Stuart Worden reflects on former student Raye's career and record-breaking impact at the BRIT Awards

Stuart Worden reflects on former student Raye's career and record-breaking impact at the BRIT Awards

Ahead of the BRIT Awards on Saturday (March 2), BRIT School principal Stuart Worden has spoken about the success of former students this year including Raye.

The ceremony takes place at The O2 and airs at 8.30pm (March 2) on ITV1, STV, ITVX and STV Player.

“We have two that have done really well, that's Raye and Olivia Dean,” Worden told Music Week. “I think we have 10 [former students] overall, there’s some songwriters in the mix. I don't keep track of whether that's a record or not, but I know Raye’s [nominations] are a record.”

Raye has seven nominations (it is indeed a record result) at the BRITs and she has already been honoured with the Songwriter Of The Year BRIT Award. She will also be performing at the ceremony.

“She rang me a couple of weeks ago – she still calls me ‘sir’ even though I tell her not to because it’s embarrassing!” said Worden. “She said, ‘Sir, I've got some really great news, but I can't tell you what it is’. And obviously it was the seven nominations.”

The nominations for Raye help to shine a light on the BRIT School in South London, which is free to attend.

“I remember her very well, we're still friends now,” said Worden. “It's a good moment for us and amazing for her.”

“She's very BRIT School,” added Worden. “By that I mean she is independent, literally. She writes songs that mean something to her from her own experience. She is the kids’ favourite here at the moment. You go into any lesson – it doesn't matter whether it's music, musical theatre, maths, history – and she's their girl. I think it’s a combination of those songs and her sense of self.”

Raye’s Escapism (feat. 070 Shake) was the third biggest single in the UK’s year-end chart for 2023. It has sales to date of 1,466,682, according to the Official Charts Company. Escapism and multiple sped up remixes have collectively amassed more 1.3 million TikTok video creations.

Music Week spoke to Raye’s team at Human Re Sources and The Orchard (part of Sony Music) last year ahead of the launch of her debut album, My 21st Century Blues. The album peaked at No.2 and has sales to date of 71,685.

My 21st Century Blues returned to the albums chart at the start of the year, following the screening of Raye’s September 2023 Royal Albert Hall show on BBC One in early January.

“I was at the Albert Hall Show,” said Worden. “I looked around and saw all these young women there [who were thinking], ‘This is our voice, this woman is singing about stuff that matters to us’, whether that's body image, harassment, lack of confidence, or looking for sisterhood, And I love the fact that she's a Croydon girl, I'm glad that she came here [to the BRIT School].”

Worden also recalled a show in December 2022 where he even offered some advice. 

“I got lucky and saw her at Koko on one of those wonderful The Other Songs nights,” he said. “She did Escapism in the first half. And then she came up to me in the interval and said, ‘What do you think I should do in the second half? I've got one of my own tunes or the one I wrote for Beyoncé?’ So I said, ‘Why don't you do the Beyoncé tune [Bigger] just because that shows that you've worked with other artists’. She did perform the Beyoncé song in the second half, so oddly she did what her teacher advised her to do!”

She always wanted to be a pop songwriter and to write big songs, and I'm pleased that she's done that

Stuart Worden

Raye has visited her former school in Selhurst, Croydon to meet students as she’s been navigating her career in the music industry.

“She came back in 2019, she was one of our keynote speakers with a young filmmaker and actor called Percelle Ascott, they were in the same year together,” recalled Worden. “Percy has gone on to make a ton of movies, he has been in Doctor Who and a whole bunch of telly and he’s got his own production company. I rang both of them hoping one of them would say yes, and then they both said yes. So they were our keynote speakers to inspire the younger years in  2019.”

Raye returned to the school in 2022, just as she was going independent in partnership with Human Re Sources and The Orchard on artist services and distribution for this debut album campaign. It followed a long run of hit singles as a Polydor-signed artist. Raye also has a long-term partnership with Warner Chappell.

“She came back just when she was cooking up the album to talk to the music students,” said Worden. “She's very interested in talking about mental health. She was always in love with the song, the idea of the song and the song being the thing.”

“When she comes back, I think what the kids love about her is that she comes here with no entourage," he added. "She comes dressed like one of the students, she doesn't put on airs and graces. There's no media with her. I would say they really identify with that.”

While the BRIT School has become associated with successful pop acts, Worden said that Raye was actually a bit of an outlier among the general student population.

“She was always in love with the song and pop songs,” he explained. “With a lot of the kids that come here, there are more students like Black Midi in the sense that they are quite experimental, they're quite contemporary. But she always wanted to be a pop songwriter and to write big songs, and I'm pleased that she's gone ahead and done that.”

Worden also praised Olivia Dean, who is up for three BRITs following the release of Top 5 debut album Messy (EMI).

“I’m delighted for Olivia,” he said. “I remember teaching her when she was 15. She was a fantastic kid, ludicrously hard-working. And I think that Messy album is a really good piece of work.”

As well as having alumni as successful BRITs nominees, the BRIT School’s current students will be getting involved in the show and marketing campaign.

“I think we've got 400 kids going – that's quite a school trip to organise,” said Worden. “We’re helping with some singing in a choir. The year before last we were dancing with Little Simz, and the year before that we were part of Stormzy’s choir. Years ago we were Kylie's backing dancers, so we’ve come full circle this year.”

BRITs sponsor Mastercard’s advertising campaign features creative works from 14 current BRIT School students selected for their interpretations of Mastercard’s sonic brand in a range of mediums, including interactive digital design, dance, music, visual arts and fashion. The students’ work will feature in 14 idents throughout the live awards show broadcast on ITV and throughout the O2 arena, as well as across Meta, TikTok and The Guardian.

Two female sound engineering students at the school have been given a chance to work on the sound production at the BRITs.

“It gives them a crack at becoming part of the industry,” said Worden. “The BRIT School has been involved in changing the talent pipeline a bit over time. That's part of what we're trying to do here.”

Click here to read our BRITs 2024 preview. 

PHOTO: Callum Walker Hutchinson


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