*WARNING: This writing mentions body dysmorphia, sexual abuse, substance abuse, and anxiety-inducing material. *
I’m calling it: RAYE is going to be my top artist of 2023.
If she’s not number one, she’s definitely in the top five. No doubt about it. “Escapism” has been my number one song for multiple weeks in a row.
I discovered RAYE when, on Instagram, all the members of Little Mix said My 21st Century Blues was an album everyone should listen to (there were fire emojis, so you knew it was good).
Any who, there’s more to RAYE’s debut album, My 21st Century Blues, than “Escapism.” I want to break it down track-by-track, while sharing my interpretations, because this is the most real, soulful, addicting pop album to be released in YEARS!!
Spoken perfection. Great way to introduce a debut album. Flows beautifully into the next track.
“Oscar Winning Tears.”
This song seems to be about a relationship with a man who consistently played the victim. She got tired of the man’s crap, and I think this is her way of expressing that. I definitely get this energy when she sings “no tiny violin,” which also immediately takes me to an episode of SpongeBob… and I don’t even like SpongeBob.
Between this song and the introduction, as well as the cover, I thought I was getting some sort of jazzy pop album. When the next track started playing, I realized how wrong I was.
“Hard Out Here.”
Initially, I thought this song was about being stuck in an environment of sexual or domestic abuse and mentally fighting until freedom came.
However, when I was looking up the lyrics for this writing, I realized this song was about her crappy Polydor Records deal and her determination to get out of a horrible contract.
No matter what, I think this is one of my most played songs because of the melody and how much they played with the production. It’s a song with consistent switches that flows beautifully.
“You start to wonder why I’m Christian
Without the Lord, I’d take my life for all the times I’ve been a victim
Oh, no weapon formed against me shall ever prosper”
My first time hearing those lyrics, tears came to my eyes. I had the desire to shout them from the top of a mountain and release pent up emotions.
The chorus always lifts me up after a bad day. When she repeatedly sings “Baby, I bounce back,” I fully blast it after a day full of numerous crying spells.
Again, when I was doing research, I found out it was about a time when RAYE’s drink was spiked. Initially, I thought it was about the mental abuse that can happen in relationships.
Honestly, this song had to grow on me. The production gives very much nightclub vibes, which I guess makes sense considering the context of the song. During this song, I had a lightbulb moment. When it comes to RAYE’s music, she creates the settings of the songs in the production, which I think is absolutely genius. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but it makes so much sense.
It kind of shocks me that a song about using substances to deal with heartbreak is one of my most played songs of 2023, but I swear I haven’t done that. The storytelling is just so freaking good in this song and talks about a time in RAYE’s journey that got her to where she is today, which is someone I enjoy.
I don’t think the song needs a feature, but since it has one, 070 Shake is perfect for it.
Sometimes, on the especially rough and lonely days, the chorus will bring me to actual tears:
“‘Cause I don’t wanna feel how I did last night… You’re askin’ me my symptoms, doctor, I don’t wanna feel”
Another beautiful-sounding song that low key gives me Amy Winehouse vibes.
This song is all about her relationship with various substances that have the ability to alter your perception, among other things. Yeah, definitely not a song I can relate to.
“The Thrill Is Gone.”
Most of the song is incredibly fast-paced, so it took my mind a minute to wrap my head around what was going on.
It took a few listens before I started to realize this song could be about how different a relationship actually is when the rose-colored glasses come off and the honeymoon phase ends. The person you’re in a relationship with turns out to be different from who you thought they were.
With the line “He’s a Leo sun, a Leo moon, and a Leo risin’,” it feels like RAYE is talking about a very particular someone. *insert eye raise emoji*
Also, the inclusion of the choir for the bridge = genius.
“Ice Cream Man.”
If you like to have your heart ripped out of your chest by someone else’s story of strength, this song is for you. It’s about sexual assault and RAYE’s retelling of things that repeatedly happened to her.
You can hear her healing as she sings the lyrics of this song, and it’s beautiful to witness.
She consistently sings about being a woman and not saying anything because women are often not believed when they report sexual assault. For some reason, society turns the perpetrator into the victim.
RAYE is for sure a brave strong woman.
“Flip A Switch.”
After flowing beautifully from the previous track, no matter how much I listen to this song, I don’t honestly know what it’s about. “Flip a switch” seems like a phrase with a simple meaning, but my brain that overcomplicates things cannot grasp it.
All I can really think about is hookup culture.
Yes, I cried when I first heard this song because ouch. Minus the marijuana use mentioned, this song is totally me and consistently activates the self-hatred part of me.
“How can I expect you to romance me, touch my body, baby?” is the same question I ask myself when I think about getting romantically involved with anybody.
It was genius (how many times can I use this word?) of RAYE to morph her voice during the chorus since it’s literally called “Body Dysmorphia.”
Ending with a child saying “I hope I’ll be pretty when I grow up, or I think I’ll be sad” struck a hard chord because young Jamilah used to tell herself the same thing.
This song simply points out facts about the 2023 state of the world, and with of it all happening at once, and progressively getting worse, it’s anxiety-inducing.
If you already have anxiety, don’t listen to this song. You literally have to be prepared to have your anxiety heightened. The production of this song, though perfect, aids in getting your heart racing. I was more than a little freaked out after hearing this for the first time.
“Five Star Hotels.”
Is this about an open relationship? A booty call? Those questions are the only thoughts that come to my head when I hear this song.
It almost feels like this song was made for the sake of being on the radio, ya know? Still, her tiny desk rendition is both beautiful and soulful.
Vocally, it holds the same powerhouse energy as “Oscar Winning Tears” but is about pursuing a new relationship. The production is light and airy, which is the feeling you have when someone new catches your eye.
Still, it feels like another song that was made for the radio.
“Buss It Down.”
The incorporation of the choir and harmonies is perfect for this repetitive song (but not annoying repetitive). It’s impossible to listen to this song without smiling. It feels like the happy ending or the start of a new chapter after working for so long to get the album out and to heal from trauma that’s happened along the way.
The spoken finale to a beautiful project.
I don’t know how long we have to wait for the next one, but I’m more than excited.
RAYE, thank you for being the brave voice of my generation and sharing our 21st century blues.
**Of course, I used www.genius.com to source all of the lyrics I used in this writing.**