Since releasing her first EP, the R&B-oriented Welcome to the Winter (2014), RAYE has been a dynamic pop artist with numerous hit singles in her native U.K. and abroad as both a headliner and an in-demand collaborator. It was through featured roles on Jonas Blue’s “By Your Side” and Jax Jones’ “You Don’t Know Me” (both 2016) that the vocalist and songwriter first hit the U.K. Top 20, and she soon racked up one on her own with “Decline” (2017). RAYE followed a handful of EPs with a mini-album bearing a title that could double as a descriptor for the majority of her output. That release, Euphoric Sad Songs (2020), contained the Top Ten single “Secrets.” RAYE had assisted dozens of other artists spanning pop, R&B, rap, and dance music — ranging from Charli XCX and Ellie Goulding to David Guetta and Beyoncé — by the time she issued her first album, My 21st Century Blues (2023), containing the number one U.K. hit “Escapism.”
A native of South London, RAYE (Rachel Keen) was born and raised in Tooting before she moved to Croydon in her teens. Starting her career at the age of ten, she was guided by her father and her guitar teacher. Her interest in music quickly led to small charity gigs and singing in her local church. By 2012, RAYE had enrolled in the prestigious BRIT School to perfect her craft, but she left after two years (in 2014) due to the limitations she was being taught and the desire to create her own rules. Just before the end of 2014, RAYE self-released her debut EP, Welcome to the Winter. The lead single, “Hotbox,” was noticed by Olly Alexander, aka Years & Years, who got in touch with RAYE and arranged a meeting with the A&R department at Polydor.
With major-label backing from Polydor, RAYE kept busy in 2016, including co-writing her single “I, U, US” alongside Charli XCX, appearing as a featured artist on Jonas Blue’s “By Your Side” and Jax Jones’ “You Don’t Know Me” — two Top 20 U.K. hits — and releasing her own Second EP. She was back working with Charli XCX the following year, guesting on the singer’s tracks “Girls” and “Dreamer.” Also in 2017, RAYE scored her first U.K. pop hits as a lead artist with “The Line,” which reached number 65, and “Decline,” a collaboration with Mr. Eazi that peaked at number 15. “Decline” and the subsequent number 41 single “Cigarette,” featuring Mabel and Stefflon Don, led the 2018 EP Side Tape. RAYE was heard around the same time on Kojo Funds’ Top 40 hit “Check.”
RAYE’s ascent continued over the next few years. In 2019, she teamed up with David Guetta for “Stay (Don’t Go Away)” and “Make It to Heaven” (also featuring Morten), amid one-off collaborations as a co-writer for songs by artists including Beyoncé (“Bigger,” off The Lion King: The Gift) and Ellie Goulding (the Top 40 U.K. single “Sixteen”). In November 2020, RAYE released the mini-album Euphoric Sad Songs, the source of the number six U.K. hit “Secrets” (featuring Regard), and the number 37 single “Regardless” (a collaboration with Rudimental). She returned to the U.K. Top Ten in 2021 with the number three single “Bed,” another collaboration with Guetta, and helped take D-Block Europe to number 14 with “Ferrari Horses.”
Also during 2021, RAYE’s mounting frustrations with Polydor — over artistic direction and the label’s refusal to issue her first proper full-length — led to her release from the four-album contract she had signed seven years earlier. RAYE subsequently signed a licensing and distribution deal with Human Re Sources, thereby giving her artistic control. The first singles from RAYE’s debut album arrived the next year. After “Hard Out Here” and “Mascara,” RAYE scored her first number one U.K. hit with the unguarded 070 Shake collaboration “Escapism.” The feat set the stage for the February 2023 arrival of My 21st Century Blues. RAYE co-wrote each song and was assisted chiefly by Mike Sabath. ~ Andy Kellman & Liam Martin