Nominated for a record-breaking seven Brit awards, RAYE has spoken openly about her Christian upbringing, her battles with addiction and experiences of rape and sexual assault, and her return to faith

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Source: RAYE/Instagram

If you haven’t heard of RAYE (real name Rachel Keen) already, you’ve likely heard at least one of the many hits she’s written. The 26-year-old songwriter of the year also has an Ivor Novello and a MOBO award, and was nominated for last year’s Mercury Music Prize.

It’s quite a turnaround for an artist who, in 2021, took to social media to vent her frustration and hurt at Polydor, the record label who signed her in 2016 but would not then release her records. They were far keener for her to continue creating hits for a plethora of other artists – including Jax’s ‘You don’t know me’, Beyonce’s ‘Bigger’, and ‘Bed’, a collaboration with David Guetta and Joel Corry.

Three weeks after the outburst, RAYE separated from Polydor, enabling her to go independent and pursue success on her terms. Ironically, the song that catapulted her to fame was one that Polydor, and other labels she had approached, did not like. ‘Escapism’ went viral on TikTok, garnered millions of streams, and went to straight to number one.

If you’ve listened to ‘Escapism’, you’ll perhaps understand why record labels didn’t see its appeal. It’s a dark song, written as RAYE sought escape in drugs and one-night stands. But maybe that’s exactly why it appeals somehow; its unfiltered realism is something that obviously connects with her legion of fans.

Clearly, RAYE was in a desperately dark place – one she might not have emerged from were it not for her Christian faith.

Starting with God

RAYE has been very open about how God brought her through the toughest period of her life, even saving her from suicide. In ‘Hard out here’, which features on her debut album My 21st Century Blues, she sings: “You start to wonder why I’m Christian / without the Lord I’d take my life.”

“There’s a world in which, if I didn’t find faith again, I might not even be here,” she told the BBC, referring to her Christian upbringing. “There’s a lot of demons trying to claw at you and drag you to somewhere you don’t belong, so I’m really grateful I have this faith,” she added. “It’s honestly pulled me out of a really dark place.”

 It saved my life…I really owe my life to my faith, it’s kept me going

Her parents, Paul and Sarah, met at church and were both involved in leading worship – a ministry shaped by a powerful encounter Paul had with the Holy Spirit in the 1990s, and which later led to him writing and recording a worship album. After Sunday services at their Pentecostal church in Croydon, a young Rachel would sit down with her father to learn worship songs on the piano.

Her parents now serve on RAYE’s management team, and the singer hosts Sunday worship services at her home with friends.

She opens up more about her return to faith when speaking to The Line of Best Fit about the nine songs that have shaped her life. One of them is ‘You’re bigger’ by American gospel singer-songwriter, Jekalyn Carr.

“I was raised in a Christian household and I think I had quite a difficult relationship with it all in the early days,” she shares. “But there was a moment where I really found God, in the time that I really needed it and it saved my life…I really owe my life to my faith, it’s kept me going and it’s kept me okay, it’s given me strength.”

Here to stay

RAYE’s music is not easy listening however. My 21st Century Blues is expletive-ridden and jaw-droppingly raw in its honesty, touching upon difficult issues and traumatic incidents, including eating disorders and sexual assault. But for RAYE, it’s a way to process her past, invite others to share their own pain, and prompt a wider cultural conversation.

This includes speaking about forgiveness. “I believe in forgiveness,” she told The Independent. “Given all the things that I’ve been through – not just in the industry but my whole life – if I didn’t learn how to forgive, I would be a really ugly, bitter person.”

“There’s a world in which, if I didn’t find faith again, I might not even be here,” she told the BBC

At its heart is a hope rooted in her rediscovered faith. “I’ll bounce back, I’ll bounce back,” she declares in ‘Hard out here’, following it with words from Isaiah 54:17: “No weapon against me shall ever prosper”.

She has another Bible reference tattooed on her arm. In an interview with Louis Theroux, he asks her about her tattoos, one of which simply says: ”Psalm 91”. “It’s a protection prayer,” she explained to Theroux. “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty” [v1]. “Whenever you’re scared or feel unsafe, any negative energy comes to you or whatever, I’ll pray this prayer. It’s an important one for me.”

RAYE may have left her Christian faith once, but you get the sense it’s now here to stay.