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

Three years after leaving her label in the midst of an acrimonious battle, RAYE's BRITs win shows that the power of determination still exists.

By Nick Reilly

Raye accepts the award for Artist Of The Year on stage during the BRIT Awards 2024 at The O2 Arena on March 02, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

On paper, the simple facts are these. On Saturday night, RAYE won six awards at the Brit Awards, becoming the first artist to scoop six in a year and in the process, smashing the record previously held by the likes by Adele, Harry Styles and Blur.

An incredible achievement, no doubt, but it’s only when you dig down into the much-discussed machinations of her win that it becomes something else entirely. The Best New Artist win – though she is now a star in her own right – belies the fact that RAYE is an artist who has been around for over a decade. As a featured artist, she brought powerful pipes to chart-bothering tracks from the likes of Joel Corry and Jax Jones. But an entirely different picture emerged in 2021 when the star alleged that her then-label Polydor was effectively holding her career to ransom – with a debut album said to be entirely dependent on the success of her solo singles.

“For the last 7 days I have woken up crying my eyes out, not wanting to get out of bed and feeling so alone,” she tweeted.

“These are emotions we usually hide from social media and I have become such an expert at hiding my tears and my pain and I wanted to talk about it today.

“Imagine this pain. I have been signed to a major label since 2014…and I have had albums on albums of music sat in folders collecting dust, songs I am now giving away to A list artists because I am still awaiting confirmation that I am good enough to release an album.” While Polydor said they were “saddened” by the singer’s admission, the two parted ways a short time after.

What followed next, it’s fair to say – is enough to have left all the Polydor execs at The O2 Arena on Saturday night with a sizeable amount of egg on their faces. After leaving that label, Raye set out on a path that shows the power of independent artists – and by extension that of the underdog.

Her breakout single ‘Escapism’, released independently, marked her first number one in the UK, and provided the the first sign that she was onto something special. Here was a no-holds-barred tale of self-medication with drink, drugs and sex after heartbreak, all presided over by Raye’s powerhouse vocals. “I don’t wanna feel how my heart is ripping / In fact, I don’t wanna feel, so I stick to sipping,” she sang. It was an instant victory and reflection of the sound she truly wanted to manifest. Her debut album My 21st Century Blues, solidified that – and showed that Polydor had truly dropped the ball on this one.

A year later, with six BRIT Awards under her belt – including best album – RAYE has emerged as a champion for the disenfranchised and disengaged at a time when we sorely need one. To paraphrase Blur, Modern Life *might* be Rubbish, but the story of RAYE is enough to allow those stuck in a rut, irrespective of whatever walk of life, that a better option might just be round the corner.

“Since I was 14 years old, I have dreamed of winning a Brit award,” RAYE tweeted back in 2020.

“I’m praying one day I get lucky enough and I can quote tweet this tweet with a picture of this moment.”

On Saturday night, she finally got that full circle moment – and used her platform to continually fight for the disenfranchised and underchampioned.

“I think we need to have a conversation,” she said after winning the Songwriter of the Year Award . “I want to normalise giving songwriters master royalty points.“It doesn’t have to be at your expense, but it just means that if the songs win big, then the writers get to win big too. Please allow that to happen. Please, please, please. Thank you.”

It’s the mark of a true people’s champion.