The surging popularity of dating apps has changed the game for good, but its transparency means that certain people can’t participate—those that are particularly wealthy, good-looking and well-known. Could you imagine what would happen if Joe Jonas popped up on Tinder? Yeah, neither could he, which is why he joined Raya: the ultra-exclusive dating interface that screens applicants based on their social media presence, looks and notoriety (or lack thereof).
Much like the Soho House, whose mission was to create a members-only social club for creative types, Raya exists mainly for the alternative set. Would-be members fill out an application for the service after downloading the app, but they won’t get accepted unless they were referred by another current member in good standing. Even so, that alone won’t guarantee acceptance. According to the app, the committee, “is comprised of people from various backgrounds, geographies and creative industries… [they are] completely anonymous, so as to ensure each application is considered without exterior influence.” The main criteria for inclusion include: a strong Instagram presence, conventionally good looks, a creative position of some type and a friend already in the network. Jennifer, a 30-year-old senior fashion editor from New York, said she’s known people who were rejected. They don’t get a reason, and are left to wonder why they didn’t measure up. She said she’s been told the admission process is based on an algorithm that factors in your social media following and how many (and who) you know within the already established Raya community.
It’s the antidote to the other well-known elite dating app, The League, which garnered a lot of media attention but soon became a playground for more corporate types, like bankers or lawyers. Raya’s strategy was completely different: it launched stealthily in March 2015 with no fanfare or press, and has been notoriously secretive since then, operating by word of mouth and an aggressive, if quiet, recruiting campaign. Jennifer told JustLuxe that she was, “basically recruited to join. Their public relations people reached out to friends they knew would fit the profile, and convinced us to sign up.” Jennifer also noted other people recruited in the initial phases all had profiles like her: some degree of public recognition, a strong Instagram presence comprised of tens of thousands of followers, a creative job of some type, and they were all stylish and good-looking.
Celebrities are confirmed using verified social media accounts, so you know that when you come across someone on Raya, it’s the real deal. It also means that there won’t be a ton of spambots, flooding the network with fake accounts as other dating sites and apps have become famous for. It favors Instagram, in particular, as Raya claims, “it is by far the most creative and expressive network with wide adoption.” As another layer of security, the service also requires membership fees, which is $10 a month (or free, for certain high-ranking influencers). It’s “how [they] keep the lights on,” and also ensures their sleek design will never be polluted with advertisements, viewed as a cheapening of the user experience by the company. Of course, this also filters potential members who wouldn’t be able or want to pay to use Raya.
The benefits are obvious, but if you’re not particularly in the public eye, why bother joining? It seems that the privacy controls are attractive to all members, regardless of status. Liz, a 29-year-old music executive in Los Angeles, told us she, “doesn’t use other apps because I don’t really want to be ‘out there’—the industry is large but intimate in L.A. I feel like with Raya, it’s exclusive and private enough that I won’t run into everyone I know, including my exes.” Both she and Jennifer noted that the “quality” of men they come across seems to be better than more traditional dating sites. They also both noted that because of the exclusivity and social status of some of Raya’s members, people can come across as very self-centered. “Yeah, the dating pool is more attractive, but the guys on there are also pretty self-involved,” Jennifer said. Liz echoed this sentiment: “It’s a higher caliber of men, though some are clearly self-centered and ‘too pretty.’ There are some seemingly normal, cool people too, I think.” Liz also was careful to note that she’s not looking to match with a celebrity or model, in particular, but that it’s fun to see them on there, for the, “entertainment factor.”
As for who’s on there, well, it runs the gamut. Liz said she’s spotted Olympic snowboarding champion Shaun White, comedian Dane Cook, DJs Diplo and Skrillex, Country music pop stars and actors John Cusack and Alex Karpovsky. Jennifer also saw Diplo, but surmises that certain people on the app might be paid to play. Being in media and a social media influencer herself, she’s skeptical of the organic participation of some people on the network. She’s also seen actor Elijah Wood, model Noah Mills, and musicians Josh Carter (of Phantogram) and A-Trak. Elsewhere in the news, it’s been reported that Raven Symone, Kelly Osbourne, Nev Schulman and Moby turned up too. It could be debated that some of these people aren’t technically in creative professions, but it doesn’t hurt Raya to have anybody firmly within the public eye participating.
The design interface is yet another way that Raya differs from every other dating app on the market. Jennifer likes that every profile is introduced with a short video or slideshow, set to a song of the person’s choosing. “As someone who’s very into music, I think it says a lot about a person. It’s a more creative way of learning it, rather than just reading a list of bands someone listens to.” Users must “heart” each other’s profiles to open up a text window. While you can view members’ Instagram accounts through Raya, you can’t comment or like unless you’ve both “hearted” each other.
Raya’s exclusivity is attractive at the moment, Jennifer says, but she’s unsure of the app’s future. Like all things involving celebrities and influencers, it can get quickly saturated, over-exposed and plus—these are innovative, on-demand people. They’re constantly looking for the next big thing and get bored easily. This could be reflected in its usage: data–market intelligence data company Apptopia says Raya’s average daily users have dropped by 50 percent from March to June 2016. Something else interesting to note is its international presence: while 50 percent of downloads are in the United Kingdom, 90 percent of the revenue comes from the United States, illustrating the value American influencers have to the future viability of the app.
Jennifer and Liz both communicated that they don’t rely on Raya to find dates-at the time of interview neither of them had ever met someone in real life that they matched with on the app. They use it mostly for curiosity and entertainment, and don’t expect to find their future husbands by using it. Since the interview, however, Liz decided to go on her first Raya date. How did it go? “It went REALLY well,” Liz shared. “He didn’t have tons of pictures in his profile, but he’s a photographer and his pictures were mostly of his art, which is very good. He’s extremely interesting, smart, sensitive and spiritual and we had the best time. We’re already texting to meet up again. Honestly, I'm glad I know that this app actually has guys who have their stuff together and are very smart, successful and talented.”
It’s a curious world we live in where those who seek the most attention also try and find ways to evade it. At the very least, it’s a fascinating peek into the psyche of those in the public gaze, and where they prefer to draw the line in their personal lives. Whether their Instagram accounts are carefully-curated snapshots of a life potentially exaggerated or a true-to-life photojournal of someone’s day-to-day, everyone participating in Raya agrees that some things aren’t suitable for everyone to see.