The distorting lens of social media is capable of grandiose deceptions. Case in point: just seven days ago, Raye seemed to be on top of the world. Her song ‘Call On Me’ was fresh on streaming, and her Instagram account saw 300,000 followers treated to what was – within the confines of a global pandemic – a ‘luxe life, one in which glamour could intermingle with creativity.
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The past 48 hours, however, have seen Raye pull down the veil. In a series of emotional posts on Twitter, she spoke about her label travails, how she felt she had been mistreated and misused, and that her creativity had been stifled.
She wrote: “I’ve done everything they asked me, I switched genres, I worked 7 days a week, ask anyone in the music game, they know. I’m done being a polite pop star. I want to make my album now, please that is all I want.”
Getting to the heart of the matter, Raye told fans: “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.” –
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
— RAYE (@raye) June 29, 2021
– She then followed this with an emotional IG Live, one in which she spoke candidly about her mental health, her deep and abiding love of music, and her desperate hope to share a full scale album project with fans. Raye even played a series of unreleased tunes, music that demonstrated her breadth, and her ability to make – as she repeatedly exhorted – “pure bangers!”
It’s all a long way from her beginnings. A flurry of stellar singles made Raye’s name – seriously, go back and listen to ‘Flowers’ or ‘Distraction’, or the Stormzy bolstered ‘Ambition’ – as she sought to blend the underground alongside a willingness to interact with the mainstream. Clash met her in 2017, and saw fit to label her “a new breed of pop star”.
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Yet since then progress has come in fits and spurts. From the outside, it seems clear that label Polydor were trying all manner of tricks to enable Raye to gain a foothold in the charts. Jonas Blue and Jax Jones features took her into the charts, while diluting her origins. It didn’t seem to last, however. Just look at last year’s mini-album ‘Euphoric Sad Songs’: lead single ‘Love Me Again’ was remixed with Jess Glynne on top, yet failed to crack the Top 40; her song ‘Secrets’ did climb the charts, but largely due to the involvement of TikTok famous Regard.
Since 2016, Raye has released two Polydor EPs, a special EP for French streaming platform Deezer, and two separate versions of ‘Euphoric Sad Songs’. Raye’s accusation that the label don’t know which box to put her in probably holds water – they tried several different times to break her on their terms.
But that’s the issue here: it’s their terms, not her own. Raye’s abilities as a writer have never been in question – she was even nominated for a BRIT Award at the start of the year, testimony to the undiminished abilities at her disposal. She even taught herself production over lockdown – a mere 2% of producers working in the music industry today are women. Yet she remains trapped in this purgatorial position, where she makes too much money for the label to sever ties, yet not enough for them to truly back her.
As Raye puts it, she’s “tired of being slept on”. Yet it goes deeper than that. Raye’s story illustrates the reductive manner in which female artists are treated by the industry at large. There’s only a small number of boxes in which the industry is willing to place them – if an artist doesn’t fit easily into those boxes, then there’s an issue.
With her posts going viral, Raye opened up a crucial conversation about the manner in which the industry operates. Shura tweeted her support, but also took time to point out that this isn’t simply an indie vs major argument. She wrote: “It’s no secret that major labels suck but absolutely no to y’all saying indies are the answer. Indie labels are just as capable of sucking big time. if you can afford to make a record without a label do it. Not everyone (myself included) can.”
it’s no secret that major labels suck but absolutely no to y’all saying indies are the answer. indie labels are are just as capable of sucking big time. if you can afford to make a record without a label do it. not everyone (myself included) can.
— shura (@shura) June 30, 2021
There’s an inherent lack of independence available to pop artists; the super-structures needed to create a pop – as in, Top 10 – artist requires a huge team. But it also needs a clear vision, one that puts the artist’s own desires at its centre. Raye clearly feels she isn’t being heard, that there’s a disconnect between her hopes, dreams, and ambitions, and the arc her career – her art – has taken.
Re-establishing that connection with her fans, taking control of the narrative that surrounds her own life, is something that must have been revelatory for her. As Raye puts it: “Sometimes we don’t speak out of fear, we stay silent. I’m really glad I spoke out today. Regardless of the consequences tmrw, today you have made me feel heard.”
Raye’s tears should be a wake up call to an industry that ignores these women at their peril.
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