As a teenager, RAYE attended the BRIT School, a legendary South London performing-arts academy that has bred successful songwriters and recording artists like Jessie J, Adele, and Amy Winehouse. These days, RAYE is regularly compared to Winehouse, but back then she remembers walking through the hallways, looking at pictures of the alumni, and thinking, “That’s gonna be me one day.”

At the 2024 BRIT Awards, she earned her place in those hallowed halls. RAYE, born Rachel Keen, made history at this year’s ceremony in March as the most nominated artist at the U.K.’s biggest music-awards show. She then went on to break the record for most wins in a single night by collecting six awards, including the evening’s biggest prize, Album of the Year. Among the previous record holders the 26-year-old waltzed on past are Adele, Harry Styles, and Blur.

“That night felt like it was a lucid dream, it was just so surreal,” she says, looking back. “I think the only part where I felt truly at peace was during the performance. I was so proud of it,” she says of her show-stopping medley, which included three songs and a sneak peek at some new music coming down the pike.

Long before she arrived on that stage, RAYE’s love of singing was inspired from a young age by her parents: her Ghanaian-Swiss mother and English father were heavily involved in their church, where RAYE’s mother sang in the choir and her father served as musical director. After two years at the BRIT School, she dropped out at 16 and spent the remainder of her teenage years learning how to write songs professionally in studio sessions on the weekends. In the early stages of her career, she wrote for Little Mix, Ellie Goulding, Charli XCX, and even Beyoncé, first on her Lion King soundtrack The Gift, in 2019, and again on a track, “RIIVERDANCE,” from the artist’s acclaimed recent album Cowboy Carter. (RAYE won’t divulge any details from the experience, shrouded as Beyoncé albums are in secrecy, other than to call it “incredible.”)

Hannah Khymych—Art Partner Licensing / Trunk Archive

In February of last year, RAYE released her debut album, My 21st Century Blues, a project that showcases her ability to seamlessly blend influences from pop, R&B, and doo-wop. The openhearted, autobiographical album, which landed on several best-of-the-year lists and would earn her all those BRITS one year later, was a hard-won triumph after years of conflict with Polydor, the label with which she parted ways after they allegedly refused to put out the album she had recorded. When she finally released it independently, it spawned a viral TikTok hit, “Escapism,” which cracked the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in her career.

The need to prove herself may once have been daunting, but now it drives her. “That very much becomes a part of your psyche. What fuels me to work as hard as I do is to prove those people wrong. Getting into a room with men, who are experienced and talented, asking ‘Who are you?’” Her answer is simple: “Give me the mic and I’ll show you.”

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