Pop stars’ CVs don’t ordinarily come as impressively varied as Bebe Rexha‘s. As a teenager the Brooklynite, born Breta Rexha, won the title of Best Teen Songwriter at a Grammys competition. Aged 20 she started a ska-rock band called Black Cards with Fall Out Boy‘s Pete Wentz. After that came to an end, in 2012, she penned hits for Eminem & Rihanna (‘The Monster’), Selena Gomez (‘Like A Champion’) and Nick Jonas (‘Under You’), and in 2014 began releasing her own material to complement her burgeoning songwriting career. Four years on, with cosigns from Quavo, Cardi B and G-Eazy under her belt, the 28-year-old is finally set to release her own debut album, ‘Expectations’. NME caught up with her a couple of months ago to find out what to, er, expect.
‘Expectations’ is quite a loaded title. What does it mean?
“Oh man! I just think life is very unexpected. You expect to fall in love this way, to be successful this way… this is how you plan your life to go – you’ll get married and have kids and this and that – but life is always kinda like: ‘Na ah ah, I’m going to do it the way I want to!’ It’s good to keep your expectations kinda low so that you never know what to expect, and just go with the flow.”
It follows two quite different EPs – what can we expect from the album?
“Everything that’s ever inspired me and that I’ve put out – I think it will all make sense. The first song I put out on Spotify or on any streaming services was ‘I’m Going to Show you Crazy’ – it was like this pop/rock song and I was touring it on Warped Tour. It was all these rock, emo and screamo kids, and this was a pop/rock record based on mental health care, really raw and in-your-face. Later, I slowly went into dance records, and then did the G-Eazy song. So I’m taking all of my favourite things and combining it so that people understand how that all came from me.”
Quite an eclectic album, then?
“It feels cool, it’s eclectic. I take ’90s guitar sounds that I love – I was inspired by No Doubt – and then I love hip hop music, but obviously I’m not a rapper. So I thought: ‘How can I combine that with urban and rhythmic?’ So I took rhythmic drum patterns and 808s and put them underneath a cool guitar, and just write super-real songs on them.”
Speaking of hip-hop, you’ve got Quavo guesting on ‘2 Souls on Fire’. How did that collaboration come about?
“We met at the VMAs. I was like: ‘You’re amazing, I wanna work with you, I’m down’. One day he was in LA – I was like: ‘Let’s write’. I had this guitar loop going, and I suggested we write to it. I didn’t know if he would because it’s so different for him – it’s ’90s rock guitar, a riff – but he just started singing.”
What’s he like as a collaborator?
“He’s incredible in the studio. He’s a genius. He’ll go in the booth and come up with 8,001 ideas in, like, two seconds. Incredible. He writes the verse in his head, it’s so quick, and everything is phenomenal.”
You’ve done lots of collaborations across your career – is there anyone you really want to collaborate with in the future?
“I don’t know, I feel like if I say it it won’t come true. But I’d love to collaborate with Lauryn Hill.”
She’s one of your all-time favourites?
“Yes. Her music just makes me feel better, it makes me feel something just beyond. It makes me feel something deeper in my soul. That’s really hard to do sometimes with music. There are certain songs – like you’ll listen to an opera song, or certain sad songs – and they get to you.”
What’s your favourite Lauryn Hill song?
“There are so many! I love ‘Zion’, just because I love the story it’s based on. How real and true that was. I can’t imagine being pregnant at the height of your career, and people telling you that. I think that song is epic.”
While we’re discussing collaborations – what was it like being in a band with Pete Wentz?
“It was a really cool period. I learnt a lot about music and the entertainment business, and myself. I learned about how much I was able to push myself and what I was capable of. I definitely learned a lot from Pete – I remember when I first went on the road, I didn’t know how to even talk onstage, I was freaked out. I would just watch Pete, and he was so incredible at banter – so funny and so personable.”
“During interviews, the same way, he was just so good at what he did. You could really connect with him. It was like a training period for me. I was glad I was in that situation. If I was in any other situation – like if it was like a girl group or something that was too glossy – I wouldn’t have so much depth, because I feel like I learnt a lot from him in that world.”
Are you still in touch? Would you collaborate with him again?
“Yeah. I have a love/hate relationship with Pete because of Black Cards. I was really sad – I didn’t want it to end. It was really sad, but the managers told me – they were like: ‘This is not going to work out any more’. I was mad at him, I was like: ‘Why can’t he just tell me himself?’ But then now we see each other all the time, and it’s like: how can you hate Pete?
I love him so much, and I see him everywhere. I saw Fall Out Boy at this charity event for all of the survivors of the school shootings – we did a charity event for them – and I watched him perform. It was such a cool moment, because they’re epic. It made sense – I think he was just trying to do something different with me, and I was so young and dumb. So when I saw Fall Out Boy, I was like: ‘This is who he truly is, and this is his element’.”
Did you think Black Cards was going to last forever?
“Yeah, I felt I was going to break out on the scene and it was going to be a one-take thing. Like: ‘Oh, this is so easy’. But no – it’s not. It requires a lot of work.”
But it’s helped you get you where you are now?
“Yeah. I respect him. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him.”
You recently held a dinner for women in the music industry, right?
“It was called ‘Women in Harmony’. I don’t know, I just feel like nobody ever does anything for girls in LA, especially in the music business. It was basically just a dinner to celebrate women in music who can write songs and sing. So many people showed up, it was cool – like Avril Lavigne and Ester Dean and Charli XCX and all these massive songwriters. It was really cool.”
Did anything big go down?
“I did do a speech, but I don’t know what I said, I didn’t practice it. I was like: ‘We’re all bad bitches’. I was in the moment. It was cool – I was really nervous though, I wanted everyone to be happy. Have you ever hosted a dinner or something? I wanted to make sure everybody got food. At one point it got so packed because I didn’t expect so many people to show up. I had no more room at the table, I had to pull chairs out and give up my seat.”
You’ve written songs for big names like Rihanna and Nick Jonas. What’s it like giving songs to other people as opposed to releasing them yourself?
“A lot less stressful. You write the song, but it’s not going out under your name. When you put something out under your name, it takes a lot of time and work to really promote it. But if the song fits for either me or another artist, it’s fulfilling in both ways. It really is.”
How does it work?
“It changes. When we did [Florida Georgia Line collab] ‘Meant to Be’, it was originally a Florida Georgia Line song. That’s why it’s a pop-country song. I wanted to write it for them, that was my mindset, but the song was so great and I felt so connected to it but I had to put it on my EP, because it’s too special.”
‘Expectations’ is released on June 22.