Nominated for two Grammy Awards of 2019; Best New Artist and Best Country Duo/Group alongside Florida Georgia Line for their collaboration, “Let It Be;” Bebe Rexha is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
Sophie Chung sits with the honest, humble and beautiful Bebe to delve into her history, pain and working process for this issue of M2woman.
It must have been overwhelming to soar to the top of the charts in the overly competitive music industry, can you tell us about your journey to this point, how your song was picked up and how it impacted your career?
It was more like a slow flip, slow motion flip. I started with music really young and I loved it and I would song write at home sometimes. It was always like a dream thing. My parents would always be like ‘Oh, this is a dream. It’s not a real thing.’ And then I picked up the trumpet in junior high school and then by the time I got to high school, I started singing and writing songs. I started using Myspace to write songs and meet producers and collaborate. I was so obsessed with it, I loved it and didn’t want to stop. I even skipped graduation and the prom because I was busy in the studio writing, it was my love.
It was at that time that I ended up meeting Pete Wentz, who was part of Fall Out Boy and I got signed to a record deal but we made really s**t music and I ended up getting dropped. In that period, there was a lot of emotions for me because I had worked hard to get anywhere near a record label and then getting dropped was very devastating because I was young and scared and I was told if you get signed and dropped, you were tainted and nobody wants to touch you.
So that’s when I got super disappointed in the world and what my dreams were. That’s when I had written The Monster in that headspace. After it had come out, people talk about that moment but there was so much more moments before that. Thousands and thousands of songs and sessions and hours of driving, bus rides, train rides, walking through the snow and just so much hustling, just to get to that one point.
How many years was that?
I would say that I was serious about it from when I was 16, 17, 18, 19, 20. At 21 I was dropped. I had a record deal at that point and I had recorded hundreds of songs, I had recorded 60 for one album I did. Then I had written The Monster a year later so I had seven years in the music business by then. I was signed when I was 19 and I got dropped when I was 21.
When The Monster came out, it was really life changing for me in a sense where I was taken more seriously as an artist and I didn’t know how much that was going to give me leverage for doing what I wanted as an artist. And that’s really important because at a certain point, if you don’t write your own songs, you have to hit the lottery in a sense.
It’s a luck thing, as well. There are so many talented people who write, that are not the greatest and they just get lucky. So it changed a lot for me. People started noticing me and respecting me.
How did that get picked up?
It was shopped to an A&R and he must have heard it and liked it, which never happens.
And once it came out, was it all go after that?
I was always going but it allowed me to be in better sessions, write with better producers and writers. Which, in turn, makes your music better because you are upping your collaborative team members.
It seems clear that there is almost a brutal honesty and unfiltered rawness in your lyrics that successfully expresses the last romance rejection and pain from your personal experiences. What are your policies when it comes to your lyrics and the messages in your songs and the creative process of your song writing?
My songs come from a very real place. For example, I’m a Mess was based off a real situation. I had gone through a really bad time, my heart wasn’t broken but I was more disappointed in a situation because I really fell for a guy. I go through a lot of anxiety and depression and I feel sometimes when a relationship doesn’t work out, it feels even heavier and I just feel like a mess overall.
That situation, that song was very honest and real. I want to be truly honest of who I am and I think that if I’m speaking my truth, that’s what matters. But I understand that people also look up to me, but my mom didn’t like the word ‘therapist’ in there, the lyric ‘that’s what my therapists says’. She didn’t like that but I put that in there anyway because it’s real.
I think for me it’s about just writing about honest things that I’m going through and it’s never being filtered. If it goes obviously too much, we’ll pull back but when we write the song we’re completely unfiltered and then we can go back.
The process is fairly easy. For example, the song Grace on my album, I wrote it while I was taking a bath. I have a recording of it on my phone and it is literally just me speaking the lyrics to myself and you can hear the bath water running. It was because I was seeing a guy and he was checking every box that I ever had; he had made money and had a nice car and treated me well. But there was something that was not right about him, we didn’t connect. It was really, really, really hard for me to let him go. It was a really hard thing for me so in that moment, I was thinking about it a lot and I just wrote the song.
Songs come to me in such weird moments. Sometimes I’ll be thinking about something that really bothers me and I’ll write it down in my phone. Sometimes I’ll think about it so much and when I get to the studio, it’ll just pour out of me because I feel safe and I can tell the people that I’m writing with. But the most important thing for me is being real. I couldn’t sing something fake.
Do you get highly strung or stressed out during the songwriting process or does it just flow out of you?
