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Raye at the O2 Arena review: this hometown victory lap sets the bar for live shows

Jean Yuzheng Zhang/@jeanyuzhengart (RAYE)
Jean Yuzheng Zhang/@jeanyuzhengart (RAYE)

‘What the f**k!?’ was the first sound we heard from Raye yesterday evening at the O2 Arena (March 15). It’s a question that perfectly summarised how the rest of us felt by the end of the night.

The 26-year-old south Londoner made history last weekend at the 2024 Brit Awards, becoming the most decorated artist in a single ceremony with an almighty six wins. The only downside to her record breaking achievement? The added pressure to wow during her hometown victory lap. Fortunately, she achieved this within the first three minutes.

The show, titled My 21st Century Symphony, is the magnificent, orchestral adaptation of Raye’s Album of The Year-winning, Mercury Prize-nominated debut record, My 21st Century Blues. Close to a hundred people filled the stage behind her, in part made up of The Heritage Orchestra conducted by Tom Richards, as well as the powerhouse choir, Flames Collective. Tiered over seven levels and against a cascading white backdrop, those in the front row may as well have been staring at the gates of heaven.

Following her apt opening expletive, Raye opened the show as she opened her album, with a jazz club style introduction, followed by first song Oscar Winning Tears. There was no gentle warm up. From the off, Raye took us on a tour of her celestial vocal range. ‘I’m a drama queen!’ she warned, taking a breath before reaching a note unimaginable to us mere mortals.

 (Jean Yuzheng Zhang/@jeanyuzhengart)
(Jean Yuzheng Zhang/@jeanyuzhengart)

She performed her debut album in full, with a few tweaks to the order (moving her biggest hit, Escapism to the encore) with the addition of her viral D-Block Europe and Cassö collaboration Prada. When it came time to perform Ice Cream Man, a deeply personal song with an emotional backstory about sexual assault, Raye sang through tears while the rest of us sobbed with her. ‘This song doesn’t get any easier to sing,’ she confessed, adding: ‘It reminds me to be strong.’

For the penultimate track, Buss it Down, she invited the audience to join the choir, too, dividing us into four sections and teaching us to harmonise. Throughout the night, the audience’s intense connection to what was happening on stage never faltered.

There are shows, and then there are shows; this sold-out, full to the brim gig at the O2 falls into the latter category. The combination of a Blues-meets-R&B album, Raye’s divine vocal ability, gospel choir, and 50-piece orchestra, resulted in a glorious experience that has set the bar for live performance. I’ll call it now, my money's on Raye for the next Bond soundtrack.

‘My wildest dreams are coming true before my absolute eyes,’ she said, taking a moment to reflect. Raye is an artist who has got back up every time life, and the industry, has knocked her down. Her win at the Brits was not just a win for her, but a win for underdogs everywhere on the brink of letting go of their dreams. We’re all rooting for Raye. And if last night’s gig is anything to go by, every bit of her success is deserved.