Inside the secret world of Raya, the dating app for celebrities

It’s been a little over a year that Raya—a dating app that caters to celebrities, personalities and various arts, sports and media figures—launched. Although it was shrouded in secrecy for a while, it is slowly becoming known as the digital matchmaker to the stars (and semi-stars and/or their hangers-on). Fervently keeping itself on newsfeeds, Raya members such as Raven Symoné, Kelly Osbourne, Skrillex, Courtney Love and Quebec hockey champ, Derick Brassard, have recently been outed for advertising their lonely hearts on this app.

Jesse Johnson, son of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson—and brother of Dakota Johnson—was one of the secret elite that helped launch the app, which describes itself as “an exclusive dating and networking platform for people in creative industries.”

While his sister, Dakota, says she can count on one hand how many times a man has approached her in person, the 50 Shades of Grey star refuses to join. During her press tour for How to Be Single, Dakota was supportive of her bro’s endeavours but is keeping it at arm’s length. “I have no idea how it works,” she says. “I refuse to be a part of it!”

She may be in the minority. Mashable recently reported that digital dating has nearly tripled in the past three years for people aged 18-24 and according to a study by PEW Research Center, about 80% of the study’s respondents agree apps and sites are a good way to meet people. A whopping 62% trust these technical cupids to find better partners.

With the oversaturation of online dating hubs, Raya does stand out as the virtual Soho House of apps. You can’t simply join; you must be approved and referred to by another Raya member. A committee oversees applicants and includes your Instagram following and social media numbers as criteria.

Rory Uphold, the star of HelLa, a YouTube series she writes, directs, produces and stars in, says her Raya experience is worthy of a season of scripts. “I’m not going to lie, the men are hotter, for the most part, but when you get that many inventive or famous people who are looking for love in one place, things can get pretty interesting,” she says. As an influencer of sorts—HelLa has been watched by more than 13 million viewers—Uphold says she’s in job-researching and love-searching at the same time.

“I have enough fodder for at least a year’s worth of jokes and I’ve been introduced to people on this that are in the same lane I am in so it can be seen as a networking experience too.” The fact that profiles include a music selection that soundtracks an array of curated photos under your name is enough to gag at. “I avoid anyone who has acoustic guitar,” says 33-year-old Nasty Gal editorial director Tiyana Grulovic. “I can take Drake or The Weeknd as a theme song, but I won’t want to talk to you if you chose a Jack Johnson-ish track.”

Uphold’s whole M.O. is about keeping it light and funny. “I saw a guy use an Enya song for his profile and loved it,” she says. “I’ve also been known to keep texting someone—even if they don’t respond.”

Another difference surrounding Raya is that someone is watching you. “I got a warning after I took a screen shot of a certain mutual friend—it was weird,” says Uphold.

While many feel the internet and the tech revolution has provided us with this great inclusive utopian space—a place where everyone should be treated equally—Raya, and apps like it are bringing a “you can’t sit with us” divide to the fold.

“The beautiful thing about Tinder, OkCupid and Bumble is that they are very egalitarian, but there has always has been a sexiness in exclusivity. It’s human nature. People find things they can’t have to be super sexy—this includes networks. Raya champions that. I wanted to join because I heard this guy from Game of Thrones was on [it].”

At the end of the day, if you are accepted into the Raya tribe—just like any other dating app—there is certainly no promise of a George Clooney-Amal Alamuddin Venetian wedding after you’re tapped out. “You’re not going to find the love of your life on Raya,” says Grulovic, “There are so many shirtless bros and actor guys looking for something else… but there’s nothing like swiping right or left at people like Joe Jonas, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Zach Braff and [Full House‘s] Bob Saget. It’s hilarious.”

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