’s passionate; a lot of beautiful people singing so emotionally, and the harmonies are next level.
Your dad and granddad were both musicians. What do they think of your success?
It’s lovely having support from two family members who tried their luck in the music game [even though] it was so tough. What I’m ultimately hoping to do is fullfil their dreams through me. I’m lucky to have them – they’re very excited! I’m like, “Guys, calm down! This is just the beginning!”
What’s your favourite thing about making pop?
Imagining it live or hearing it in a club. When you’re in a studio creating music it feels so temporary, so I like thinking about the good ones being played in a stadium with people screaming the lyrics back to me. When I was at Brit school, everybody was like “Eww… POP music!”. [They were] so scared of that word. But if you look at what it stands for, it’s just music that everybody loves. That’s what I want to create: music that everybody loves.
So, you’ve been working hard on your singles, but what does a RAYE album sound like?
I don’t know yet! Of the last two EPs we’ve put out, one was mellow R&B and the next was wild and energetic. The next one? I have no idea babe! I’m working on it and there’s so many different styles and vibes going on.
Do you want to take things to a new place?
I’m trying to. I’ve got a couple of things that I really love. The whole pop music scene is constantly evolving, I don’t know what’s next. I want to play with my African roots more. Maybe I could find something that could lead us into a new genre!
Last question: You’re allowed to broadcast one message to the entire planet. What do you tell the citizens of earth?
BUY. MY. SONG! I’m kidding! I’d say buy a ticket to my show, because when I perform live I give people everything I’ve got.