RAye sits in front of a piano and reminisces about the time in her career when she learned to pretend. It was 2016 and her manager was suggesting she hop on a track with the Jonas Blue dance number. “On first listen, I hated the song,” she says. “That’s when I became a great actress because everyone thought I liked that song. But I’m going to play it for you now.
Such candor, rare in pop today, is understandable on Raye’s part. It was only last year that the 24-year-old tweeted that her label was blocking the release of her debut album despite her achieving seven Top 20 hits and racking up millions of monthly listeners on Spotify. . “I’m done being a polite pop star,” she wrote, and parted ways with Polydor soon after.
Judging by tonight, it’s true. Joined by a single guitarist, she delivers an intimate evening of unflinching acoustic performances and anecdotes about the horrors of the music industry. Opening with the biting and emancipatory Hard Out Here, his first song as an independent artist, Raye tells the sometimes overwhelming story of his career, one song at a time. She describes how Don’t Leave was stolen and given to another artist. She recounts being forced to record guest features for a song she says “sucks”. And before Bed, her biggest hit, she admits: “It’s not my favorite song, but it did my bank account good.”
It would be dark if Raye wasn’t such an effervescent performer. She spices up her setlist with jazzy versions of Secrets and Natalie Don’t à la Jolene, adding scatted ad libs and vocal tracks. She also repeatedly stops songs halfway through to make jokes about bad boyfriends or to poke fun at her dire past situation.
Even heavier new songs, like the moving Black Mascara, which details his experience with his spiked drink, and a ballad about sexual violence, sound less like traumatic dumping and more like group therapy, each highlighting the Raye’s exemplary talents as a songwriter. “It’s my story,” she says at one point, “and now I can change the narrative.” If tonight is something to pass, consider it done.