Review by Raye – The satisfying sound of payback

Review by Raye – The satisfying sound of payback

Raye effortlessly raises her vocal range a few notes while singing without musical accompaniment, then smoothly transitions into an intricate vocal run. The talented artist from south London sustains a single note for an impressive duration. Following this, she casually fixes her hair and explains that any movements under her skirt are simply adjustments to a sweaty microphone pack. Raye playfully requests leniency from the audience if her corset dress accidentally reveals a nipple, jokingly suggesting the use of photo-editing apps to fix the situation.

The evening’s main focus appears to be honesty, with Rachel Keen being a glamorous pop star who, similar to Adele, captivates the audience by discussing nerdy details and sharing industry secrets. She takes great pleasure in controlling her drummer, Matt Brooks, who must crash the percussion every time she raises or lowers her arm. “I could even be scratching my head or doing ballet!” she exclaims, lifting her hand above her head. “Paul is incredibly patient with me,” she remarks, referring to the band’s guitarist and leader, Paul Murray. With a gesture, the entire band dramatically and precisely follows her lead.

Raye’s playlist starts off with honesty as well. Many of the songs tonight showcase Keen reflecting on intense emotional moments from her recent experiences. She expresses her irritation with the music business through the concise tune, “Hard Out Here.” In “Body Dysmorphia,” she reveals that it’s not a plea for flattery; receiving validation from others rarely helps with the condition.

The most poignant topic is the conversation surrounding the unedited Ice Cream Man, which brings up memories of a sexual attack committed by a producer. The term “rape” lingers heavily in the air. She sadly concludes that women feel embarrassed to speak up about their experiences, when the shame should be placed on the one who committed the act.

This portion of the tour for Raye’s My 21st Century Blues is a blend of group therapy and vintage jazz-pop performance. The band, sporting white suits and bow ties, includes a horn section and exudes a sense of tailored triumph. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Raye’s satisfaction has been savored throughout multiple stages.

In 2021, she declared on Twitter that she is no longer interested in being a polite pop star. Despite being signed to a major record label that did not benefit her, Raye’s flexible vocal contributions have made her a popular featured artist on dance-pop tracks, including the 2017 hit “You Don’t Know Me” with Jax Jones. She will be performing it tonight with a mix of emotions.

Her talent for songwriting was utilized to write songs for other notable artists, such as Beyoncé. (Raye also co-wrote “Bigger” for The Lion King soundtrack.) While her nine-track EP, Euphoric Sad Songs (2020), showcased her emotional solo work, including her rendition of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” titled “Natalie Don’t”, her record label Polydor continued to delay the release of her debut album. Raye is not the only one in this industry who faces this type of situation, where they are bound to their label and must chase chart success through various genres. It often takes years for a development act to become a successful artist. And even then, some women take matters into their own hands. Charli XCX spent years dipping in and out of the mainstream before finding success. Little Simz, who had achieved success with her album “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert,” parted ways with her manager in 2022. (The argument against rushing new artists to market is that they may be dropped abruptly if they do not achieve immediate success.)

Raye believed that Polydor had valuable potential, as expressed in her lyrics on the song Hard Out Here. However, she publicly ended their partnership and pursued an independent career. In a short amount of time, she achieved a No 1 hit with her single Escapism, a powerful track about using parties to cope with heartbreak. Her first album, My 21st Century Blues, released in 2023, delved into themes such as being stifled by music industry executives, self-medicating, and other gritty topics. It was praised for its raw authenticity and fusion of jazz, hip-hop, and R&B influences, often drawing comparisons to Amy Winehouse. The album peaked at No 2 on the charts. Last year, Raye headlined a show at London’s Royal Albert Hall accompanied by an orchestra and gospel choir.

One year after releasing her album, it seems as though Raye’s celebration is not just limited to a cheese course, but also includes dessert wine, chocolate bonbons, and a digestive drink. Her album, “My 21st Century Blues,” has been nominated for a record-breaking seven Brit awards. The ceremony on March 2nd will be highly anticipated to see how many awards she takes home.

The short UK tour, originally scheduled for December but postponed due to Raye’s voice rest, leads up to a performance at London’s O2 arena in March. This time, she will be performing with an orchestra for a crowd of 20,000. Tickets for the show reportedly sold out within an hour.

This is the experience of someone enjoying their bonbons and savoring each bite. In the middle of the performance, without her band, Raye goes to the piano and plays fan-requested songs from before her album was released. She even admits to feeling a little embarrassed about some of the requests. There are also some sections that feel a bit out of place. For example, during “Buss It Down,” Raye leads the audience in a three-part vocal performance that goes on for too long. It’s puzzling why she, who has moved on from shallow dance tracks, would participate in a show of wealth and extravagance with “Prada,” featuring Cassö and D-Block Europe (she performs it solo).

In the end, the riddles and slow parts are offset by an abundance of excellent songs – like “Black Mascara”, a song about heartbreak that is transformed into upbeat club music tonight. The standout moments of the evening come when Raye fully embraces her persona as a woman scorned. She declares, “No one can defeat me,” with passion on “Hard Out Here”. The night reaches its peak with “Escapism”, where her pain is raw and her band plays with intensity. She still holds onto her sense of vengeance.