Raye talks feminism, music inspiration and her own #MeToo fears in our exclusive interview

Posted by for People

Every single International Women’s Day, International Men’s Day starts trending on Twitter – and Raye has had enough. 

Raye is, quite honestly, one of the UK’s most exciting musicians. She’s written singles for artists such as Charli XCX (After The Afterparty) and John Legend (A Good Night). She’s toured with the likes of Rita Ora, Khalid and Halsey. And she’s released some banging tunes of her own, too: think You Don’t Know Me, By Your Side, Decline and Love Me Again, to name just four.

Of course, many of Raye’s songs seem to have a feminist message – which is unsurprising, when you consider all she’s been through to get to where she is today.

She was forced to drop out of the Brit School – which counts Adele among its alumni – because “judgement” from fellow pupils was affecting her creativity. When she was 17, an unnamed music executive tried to touch her inappropriately (thankfully, she was able to fend off his advances and get out of the situation by calling her manager). And she has become increasingly aware of the fact that there aren’t many women working behind the scenes in the music industry at all, something which she has been actively working to change with her own hires.

With this in mind, is it any wonder, then, that Raye will be performing at CARE International UK’s 2020 #March4Women on International Women’s Day?

Raye (Rachel Agatha Keen)
Raye says: “I’ll be singing from the bottom of my heart at #March4Women – a wonderful, inclusive event where everybody is welcome.”

“As a singer, it’s a joy to turn your talent towards a cause that’s vitally important and close to your heart,” Raye says. “I’ve always been a proud feminist and I think it’s clear that climate change is the biggest challenge facing humanity – it is heart-breaking to know that the most devastating effects of the climate crisis are weighing most heavily on women and girls.

“I’ll be singing from the bottom of my heart at #March4Women – a wonderful, inclusive event where everybody is welcome.”

Ahead of this important event, we sat down with Raye to discuss everything from astrology to modern-day misogyny.

Here’s what she had to say…

You started your career at the age of 10, which is insane! When did you first realise you were good at what you do?

Well, I thought I was good at what I do when I was 10, but I listen back on the stuff I did and it was terrible. I guess I just love music and it found me… and I’ve gotten better. It’s all a process of believing in yourself. I believe in myself.

Were your parents supportive of you entering the music industry at such a young age? How did they help guide you through it?

I grew up in the church around my mum singing in the choir and my dad leading worship. Music runs in my family. I came to him when I was 10 years old and I was like, “I want to be an artist”. I was serious about it for a minute, and I think when my dad saw how serious I was… well, I’m very grateful that he helped me see it through.

Where do you find inspiration for your music? Can you tell us the story behind one of your songs?

When it’s a Raye song, it means it’s about something I’ve been through. I’m not very good at lying, and I’m very honest, so let me tell you a story about Love Me Again.

On that day, I was meant to be going to the studio. It was raining, the sky was grey, I was listening to [sings a few bars of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse Of The Heart]. I’m literally crying as if someone has died. Crying and crying. It’s heartbreak – our favourite. So I pull up to the session and I just call them from outside and say I’m not going to make it.

I turned around, drove all the 45 minutes home. I walked in, and I literally fell on my piano in a flood of tears. And the first thing I played was the chorus: “Hello, how you doing? I was wondering if there’s something I could do to make you love me again?”

I was still crying. If you heard my demo vocal you would laugh, because you can barely hear what I’m saying. Then I called my friend Jin Jin, who’s a writer, and she helped me finish the lyrics because I couldn’t do it. And yeah, that’s my song.

The music industry is, famously, an unlevel playing field for women – how are you using your platform and influence to change things?

Everyone’s doing a lot of work now out in the open to champion and support women, and there’s a lot of people talking about it and having the conversations we need to have. But I think where it’s toughest for women is behind the scenes. What we really actually need – we’re talking about solutions, solutions – the real solution is just to have more women in these key seats. Because it’s more than just women being producers and women being backline tech in video shoots… it’s literally having the same amount of men and the same amount of women in rooms. That’s what’s going to create that balance. And that’s something I’ve tried to really encourage.

I’ve got a female engineer, and I love working with female directors, and I love working with women, period. But I also really enjoy when there’s women in roles that women aren’t expected to be playing in, and that’s something I’m looking to encourage. I want to hire more women, and to always be talking about it.

Do you think the music industry needs its own #MeToo moment?

To be honest, yeah, it does. There’s still some really really big people who don’t deserve to be in the positions they’re in, and they’re there because of their exploitation of women. But it’s a really really tough one, and there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of things that happened to me as an artist alone that’s impacted me today. People are taking advantage of young excited hopeful singers and writers. So it’s more than a hashtag, and it’s more than a trend. We’ve got some serious work to do there.

Raye: “There’s still some really really big people who don’t deserve to be in the positions they’re in, and they’re there because of their exploitation of women.”
Raye: “There’s still some really really big people who don’t deserve to be in the positions they’re in, and they’re there because of their exploitation of women.”

