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RAYE live in London: British music’s newest superstar has her moment of crowning glory

Less than two weeks after triumphing at the BRITS, RAYE's path to greatness continues with a stunning show at The O2 Arena.

5.0 rating

By Ben Jolley

RAYE live at The O2 (Picture: Jean Yuzheng Zhang)

“From the bottom of my heart, thank you for seeing me,” RAYE gushes to 20,000 fans at The 02 Arena last night, performing a symphony of her incredible, soul-bearing debut album My 21st Century Blues with The Heritage Orchestra and Flames Collective. “My wildest dreams are coming true before my eyes. I would be nothing without the people in this room,” she reflects, having sold out the huge London venue in a day back in January and become a record-breaking six-time BRIT Award winner one month later.

READ MORE: RAYE’s brilliant BRIT Awards triumph is proof that there’s still hope for the underdog

The Camden artist has come a very long way from telling her parents about her dreams of being a singer aged seven – but her much-deserved success has been hard-won over the past decade. While she became known as a features artist in the mid-2010s, making huge hits out of upbeat dance-pop beats created by Joel Corry, Jax Jones and Disclosure, as a solo artist she was stuck in an unfulfilling seven-year major label contract. When they refused to release her debut album, she made it publicly known and shook the shackles off.

On the strength of her show-stopping one-night-only O2 debut, standing strong as an independent artist and releasing the record herself was the best decision she could have made. With a regal-looking silk white curtain and RAYE’s name lit up in large capitals (Vegas-style), it feels like a statement of intent from an artist who is surely destined for the bright lights of Sin City.

After a narrator-led introduction, RAYE bounds on onstage, barefoot, giddy with excitement, wearing an elegant black gown. While her first words to the audience – “what the fuck!” – demonstrate her everyday, relatable nature, her vocal range is instantly incomparable yet effortless. The note she hits at the end of ‘Oscar Winning Tears’ recalls Amy Winehouse’s tones, while making the singer a surefire bet for the next James Bond soundtrack. 

This remains the case for the near-two-hour 20-song setlist while, between songs, the self-confessed “chatterbox” is equally suited to bantering with the crowd, Adele-style (“I’m trying to give you a dramatic ending but I just need to catch my breath”) and sharing the deeply personal meanings and messages of individual songs. 

Before performing the record’s most “intense” songs, including ‘Mary Jane’, whose subject is addiction, she acknowledges the imminent gear shift; “yay, such a fun subject”. The bleak yet scarily-real ‘Body Dysmorphia’, which followed a poignant message about the importance of self-love, directed at the teens in the audience, is equally sobering. 

Undoubtedly the most emotional song of the evening is ‘Ice Cream Man’, which RAYE sings while playing the piano. “It really doesn’t get any easier to sing, but it reminds me to be strong and loud about something that I was silent about for half my life,” she shares, dedicating it to “anyone who needs it”. The crowd were with her every step of the way, many crying by the end. 

Sandwiching all the “ugly, shitty songs” into the middle section was a clever narrative decision, as it allows “a new vibe” to emerge; an outfit change into a metallic silver dress that shimmers more than a disco ball signified this. With a celebratory mood, it’s time to dance all the bad energy away, via ‘Flip A Switch’s’ drum-heavy rumbles and ‘Black Mascara’. Then, as club-ready strobes extended over the crowd, the electric guitar riffs of ‘Prada’ threaten to erupt beneath RAYE’s operatic vocal, while an encore of eerie classical-rap hit ‘Escapism’ ended the night on a hedonistic note.

By the end of the majestic concert, it is abundantly clear that RAYE is a generational talent. How she was ever ignored by a label is baffling.