Since breaking through in 2016 with ‘You Don’t Know Me’, a club-ready collaboration with DJ-producer Jax Jones, RAYE has established herself as one of the UK’s most talented and versatile young artists. This year alone the 23-year-old south Londoner has released singles with pop-rockers PVRIS (‘Thank You’) and Kosovan artist Regard (the inescapable top 10 smash ‘Secrets’) as well as ‘Tequila’, another collaboration with Jones that also features fellow hit-making DJ Martin Solveig.
Now she’s delighted fans by surprise-dropping her most substantial body of work yet. ‘Euphoric Sad Songs’ is a nine-song project RAYE wrote and recorded while recovering from a painful break-up. From the melancholy bop ‘Regardless’, which cleverly samples iiO’s noughties dance classic ‘Rapture’, to the catchy ‘Jolene’ update ‘Natalie Don’t’ and resilient kiss-off ‘Walk On By’, it’s a stellar collection which shows off RAYE’s gift for making emotionally resonant pop music.
- READ MORE: Raye: the pop whisperer on music, writing for John Legend and using her platform for good
To that end, she’s also co-written songs for artists as varied as Beyoncé, Charli XCX, Little Mix, Jessie Reyez and Migos’ Quavo. “I see it as I have two jobs,” she tells NME. “I’m an artist and I’m a writer.”
RAYE’s infectious passion for music shines throughout our In Conversation chat, which you can watch in full above. Here are five things we learned from our chat with RAYE.
She poured all of her heartache into ‘Euphoric Sad Songs’
“The best heartache music of all time is real – you can’t fake those emotions,” RAYE says about her EP. “I’m a Scorpio woman: I love hard and I feel everything so vividly. I’m so blessed to have my art: like, some of these songs are text messages [that I put] into lyrics and things I’ve said where I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I have to make this a song’.
“I love being able to make something ugly and so hard-to-swallow into a song. I was so broken but I worked through it, and this project really documents that journey of heartache and finding [happiness] again.”
Co-writing a song for Beyoncé was a real game-changing moment
“It’s just how it works, isn’t it? The proof is in the pudding,” RAYE says about her work on ‘Bigger’ from ‘Lion King: The Gift’. “A cut like that is life-changing. It means now that in all songwriting conversations, I’m taken seriously – throughout [all] genres.” Still, RAYE wants us to know that she really grafted to land that Beyoncé credit. “I wrote a lot of songs for that project. I was one of the first to arrive and the last to leave: I put the shift in. And it paid off, thank the Lord.”
Next up could be a potential collaboration with Cardi B…
“It’s not happened yet, but it’s only really recently that we’ve sent her team some ideas and starting points,” RAYE shares about a possible Cardi B team-up.. “I mean, they haven’t asked me to sign a NDA [non-disclosure agreement] so I’m assuming I can talk about it! But yeah, they love my perspective on certain stuff and they really want to get me involved.”
RAYE also reckons that this assignment is especially exciting because she’ll be revealing more of her songwriting range. “People might see me as a pop writer or as a dance writer, but that [potential Cardi collaboration] is a whole other bag that I haven’t even really shown people in my music. You know, my rap flows and my hip-hop, R&B, kind of more Black side, if you like.”
RAYE and Mabel have become close collaborators during lockdown
“We’ve become super-tight, and we’ve been writing for my project and for her project. It is so beautiful because me and her have been kind of pitted against each other from the beginning,” RAYE says about her relationship with Mabel (they first teamed up for the 2018 hit ‘Cigarette’ featuring Stefflon Don). “Even to the point – this was a while ago, before lockdown – where we pulled up in the car somewhere and Mabel was in the backseat and some guys came over and said to me: ‘You’re RAYE or Mabel or some shit?’ And I was like: ‘Mabel, you need to pop your head out the window!'”
Collaborating regularly with Mabel forms part of RAYE’s overall mission to bring more women into the recording studio. During lockdown, she’s been putting together writing rooms that are either all-female or “women-heavy” – something that she says is still “so rare”.
“It’s crazy how [few] women are involved in the production process: I think it’s about 1-2% of producers are women, and with writers it’s something like 20-30%, so we still have a lot of work to do,” RAYE notes. “It has to come from us artists demanding that change and seeking it out and putting those rooms together: women-heavy. It is so empowering, I can’t tell you.”
RAYE’s realised she doesn’t need to limit herself musically at all
“As an artist, I’ve been told from the beginning: ‘RAYE, what’s your sound? Who are you? You need to pick one thing,'” she explains. “And for a long time, I was like: ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I choose one thing?’ But I love dance music. I love pop music. I grew up in a church so I like to sing gospel. I love R&B and I love sing-rap – I used to do that when I was younger! I love making beats, and I love jazz. So it’s a lot to process.
“But I think I’ve kind of drawn the conclusion of: I’m just going to make whatever I want. A sound is starting to form anyway but it’s going to continue to evolve because I’m a musician and a creative.”
RAYE’s new EP ‘Euphoric Sad Songs’ is out now