What little things can we all do to make the world a better place for women?

Wow. It’s a big question, and I don’t know what the solutions are, because so much isn’t out in the open. When it is out in the open, you can call out sexism. You can call it if you see it out when you’re out on the street, or buying a coffee in Starbucks. But everything that goes on behind the scenes? The things I’ve been through? It’s almost more painful than it is productive to do the right thing and call it out. It’s emotional, and it’s draining, and people question you.

I think we need to trust women more, and we need to trust women who find the confidence to speak out. We need to support them and be there for them, not ask questions or make a joke out of it. A lot of work needs to be done, and we start by trusting women.

You have over 239K followers on Instagram alone. Do you like engaging with your fans on social media?

I love social media, even though I’m not very good at it. But I’ve got it for my ride-or-die Raye fans: I call them my darlings, because they’re absolute darlings. They come to every show, they DM me love when I’m feeling down. I love my fans. Without them, what I’m doing is irrelevant.

With fans, of course, come trolls. Have you ever been abused on social media? And, if so, how do you deal with these negative comments?

Hate is something a lot of musicians have to deal with, often from private accounts. And it’s horrible. It’s really, really horrible. But if someone says something to me, I block them straight away. I don’t have time for that energy. Same as in real life.

Being in the spotlight is unsurprisingly draining. How do you protect your mental health? And what, for you, looks like self-care?

Exercise is good – it gives you endorphins, helps you start the day positively. But, yeah, the spotlight is draining to the point that… sometimes you don’t know if someone coming into your life is genuine. It’s hard just figuring out people’s good intentions. But I’ve kept the same friends around me from day one. I’m very close to my family. And I think who you surround yourself with can really define your day. I’m very influenced by what’s going on around me, so if I make my environment something that encourages the best out of me, that’s when I’m at my best.

You’ve spoken about being a Scorpio in the past – are you into astrology?

I don’t let astrology dictate me, and I don’t read horoscopes. But I definitely relate to being a Scorpio woman. I’m very fierce. A lover. Loyal. I think I’m pretty accurate to my traits. I’m a Scorpio woman, through and through.

You’re taking part in this year’s March4Women on International Women’s Day – what made you want to get involved?

I love women with my whole heart. I love what we’ve achieved and what we’ve yet to achieve. The female perspective is incredible. The female pain tolerance is incredible. Women are phenomenal and anything I can do that’s bringing women together is exciting for me.

Did you know that, every year on International Women’s Day, the phrase ‘International Men’s Day’ begins to trend because some men – not all men – fail to understand that they already have their own day?

What women have gone through, and what women have fought for, and what women have endured, to just claim equal treatment, equal rights, to not just be a trophy hanging on an arm, to be allowed to have an opinion, to be allowed to be smart, to be allowed to vote? This is why we have International Women’s Day.

The amount of times I walk into a studio with a guy and it’s like, “oh, is that his girlfriend?” I have to fight to be taken seriously. I have to go into the booth and do what I can do on the microphone for men to be like, “yeah, she’s legit and I’m gonna treat her with the respect she deserves”. Subconsciously sometimes, but yeah, but that’s the facts. 

This day is about celebrating what women have fought for and achieved. That’s why we have a day. Men [have their own day on 19 November], so they can sit down. Sit down and enjoy our day, and learn about the stress they put us through!

Which famous woman inspires you most?

Nina Simone. She used her musical platform to say some realness even though she was at the height of her career and everyone around her was encouraging her to make music for the masses. She decided to use her music to speak out against racial segregation and hatred. She spoke up for her people. She inspired me. A lot. What she did was incredible.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?

As cheesy as it sounds, to just be true to myself. It’s so easy to look around at what everyone else is creating and what everyone else is doing, and be like, “Oh they’re having success with a song like this, so we need to make a song like this. This superstar looks like this, so i should look like this. That’s not the case”. The thing that makes Billie Eilish so iconic is that she’s being so unapologetically herself. The thing that makes Alicia Keys Alicia Keys is she’s just being unapologetically herself.

Being true to yourself is asking, “what does Raye like, how does Raye wanna dress, how does Raye wanna be seen?”, as opposed to getting clouded with what’s commercial and successful and needing to adjust myself in order to fit.

Being myself is freeing. It’s what’s gonna make me me, you know?

Raye is joining forces with CARE International UK for the 2020 #March4Women, an International Women’s Day rally devoted to fighting the impact of climate change on women and girls around the world.

To join her, you can…

  • Buy a ticket for the #March4Women rally here
  • Sign up to the #March4Women march here

You can find out more about this year’s #March4Women event here.

Sign up to our daily email for a curated edit of the latest news and must-read features from Stylist, so you’ll never miss out on the conversation again.

Images: provided by Ruby Wright at CARE International

Share this article

Kayleigh Dray

Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.

Recommended by Kayleigh Dray