Bebe Rexha wears her heart on her sleeve. With the confidence she exudes, it’s easy to think that she’s unafraid to share her thoughts and feelings at every turn, but she’s quick to admit that being open and vulnerable is scary but necessary. “Every time I go in the studio, I always get so anxious,” she candidly shares. “I have the worst anxiety ever, and that’s why it’s really important with who I work with. I have to feel like I’m safe.”
She splays out all her anxieties, insecurities, emotions, and everything in between in all the music she creates and in every project she takes on. Her authenticity comes across no matter what she does — even down to her social media posts that find her makeup-free, chilling at home, talking to her fans. Her new album, Better Mistakes, which was released May 7, once again puts the New York native’s raw feelings at the center. Half of the album includes features with artists across genres, including “Break My Heart” with an assist from Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, “Die For a Man” with Lil Uzi Vert, the 2020 release “Baby I’m Jealous” featuring Doja Cat, and more, with the other half being pure, candid Bebe Rexha.
Rexha is no stranger to collaborations, having worked with the likes of G-Eazy, Nicki Minaj, Louis Tomlinson, and Florida Georgia Line in years past, the last of which even earned her a Grammy nomination. But while Rexha’s list of collaborators — before and on Better Mistakes — is stacked with talent, she won’t work with just anyone. “I love collaborating because I love taking my vibes and mixing it with somebody else’s ‘cause I feel like that’s what makes the most interesting stuff,” she says. “But I have to like their work, or their voice, or something they’ve done. And I just love the energy of collaboration. It’s so much more exciting when you’re performing a song with somebody else on stage.”
The features on her album add depth to each song and bring out Rexha’s talent for tapping the right creators to collaborate in a way that lets everyone shine. Rexha is just as stellar as a solo artist as she is a collaborator, and you feel it through every track on Better Mistakes.
It’s been a journey, to say the least, getting from Rexha’s debut album Expectations in 2018 to Better Mistakes in 2021. Her new album was originally slated to come out last year, but when the world was sent into COVID-19 lockdown, her release plans changed and so did the album.
“It’s half of what it was,” she says. “The problem with me is when I write something, I have to put it out. If I sit on it, I’ll start changing it and making 10 different albums in one.” The result of the changing and rearranging is Better Mistakes that starts with “Break My Heart Myself” and ends with a touching tune called “Mama.” What falls between the two is Rexha’s story. I ask her to talk through a few of the tracks when we chatted over Zoom one April afternoon — me on my couch in New York City and her organizing her makeup in her home in Los Angeles — and she tells me that my favorite song on the album, “Death Row,” is one that she loves but almost left off the final tracklist.
“I just started second-guessing myself, but I love that song,” she says with a laugh, adding that she is a fan of the song’s throwback vibe, which is why she ultimately kept it. “My friend Pablo [Bowman] did the guitar part and sent it to me. And the second I heard that I was like, ‘Oh my God, I fucking love this.’ I love the way the structure is not an obvious pop structure.” She waffled on including the song but ultimately added it, allowing it to provide something a little different among the rest of the songs. And while it slots in nicely with some of her other edgier tracks, it’s a contrast from two songs that are tributes to her parents, though Rexha admits that the last track on the album — fittingly called “Mama” — is not one that her mother actually likes.
“My mom hates the song,” she says. “But my mom’s super safe and doesn’t like me to say anything bad about myself or her or anything like that. But she knows that it’s all love. It’s just the music.” The song, which is rich with an orchestral fill and touches on the difficulties of growing up and feeling a little bit fucked up, came quickly. After calling her co-writer Brian Lee at 7 in the morning on his birthday, Rexha found out Lee had an idea for a song. The two went into the studio right then and put the song together, just like that. Though it changed from the original early-morning writing session to what we hear on the album now — the original had a Kurt Cobain lyric that she wasn’t able to get clearance to use — she loves how it came out. “It’s cinematic!” she says of using it to close the album.
For her dad’s part, Rexha put her own spin on “That’s Amore,” the 1953 Dean Martin track that happens to be one of the elder Rexha’s favorite songs. “I grew up listening to that song; my dad loved it so much, and he would always sing it,” Rexha shares. “So when I played [my version] for him the first time he was like, ‘Wow.’ He doesn’t understand the lyrics like that, English is his second language, but he was like, ‘Wow, this is so beautiful.’”
To make the nostalgic song her own, Rexha tapped Rick Ross for a feature, knowing that he would smash the difficult rap. “I wanted Rick Ross on it because it’s actually a really hard time signature,” she says. “The way the production is to rap on it, so many rappers actually can’t rap on that. It would sound weird.” The waltz-like time signature, set up in a three-beat sequence rather than a standard four-beat sequence, provides a challenge for some, but not for Ross. “He killed it,” she says with a laugh.
Spliced in with these tracks are more songs that touch on angst, insecurities, and, ultimately, love. As any talented artist does, Rexha grabbed pieces of her life for her inspiration, including calling out shitty people who wronged her, like in “My Dear Love,” a song with a clear message about removing people from her life. She says this track stems from being in situations where she let her guard down, in relationships, friendships, and in the industry, and ended up “fucking angry” with how she was treated.
“I don’t like when people say things about me or gossip about me,” she says. “And when I hear gossip come from other people in the industry, it’s like a fucking high school. I get really annoyed, especially if it’s not true. It fucking makes me angry and I don’t appreciate it. ‘Cause I’m the type of person that if I ride for you, I ride for you, and I’ll die for you.”
And this is what Rexha is all about — she loves hard and takes care of her people. It’s part of her brand DNA and comes through in social media when she hypes up the people she loves, in her performances that she dedicates to her fans and everything in between. She has a sharp tongue but only uses it when necessary and lets her lyrics do the work. The gritty honesty in her music is a mainstay from her early years, and though her style is constantly changing — she says she eventually wants to move away from pop completely — her vibe holds true.
Rexha can trace her musical roots back to her teenage years, where she was even in a band at her New York high school. But despite the years of success since — including chart-topping hits, iconic performances, collaborators with music’s best, and countless award nominations — Rexha still feels like the same girl as always.
“I feel like I’m still that same old person inside,” she shares. “No matter what, I feel I always try to run away from my anxiety and that side of me. I still feel like when it comes to that part of me, I still feel like the same person.” But even though she feels much the same as she always has, she admits that she knows she’s grown up, she’s hardened a little bit from the industry, and she’s become happier with herself. Now her anxiety operates as a tool in her artistry, though it’s ever-present in her life. It’s not something that everyone is willing to openly talk about, but Rexha sees no other way to manage it. When in doubt, she puts it into her music.
“I like to write about real things,” Rexha says. “And a lot of people don’t like or they just think I’m too dark or whatever.” But when music is supposed to be personal and dig deep into your own soul to tell a story, it makes sense for Rexha to include it when she writes.
It’s also a topic, in general, that’s important for her to discuss, especially when others don’t want to. This month, Mental Health Awareness Month, Rexha teamed up with Pinterest to share more on her own mental health journey and how it’s inspired her work. As someone who has always been outspoken on the topic, she’ll continue that discussion throughout the month by sharing Story Pins about her struggles in an effort to destigmatize mental health and continue the important conversation.
Pinterest has long been a place for aspirations and positivity, which is why this partnership was an easy yes for Rexha. She shared in a press release that she wants her fans to practice self-love because it’s “more important than ever before.” For her own self-love, she tells us she makes sure to take time for herself every single day, no matter how busy she gets. “Whether it’s working out, cooking dinner, driving to a coffee shop, or meditating.” she says, adding, “It’s important to talk about it and keep it a topic of conversation because so many of us struggle in silence.”
Another important topic that Rexha makes sure to talk about is body positivity. As a proud curvy Albanian-American woman, Rexha has been outspoken about the discrimination she’s felt, not just as a celebrity, but as a woman, period. Though the body-positivity movement has become a hot topic in society these days, there are still toxic undertones and gatekeeping of who’s more body positive and who’s allowed to speak on the topic.
Rexha doesn’t mess with any of that and instead invites her fans to relish in their bodies, no matter what anyone is saying. Her desire now to live authentically and enjoy how she looks stems from a dark place, though, where she constantly felt bad about herself and how she looked. She shares that there were times in the past when people in the industry said they wouldn’t work with her if she looked a certain way; she even famously called out designers who wouldn’t dress her for the 2019 Grammy Awards because she wasn’t a sample size.
“I always wanted to be that perfect, pretty, fit, skinny girl,” she shares of her years of struggling. “And I always felt like shit on red carpets. Even when I look back on stuff now, I know I look fucking sick and amazing. I look amazing! But at the time, I felt not good enough on every red carpet.” She got to the point where she decided enough was enough — she’s not a perfect little pop girl, she’s not perfectly polished, and she’s not going to fit that mold. And it was upon that realization that the weight lifted from her shoulders and she was able to settle into owning her curves and being damn proud of them.
“We want people to like us and think we’re good-looking, but I don’t give a fuck as much anymore,” she says with sheer determination and a bit of an aloofness. “I’m not starving myself, and if somebody has a problem with that, I’ll be like, ‘Okay, well then fuck you, I’ll find somebody else that wants to work with me just the way that I am.’ I’m not dealing with that abusive shit anymore.”
It can be so incredibly hard to stand up for yourself, especially if you’re a woman and especially if you’re a woman in the public eye, but Rexha knows her fans look to her for that strength. She even started a social media trend while promoting her song “Sacrifice” last month that called on her fans to share videos and photos of themselves wearing whatever makes them happy and loving their bodies unabashedly. It’s this relationship with her fans that makes Rexha more than just an artist, but also an icon.
Bridging the gap between herself and her fans on social media has been hard for her, though, she admits, while she hasn’t been able to play any live shows. Though she stays connected with them online and has done some virtual performances, it’s not the same, but she announced that with the release of Better Mistakes, she’s also playing a real show. It is still virtual, but she promises the May 20 show is an actual production.
“I have some really cool people joining me,” she teases of the show, hosted by Veeps. “I’m so excited about the setup, and we’re putting a lot of planning into the actual staging and what it looks like. It’s really edgy, it’s really cool, it’s really high energy.” She’s planning to have a live band with her, and while it’s still not quite the live show she’s dreaming of, it’s so much closer than anything she’s done in the past year. “This is like a fucking show, like bam! Lights, set changes, sick outros, intros, full band, it’s sick.”
Rexha will play Better Mistakes in full during the livestream, giving us a preview of what an upcoming tour might look like. With how excited she is to perform, I already know the show is going to be a good one. Or as Rexha says, it’s going to be sick.