Let Raye Be Your Escape This Summer

Photo-Illustration: by TheCut; Photos: Getty Images, Everett Collection

Raye knows a thing or two about having a signature vibe onstage. With vocals that have been compared to those of Amy Winehouse and Adele, the 25-year-old singer-songwriter easily channels a 1960s musician through her performance presence, creating her own unique image and sound.

After dropping out of the BRIT School (a British performing and creative arts school that Winehouse and Adele also attended) to become a full-time songwriter at 17, Raye snagged a record deal and was later featured on a number of hit EDM singles in the U.K. But when her label released her from her contract in 2021, she embarked on her journey as an independent artist, releasing a debut album, My 21st Century Blues, earlier this year.

The album’s coverage of an array of heavy topics, including sexual assault, body dysmorphia, and environmental anxiety, quickly garnered attention. There are hints of R&B, jazz, and even a little EDM sprinkled throughout, especially on “Escapism,” her first track to land on the charts of the Billboard Hot 100 and her first No. 1 single in the U.K. But Raye doesn’t mind it when people can’t pin her to a single genre. “Now more than ever, I just want to be me — especially after so many years of feeling like I couldn’t be,” she says.

When Raye performs, she’s joined by a full band dressed in white tuxedos. She shouts them out and riffs along with them as they blast their trumpets and groove out on the bass. She never plans what she’s going to say during her sets. She’s fun to watch, always exuding joy when she’s up there, whether she’s headlining her own tour or opening for another amazing act, like Kali Uchis, whom she joined earlier this spring, or SZA, whom she’ll open for on a European tour this summer. “Whenever I’m onstage, I want to be fearless,” Raye says. “If you can’t be fearless doing what you love the most, when can you be?”

Talk to me about this phase of your career: You released your debut album as an independent artist, you headlined a tour, and now you’re opening for Kali Uchis. What has the touring experience been like? 
I’m used to being a studio baby, but I love being onstage. Kali’s got such beautiful audiences who are receiving me with such love and attention, which is so lovely on a support gig. I have nothing to complain about, maybe other than my lack of time off. It’s 133 shows this year, so the year is already booked.

Have you picked up any tips for life on the road? 
I play so many card games. I also make beats on the road when I’m feeling a lack of creativity. And showering is really important when you want to write, because otherwise you just feel like a dirty, useless pile of bones.

When it comes to your music, you’ve been described as genre-bending. Does that feel freeing or scary?
I like that it’s being received as an acceptable thing. I was told for so long that I didn’t know my musical identity and that I needed to choose one. I want to actively rebel against that in the independent chapter of my life, and I feel like I have on this album. The fact that it’s being received by any person in the same capacity is a win for me. I want to feel freedom when I release music, to release whatever I feel makes sense. I don’t want it to be about the genres. I want it to be about songs.

You have a signature look. What inspired your current hairstyle?
I started this hairstyle maybe three or four years ago. You know when you find a hairstyle and you’re like, Yep, yes, absolutely. I’m a Scorpio, so to find something and commit … I mean, I’ve committed to this hairstyle longer than I’ve committed to a man, and that’s a stellar achievement. My hair is naturally curly, so it definitely takes some time to do, but it’s a roller set and then I use mountains of hairspray. If you want that ’60s kind of vibe, a roller set is what you need. I’m absolutely going for that. I love the ’60s. I love music from the ’60s and love the way women used to dress in the ’60s — and the makeup.

Besides doing your hair, how else do you prepare before you go onstage?  
I drink a honey lemon and I warm up my vocals, but I don’t like how normal vocal warmups sound so I’ll just put on some jazz music and sing along through the riffs just to open up my voice. I do that for maybe half an hour or 45 minutes. We do a little group hug, and I always do a prayer before we go onstage. Usually if I’m walking out in heels, I’m like, When am I going to take them off? And then most of the shows I’m just like, Fuck it, and I take them off.

Is there a specific playlist or artist you listen to ahead of performing? 
Not religiously. Sometimes Buena Vista Social Club or a 1959 jazz-classics album. Anything warm, light-hearted, and definitely something I can sing along to that keeps the spirits up.

Where do you get your best culture recommendations from? 
Most of my cultural recommendations are just from the people I’m around. If someone’s told me something’s really great, usually I’ll give it a go. But I’m so all in with TV shows that I’m scared to start a series again, because if I do, I’m not doing anything else until it’s finished.

What’s your comfort rewatch when you come home from a long day? 
I love The Queen’s Gambit. That show makes me so emotional and empowered. I really relate to the story of her life. I’ve actually watched that four times. And I love that in the end, she achieved all her success sober. I’m like [Cheers], It was always in you! 

Did that take place in the ’60s too? You really do love that era. 
Do you know what? Bar all of the awful stuff that happened, I love that the consumption of live music was so important then. There was this appreciation of musicianship, and I miss that today.

Is there anything out there that you wouldn’t watch? 
I don’t think I would watch Saw or any of the fucking awful horror movies. Yeah, no. Them things traumatize me. Babe, I watched The Orphan … what the fuck was that? I was on edge for a few days.

You said you played card games on the road. What’s your favorite game to play?
I love Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch. I’ve completed Super Mario Odyssey three times and think it’s so beautiful. And I love card games. I love a game called Rummikub. It’s tiles of numbers and you order and arrange them and you’ve got to get your tiles off the board to win. I play it often, at least once every two or three days. I’m decent at it, and I’m not a good loser.

What’s the best gossip you’ve ever heard? 
Oh, girl. That’s such a juicy question. [Laughs.] The funny thing is I know so much tea, but I can’t be that girl.

You’re making me so curious … but I respect that. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
To enjoy yourself.

What about the worst advice? 
[Laughs.] To trust people with experience.

You’re hopping in an UberXL and can bring five celebrities — dead or alive — with you. Who’s coming?
Oh my God, I might just fill it with the greatest musicians of all time and I’ll just sit in silence and observe. Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Etta James. I’ll sit in the back and I will observe greatness.

What is the last meal you cooked for dinner?
I don’t really cook, so that would probably have to be cereal.

What would your last meal be?
My last meal would be seven courses long, deffo. I need one cheese plate with the most amazing cheeses from all over the world. I’ll need some amazing Italian food, Indian food, Jamaican food, and Ghanaian food. Croissants from France with butter from France. And I need like three desserts. If it’s my last meal, I’m going in.

What is one song you’d recommend to someone who needs to be reminded of how beautiful music can be? 
I would suggest some of my favorite songs of all time, one of them being “Baltimore” by Nina Simone. If you put that on in headphones and you listen to that song and you’re not completely in love with music again, then I don’t know how to help.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Let Raye Be Your Escape This Summer