TIn late June, while waiting to be interviewed on Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch, Raye found herself trying desperately not to cry on live television. With more than 17 million monthly listeners on Spotify, seven Top 20 hits to her name, and songwriting credits from artists like Beyoncé, John Legend and Little Mix, the South Londoner’s career seemed to be going from strength to strength. But then, on a lumpy turquoise couch in a Shepherd’s Bush studio, the pop star’s grin began to wobble. There to promote their dance bop Giving me a call, – the latest in a long line of breakout singles – he found an innocuous question about the status of his elusive debut album unleashing emotions he had suppressed for years. Two days later, sitting alone in her room, she opened Twitter and broke the illusion forever.
“I’ve been on a 4 disc deal since 2014”He told his 50,000 followers. “And they haven’t allowed me to put out an album.” She detailed how her “music was left in folders gathering dust,” and they were gutted, with songs passed on to other artists “because I’m still waiting for confirmation that I’m good enough to release an album.” Aware that there was no going back with his label, Polydor, he added: “I’m done being an educated pop star.” In mid-July, she announced that she had been released from her contract: “Today I speak to you as an independent artist.”
Weeks later, in a central London hotel lobby, 23-year-old Rachel Keen is still processing what happened. She tries to return to the mental space she was in before blowing up her career to save her; one clouded with the broadcast stats that she obsessively studied every day, knowing they could unlock her future. “It would decide my mood, my anxiety,” he says. “Even creating bitterness [towards] some of my closest girls in the industry. “I was certain that Call on Me was headed for an album.” So it was like, ‘I don’t think it’s going to happen.’ “She takes a deep breath.” I was willing to give up and stop being an artist. “
How did you feel after the tweets? “I felt better but also terrified. I’d put my neck on the line. “
While Raye’s honesty felt unique, the situation he was in was not. Pop is rife with artists, from Chlöe Howl to Sinéad Harnett, who have signed with major record labels and then been sidelined, perhaps due to shifting commercial expectations, a reluctance to fund an album campaign, or simply because the person who signed them left the company. Some of the biggest names in pop – Mabel, Anne-Marie, even Dua Lipa – endured EPs, mixtapes, dance music collaborations, and trend-setting tracks on their long journey to debut albums.
Signed by Polydor in the wake of the success of their 2014 self-released EP Welcome to the Winter, Raye’s first tracks were a combination of R&B and hip-hop. The excellent Second EP, released in 2016, featured a Stormzy before fame. Collaborations with rappers Stefflon Don and Mr Eazi followed. Early tracks, like the throbbing Shhh kiss and boisterous banger The Line, which approached a night gone wrong, showcased the secret weapons of pop; attitude, personality and the ability to change styles, ranging from Afrobeats to disco. It was his collaboration with producer Jax Jones on Top 3 smash You don’t know me That turned out to be a turning point with the label: Suddenly, Raye seemed to reposition himself not as a long-term recording artist, but as a featured vocalist on other people’s songs.
When the director of the record company that signed her left in 2016, Raye says she became less of a priority. Communication with his new bosses slowly disintegrated. An exchange, from Christmas 2019, is etched in his mind: “The head of the record company told me, ‘It’s like you’re down 6-0 at halftime.’ He realizes my surprise. “I was like, ‘Okay, I noticed, I’m going to figure out how to get that back.’ He quickly earned a Top 10 in the UK with Secrets, a collaboration with DJ Regard that has been streamed 280 million times. on Spotify. “I got to 6-6,” he says with a shrug.
At the end of last year there was a breakthrough with the release of the mini album Euphoric Sad Songs. For Raye, it was a body of work that his fans were really able to dig into. For his label, it was seen as a failure because it did not reach the Top 40 (six of his nine songs have exceeded 15 million streams). “What really should matter is having artists build fan bases and sell shows and stream music, regardless of what genre it is,” he says. “Having a Top 10 is not defining. What it showed me was that we were aiming for two completely different things and we always have been. What makes them proud is not what makes me proud. “
He wants to reiterate that his tweets were born out of frustration over his specific situation with Polydor (“there are so many amazing people that work there”). She is also aware that her quick exit, a mutual agreement between her and the label, is a rarity. “The fact that they let me go, I am very grateful that it could have all disappeared,” she says.
However, this new clarity has been hard earned. He has recently stopped drinking and his new music, due out next year, will address his alcohol-related issues (“It’s much deeper and darker than people know and see”), as well as his experiences in the industry. of the music. “The shit I’ve been through, I don’t wish on my worst enemies,” he says. Today for the first time he begins to show his anger. “I’m beside myself about how the beautiful female composers that I know, many of whom are women, and many of whom are women of color, just rush in here. I’m angry, I’m angry. “She surprises herself:” I’m fighting so many battles, I just need to relax. “
Taking a break is not in Raye’s nature. But he’s learning to slow down. “I haven’t tried to sign anything for a long time,” he says. “I don’t want to see a contract.” Her short-term goals include therapy, going on vacation – “I’ve been working every day for a long time” – and unlearning behaviors. “I don’t want to worry about the statistics,” he smiles. “I just want to build a fan base and release my album. My time is coming. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism