“Music was always my true self. It was the angst inside of me, this thing that wanted to jump out to come out of my skin. “
It’s been a long day. I have a call in 30 minutes with Bebe Rexha, but I’d rather lay on the sofa watching Real Housewives Of New York, roll up a spliff and have a glass of wine. Instead, I prepare myself for another interview that I’m dreading because I’m worried it’s going to be with another hot-shot, too-cool-for-school musician. When I do a quick Google search of her, she is absolutely beautiful. My husband looks over my shoulder at one point and asks, “are you doing a feature on a model?” I roll my eyes and tell him to go back to his New York Times article. Like I said, it’s been a long day; I’m a little cranky.
On the surface, my Google search relays a series of images of a beautiful dark haired girl. Is she an Iranian princess, an heir to an oil fortune, married to a Russian billionaire? Through the baubles, red lips, eyeliner, fur and perfect clothing, you might get this impression. A deeper search and a listen to her music revealed a lot more. For one, she is a hit maker. I’m sure you have heard the massive hit “Monster Under My Bed” written by Bebe and pushed to the top of the charts by Eminem and Rihanna. “Monster” sold over 2,200,000 copies digitally and after debuting at number one on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart, proudly settled there all summer long. Now it seems you can’t turn on the radio without hearing Bebe’s vocals crooning in the background, providing ample base and melodies to all the massive hits. Currently, she is at the top of the Billboard Hot Rap Songs charts with G-Easy for their smash hit, “Me, Myself & I.”
Bebe has clearly broken free of any one hit wonder stigmas with features on hits like “Hey Mama,” a David Guetta and Nicki Minaj hit record, Cash Cash’s “Take Me Home,” Nico & Vinz’s perfect day-after-the-party anthem, “That’s How You Know” and by writing a slew of other hits for artist including Madonna, Tinashe and Selena Gomez.
When she is fronting her own songs, Bebe is honest and tortured. “I’m Going To Show You Crazy” is a deeply personal insight into her life growing up first generation American. The video shows a leather jacket clad Bebe sitting at a table surrounded by pastel-hued preppies with berating voice overs, “Bebe, you’re a disgrace,” “Your music is awful,” “This young lady is a major disgrace,” “Wash your hair!” “Reform school!” All things she might or might not have heard growing up, but to the listener, it’s like uncomfortable reading someone’s journal full of beautiful rebellious poems.
“I Can’t Stop Drinking About You” is a writhing love-sick anthem dedicated to a love that she can’t get over and opens up all the old wounds I’ve ever had. She makes music that you can feel, cry, dance and laugh to. There is something about her expression that really taps into your head in a therapeutic way.
When I call Bebe Rexha, she is in the studio per usual. Her mom is in town visiting. She has just gotten a text from her ex and is a bit on the heartbroken, maybe even distressed, side. She puts me on hold for a moment and finishes up the end of a song. Through the Skype call, the reverb of her booming voice comes through the speakers, and I literally get chills. She sounds epic.
When she comes back to the conversation, she sounds tired, and for a minute, we try to make small talk before we both sigh and laugh at the all the formalities. Then it’s like talking to an old friend. We have a lot in common, but furthermore, Bebe is so open. We spend the first 30 minutes talking about boys and heartbreak and general life struggles but still feeling blessed. It’s hard to believe that she is still considered an emerging artist after years of successful songwriting, but with her debut album out this year, Bebe is finally coming into her own, continuous hit singles and a series of projects that are sure to make her a household name, Bebe has found her spot in the limelight.
What was it like growing up in New York first generation Albanian-American?
It was amazing. It’s a beautiful culture. There is so much positivity to it. It’s all about family and loving and taking care of people and putting others before yourself. I’ve taken a lot of those qualities. It’s tough in any culture I feel like, especially in my culture, women are kind of second rate. Your parents are immigrants; they come from another country, so they live in a lot of fear. They are so scared of anything to do with the outside world or the beliefs. So, I’m a girl who is going into the music industry – it freaks them out. My parents still freak out. Especially being a female in Albanian country, where we are a little less respected than men. It’s sad, but it’s more than me breaking out of Staten Island trying to be an artist, it was a girl who had to break out of all that she knew in her culture, her family, her upbringing and also out of Staten island. All my life, I was told to not speak when men were around. We would have dinner parties, and men would eat first, and a lot of that stuff influenced me.
To me, it was breaking through that to myself. Because I was decided, I can’t be scared for the rest of my life and be worried about what these people think. When I did that and fully went after my dreams, that’s when my parents starting believing in me, and that’s when things started falling into place and making sense. It was terrifying. My parents on one side of the spectrum, the music industry on the other side, and I had to meet somewhere in the middle.
It was scary, especially being a first generation [American] Albanian female. For a guy, it’s okay to go out and be promiscuous and open businesses and try new things, and the women are staying at home with kids. It’s been tough, and it still is tough, but I just keep going. Music in my passion, and I can’t allow fear and old ways of thinking to slow me down. They want to stick to what they know and they live for other people’s approval, and I can’t be happy like that.
Culture is a beautiful thing. It makes us who we are. I can’t blame my mother for being scared of me being in music and thinking it’s the devil’s playground… because it’s what she knew! Once we know that everyone is harmless and mean no harm, and people just want to be loved and be accepted, we found out no one is to blame. People are ignorant to a lot of stuff in the world, but fear will hold you back. I was always a scared girl: I never had sleepovers, I didn’t speak unless I was spoken to, and never kissed a guy until I don’t even want to say when. To be where I am now, I’ve come such a long way. I have to push to that next level for myself and other women around the world.
It’s such a juxtaposition to hear you were shy and had all these issue because your music is so strong, was music your alter ego?
Music was always my true self. It was the angst inside of me, this thing that wanted to jump out to come out of my skin. It was all this frustration even up to today, just peeling back and allowing me to be this true person i always was. The world society always builds these layers around you to be its peeling the layers to who i want to be and who I am . you can call it an alter ego when I go onstage, but for me i just let go and it’s the realest me, it’s the hardest part to get to.
How do you stay grounded as an emerging artist?
It really is about the song and the honesty that comes with the song. It’s so small, it’s just the song. I try not to let all the other shit get in my ear, People will come in and tell you what they want you to be, but just allowing myself to be free and fearless and focusing on every song is the key. If you think small it’s how you get passed all the bullshit.
What was it like watching “Monster” become a massive hit?
I’m so weird. It was an incredible moment, and I was very excited, but I was so numb to it all. For me, I got excited the moment when wrote the song in the studio. When it got popular, I was just like, “cool!” but I just want to do more. I wanted to write another song. It was an incredible moment – it changed my life; it helped people respect me in the music industry. But it’s so weird when people ask me how did it feel. Like how did you feel from going to having 200 dollars in your account to all this money? I don’t even know how much i have in my account, and i just don’t care. I just want to get to the next thing, the next record. I’m on this movement, this mission… and not get caught up in the fame.
What about “Hey Mama?” Was that another ‘OK cool’ moment?
It was funny. David [Guetta] played me a beat and said “I really want a hook to this,” and it was a joke for me. Let’s just make a song that sounds like – I mean, I don’t even want to say. It was so not over thought, so chill. We wrote it in like 15 minutes.
How come you weren’t in the video?
The reason I wasn’t in the video was because previously I wasn’t featured on the song. Industry bullshit got involved and blah, blah. I just told David, “hey, this is my life, this is my passion. My passion is being in the studio, being onstage and changing people’s lives, and that is the greatest thing for me. You know the high of being on stage, you know what it takes.” I mean, I started at 14 or 15, grinding in this industry, and he understood. They shot the video at that point and put me on the feature later. So he pulled his weight and worked it out. I got to the IHEARTRADIO thing with them, and that was cool. It’s all good. I was in an Uber today and “Hey Mama” played, and I was like fucking around, “Is that Nicki singing the hook?” And the cab driver was like, “no it’s Bebe Rexha.” I was like OMG. That was amazing.
Do you have any power mantras?
My friend recently texted me because he knew I was going through a breakup and all these changes, and I told him I was having a hard time and he wrote me, “No what a powerful time it is for you. You can choose to see any period of your life as something negative or as a gift, because people, things, and relationships leave to make room for the blessing waiting for you.” So I just tell myself, things in life will change, things will not always go the way you want them to go, but you can choose to see things as negative or you can chose to believe there is something greater than you that is making room for better things. I also tell myself, “in the end, things will be okay, and if it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.” That one really helps me.
What was it like being in Black Cards with Pete Wentz?
It was hard, honestly. I was 19 or 18. I never traveled the world. I was so sheltered, and then all the sudden, I was thrown in this world. I was a young girl, insecure. Labels are telling me I need to get in bootcamp shape, and I wasn’t there yet. That really fucked with my image, like “am I fat?” It taught me a lot about the music industry. Pete taught me so much. It was tough; it put me in a bad space after. I thought everything was over. I learned how to be a fighter. Shit, I traveled the world; I wrote over 60 songs; I was with my band every day, music executives, music managers, labels, then BOOM, it was gone. When it was over, everything disappeared. It was the darkest period of my life. I remember I was in my parents house for a year straight, crying, sad and having panic attacks. Then I made a makeshift studio in my parents house. I spend 16 hours a day learning how to write and produce. I sat there every day, day after day after day. I probably wrote so many shitty songs. It taught be I really fucking love what I do. I really love music. The music business hasn’t always been the nicest thing to me, but it’s that like that saying, “everything that you love will hurt you.” You just have to choose. If I had to choose anything, human or non human, it would be music any day of the week.
Now you are headlining the Warped Tour!
That was incredible. I still have a long way to go. I don’t worry about the money, worry about the fame, worry about anything. I just want to freaking write songs that I love and songs that make people forget. Just that 3 minutes 30 seconds to forget the pain. We are all going through some sort of pain. We are all going through something no one knows about. We all get our hearts broken, are all going to our prayer closet to cry and pray and hope for better days.
The thing is this – I can’t promise anyone happiness, but I can promise escape for 3:30 in that song, and if I can do that, I’m happy. I’ve gotten that from Tracey Chapman, Lauren Hill, Bob Marley, Coldplay and Kanye records. What music gave to me, I want to give to other people. Life is short. I just want people to have a good time through my music. Maybe you want to party, or it may be a sad song, maybe an anthem, whatever it might be, I don’t want to put myself in a box anymore. I just want people to have an amazing time and enjoy their lives. I don’t want to be a gimmick. I just want to write the music that I want to write and hopefully people love it and if it helps them. That’s all I can do. It’s all about the music and the message. When you see the greats, Madonna, Michael, Prince, there is so much more so than just the gimmick. They aren’t empty vessels; they are light. That’s what I want to be.
Sleeveless Plaid – Bishop + Young. Jacket – Danielle Leigh Davis. Shoes, Hades Footwear . Belt, English Clientele.
Jacket – JoyrichLA. Skirt – Danielle Leigh Davis. Rings – Mishka Piaf . Shoes – Emmett Boots
Tunic Top – Pride Clothing. One piece Body Suit – For Love And Lemons . Rings – Amanda Marmer / Mishka Piaf. Cuff – Amarilo. Shoes – Hades Footwear
First look: Body Suit – Nastygal . Nose Ring – Amarilo . Nail Rings – Amanda Marmer. Rings – Amanda Marmer
photos / Angelo Kritikos
styling / Wilford Lenov
makeup / Ashley Bourdon
story / Koko Ntuen