I have moments in the studio that are very emotional. Sometimes I overthink and I do get highly strung in the studio. Before to went to go write Meant To Be, I was freaked out because I didn’t know who Florida Georgia Line was and I’d never worked with country people before so I was a mess. I was trying to leave the studio, I was having a panic attack. Then when I let go is when the song finally comes together, it works its way.
How would you describe your sound?
I would say pop/rock with rhythmic undertones in the beats and honest lyrics. I was inspired by being in the country world, being in Nashville so I like how they’re so honest and raw with their lyrics and everything is straight to the point.
So I use a lot of that writing, a lot of storytelling. I love guitar sounds from when I grew up, like No Doubt. I love those sounds so I wanted to make the guitar prominent in the album. I wanted prominent guitar and I wanted some ballads that are with piano, because I love piano too. So I just wrote really honest songs and then I put a lot of guitar sounds.
In some of the songs, I went a little heavier on the rhythmic undertones because I love hip hop and I love grooves. I’m Albanian and I’m from New York City so I thought it would be really cool instead of going into a totally urban headspace, where everyone is at right now, to incorporate what inspired me when I was younger which was the pop/rock stuff. And then not alienate what’s hot right now, which is rhythmic and urban undertones kind of underneath because I thought that would be a cool mix. Even with 2 Souls on Fire, I was in the studio and we were working on that guitar ad-lib and then Quavo [of Migos] ended up coming into the studio and they were like ‘Oh, should we remake a beat?’ And I was like ‘No, put him on this one.’ I just like doing stuff like that, mixing weird stuff.
Who are your ultimate idols?
I love the Fugees. I love Lauryn Hill. I love No Doubt. I love Alanis Morisette. I love Destiny’s Child. I love Kanye West.
A lot of those females are very strong and they say what they want. Like Alanis Morrisette, she just says it however she wants to say it. With Lauryn Hill, she’s a female and it’s obvious in her records, but there is a sense of masculinity and being a female too within that. It’s kind of like she’s in a very centred space and I really like that. They’re not scared to say what they want to say.
With Kanye West and the Fugees and stuff like that, they’re not scared to take risks and I like that. They just do whatever is cool and fresh. I would go in the studio with a jazz artist or a flute player, or anybody that I think is inspiring to me. I would go in with an orchestra and take their sound and chop it up and do something different and really cool. I like that about them, they would do the same.
You’re a 28 year old female in the pop music industry. Did the experiences and maturity that you’ve accrued work in your favour for your debut album in such a male-dominated industry, when it comes to songwriting in particular?
Yeah, I’ve always been that way. Growing up in New York City and growing up in the music business, you have to either play the game and be a girly-girl and flirt and not be scared. I grew up really conservative so I grew up being very masculine and strong in the music business and very mature from the start because I didn’t want to be taken advantage of.
I wanted to be respected because a lot of times females can be taken advantage of or they just play the game. But I didn’t want that to be the case with me. So when I go into the studio, I’m very much ‘The Boss’ with ten guys in the room and they all listen to me.
Alongside Dua Lipa and Rita Ora, the female pop world is being led by Albanian female musicians. Do you have any comments about this?
There’s something in our blood. I think it’s really awesome because in our culture, when I was growing up – it’s changed obviously – women were always inferior to men. I wasn’t allowed to sit at the dinner table with guys, all the men eat first and the women eat last.
I don’t want to speak on their behalf because I don’t know [their experiences], but for me speaking as an Albanian girl, by the time you’re 18 or 19, you’re married. One of my cousins, who’s my age, already has four kids. So I think that for all of us that have gotten this far, for me personally, it’s a beautiful thing and it just shows their strengths for breaking those boundaries in a sense and not just sitting in the room getting married off.
So it makes me really proud that it’s not just three Albanian men, it’s three Albanian women and that is something really beautiful in a sense. Growing up, I always felt really scared by being judged by the people in my culture, because being in the music business was kind of looked down upon and not a good thing.
So it made me really sad sometimes when I would go out to family gatherings and I could see people looking at me a certain way because that was not a respectable career. It’s like being a doctor, or a lawyer, or being a house mom. And I was in music. So to make a long story short, I’m proud of them.
Will you do a world tour including New Zealand for Expectations?
I’m probably never going to come back to New Zealand again [laughs]. Yeah, I’ll probably be here for a world tour, hopefully. That would be so much fun.
Where to from here?
Going to work on some more music and shoot some music videos. Working on some other collabs which is really exciting to me. And working on new music, because that’s all I do. As for the new sound, I don’t know yet. You’ll have to find out.