I can only begin with the irony of ‘Escapism’ being the track that TikTok has not allowed one to escape since last November. The song garnered success at an unfathomable rate and even became a contender in the Christmas-number-one battle. Its darker theme introduced the gritty undertones to be heard on My 21st Century Blues, the debut album that the singer had alleged to be held back by her previous label, Polydor, for seven years.
In fact, the rising popularity of her independent singles coincided with a sweeping online movement to support RAYE after her struggle to cut ties with the record company. It has been as satisfying to witness as it has been heartening: there is no doubt that Polydor will be kicking themselves, following her self-achieved triumph. And to worsen the blow, the music may just exceed expectation.
Captivating hooks emerge relentlessly across the track-list. Listeners are delivered the sonic highs and lows that are always key to an album worth revisiting. ‘Black Mascara’ offers the thuds of house, compelling us to the dancefloor. Later, RAYE’s capability to tug at our emotions prevails in a personal favourite, ‘Ice Cream Man’.
The debut album is titled aptly. An expansive range of political and generational issues are tackled by the songwriter, including a daunting perspective on our diminishing world in ‘Environmental Anxiety’: “a thousand years we been at war, when the planet is dead we will all hold hands.” Her ability to convincingly discuss these topics in her music from a personal place, rather than one of exploitation, is additionally appreciated.
Nonetheless, RAYE does not neglect her means to empower. ‘Flip A Switch’ serves as the ultimate break-up anthem. “Tell him I'm dead if he calling me”, she declares in the chorus, once more asserting the fierce character we have learned the singer to truly embody.
In truth, whether it is RAYE or the listeners who should be more thankful for the overdue release of ‘My 21st Century Blues’, I am not sure.