For British singer-songwriter RAYE, it’s been hard out here. After seven years of her former label repeatedly denying her the opportunity to release a debut album, the singer was fed up. Now, she’s feeding us.
RAYE is newly independent following a not-so-clean breakup with the record company she was tied to for practically her entire career — and a third of her life. The split occurred last summer after the artist said she was “done being a polite pop star” and took to Twitter to share her experience:
\u201cImagine this pain \nI 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.\u201d— RAYE (@RAYE) 1624981697
“This song is just peeling back the first layer of the stories I'm really going to tell,” RAYE tells PAPER.
Through lines like “What (do) you know about hustling/ As a young girl in the dungeons” and "I’m about to have these grown men crying,” RAYE finally shares her story and the rage she has for an industry that sidelined and mistreated her for years. She’s ready to take the step from being a featured artist, or a songwriting credit to the lone voice on a project of her own.
“In the worst of times, I've felt like a rent-a-voice,” says the singer. “A voice, but a voice that no one really cares about.”
Today, the singer shares her new music video for the single “Hard Out Here," depicting the early stages of an artistic metamorphosis. In the visual, the performer quite literally sheds previous versions of herself and claims her spot in the industry, unapologetically taking up space through bold choreography. Though the song is courageous and honest, it’s also incredibly vulnerable — and shining a light on her trauma hasn’t been easy.
“This whole process has been difficult — empowering and uplifting on the best days and really scary and hard and tough on the worst days,” RAYE says. “But I just feel like the artists I'm inspired by the most go out on a limb to express themselves fearlessly.”
RAYE names artists like Lady Gaga and Billie Holiday as her inspirations, but her biggest motivator throughout this entire process has been Nina Simone, particularly her quote: “It’s an artist's duty to reflect the times.”
“I felt like the music I was contributing wasn't necessarily reflecting those things,” says the singer.
Though the track details RAYE’s own story, the treatment she experienced is all too familiar to women and other marginalized voices in the music industry.
“I want ‘Hard Out Here’ to be an anthem for anyone who feels suppressed, who feels squashed down,” says the singer. “I hope that people can put themselves in that place and just use this song as fuel to remind yourself who the eff you are.”
Below, take an exclusive look behind-the-scenes of RAYE's triumphant return with "Hard Out Here."
Photography: Krystal D'Anjou
Styling: Lauren Groves
Hair: Alex Price
Makeup: Bea Sweet
Nails: Elize Star
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