My Escapism into RAYE’s 21st Century Blues

Emma Cooper-Raeburn shares her thoughts on RAYE’s debut album ‘My 21st Century Blues’…

For a while there hasn’t been an album that has jumped out at me, especially a pop album. Sure, Harry’s House by Harry Styles and Midnights by Taylor Swift deserve the praise and recognition they got when they were released last year, but I wasn’t OBSESSED with them.  

That was until RAYE’s debut album My 21st Century Blues came out into the world. Even though it’s only been a matter of days, I haven’t been able to stop listening to it. I haven’t been able to stop telling people about it. And the meaning behind the album and RAYE’s story makes the album even more special.  

(Photo fetched from The Guardian)

RAYE sets the tone of the album with the 57-second-long Introduction. You know when you’re at the cinema and the announcement before the movie starts telling everyone to switch their phones off and pay attention? That’s the exact vibe the 25-year-old was aiming for. So, I did what I was told and put my phone on silent and made myself a cup of coffee. If I was going to listen to this album, I was going to listen to it properly.  

Before this album, I would have classed RAYE as a pop artist, with her collaborations with Jax Jones and Joel Correy dominating the charts in the last few years. Not to mention her song-writing experience for the likes of Beyoncé and Little Mix. I had listened to a few of her earlier records before, and they always had a dance-pop feel to them. However, My 21st Century Blues has a lot more of an R&B feel to it, something which suits the London-based artist a lot more. The likes of Hard Out Here and Five Star Hotels – featuring Mahalia – really show this side of the album, while Black Mascara is the exact type of song I would love to hear on a night out.  

If you weren’t familiar with RAYE, you will probably know Escapism – the latest anthem that has blown up on TikTok within the last few months. I’m not normally one for listening to songs from TikTok and tend to get sick of them quickly as the repetition of the same line 30 times a day is not something I am particularly fond of. Nonetheless, Escapism is the one song from the social-media phenomenon I cannot get enough of. After breaking free from her record label, RAYE has finally been able to discuss the topics she wants to put out into the world. Escapism touches on alcohol and drug abuse after a breakup.  

RAYE discusses many important issues throughout the album to tell her life story. Ice Cream Man is a track that I would personally like to applaud RAYE for releasing. The track discusses the abuse she has suffered by men in the music industry who claimed to want to work with her and help her build her career, but instead, took it as a chance to sexually assault her. While the earlier songs in the album focus on how RAYE has dealt with break-ups and heartbreaks, Ice Cream Man is where the album takes a deeper turn in RAYE’s songwriting.  

(Photo fetched from NME)

There are two other tracks on the album that I would deem extremely important: Body Dysmorphia and Environmental Anxiety. Both songs are extremely heart-breaking, but unfortunately very relevant and realistic. Body Dysmorphia touches on eating disorders, and how RAYE was so unhappy with her appearance that she wanted to “cut pieces off” her face. The outro of the song feels like a punch in the gut, with a young girl explaining “I think when I grow older, I’m going to get a nose job, I have a bump in my nose and its ugly, When I grow up, I want to be skinny but with an hourglass figure, I hope I’ll be pretty when I grow up or I think I’ll be sad”. The sheer accuracy of young girls feeling like this through the way society looks at women is extremely clear, and I think Body Dysmorphia is a song many women will sadly be able to relate to. Environmental Anxiety obviously discusses the current state of the world, with RAYE asking “How did you ever think it wasn’t bound to happen?” I always love a protest song, and Environmental Anxiety seems to be the most accurate one I have come across in a long time. If anyone ever asks me what I think about a particular issue, I’ll just tell them to listen to this song. 

The album ends with Fin, where RAYE acknowledges everyone who has helped her with this album and throughout her life. It ends the story and is like the credits of an ending movie, letting the listener sit with the rollercoaster of emotions they have just gone through. It’s like RAYE has already released her acceptance speech for the many awards I sincerely hope this album will win. 

For me, My 21st Century Blues is the perfect album. It tells a story and talks about important issues that an artist with a large following should talk about. It’s personal and it’s clear that writing these songs was therapeutic to RAYE.  

Similarly, this album is proving to be therapeutic to me and is a form of escape whenever I need one. Each song is different, yet distinctively RAYE. Each song is extremely catchy, and I managed to identify each song quickly (not because I’ve listened to it 10 times each day). This album resonates with me, and I felt a personal connection to the artist. RAYE was letting us into her life, her experiences, her thoughts and her feelings. There isn’t a song I would skip or get bored of and the respect I have developed for RAYE has skyrocketed. I know it’s only February, but RAYE has saved 2023.

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