Bebe Rexha | Prestige Hong Kong (Dec 17)
A meeting with singer Bebe Rexha convinces zaneta cheng that in spite of the challenges of the 21st-century, the American Dream is alive and well. PortraiTs by until chan
Consider Bebe Rexha. Born Bleta Rexha to Albanian parents in Brooklyn, New York, Rexha grew up consuming the brash, unapologetic glitz and glamour that typifies America’s music industry, watching her favourite artists belt out chart topper after chart topper at award ceremonies like the VMAs. Many of them – Mariah Carey, Kanye West – came from humble backgrounds and worked hard to rise through the ranks to global stardom. For Rexha, for whom creating and performing music was therapy throughout high school, this was something she wanted to be a part of.
When I meet Rexha, it’s in a Landmark Mandarin Oriental suite before her performance in the annual Landmark Boutique Boulevard extravaganza, and she’s well on her way to turning fantasy to reality. She’s reclining against the velvet sofa, her bottle-blonde wig is perfectly in place. Her arched eyebrows, painted beige lips and flawless foundation are impeccable, plucked from current stateside beauty trends, such as matt lip kits and contour.
All this immaculate grooming is topped off by a tight-bodice tropical number with velvet platform sandals – a 21st-century manicured package of youth, familiarity and sex appeal. If I squint, Rexha is a dead ringer for a Kardashian sister.
Underneath the grooming, however, is a girl with talent and a seemingly bottomless reserve of grit to make it all happen. It’s good PR for the land of opportunity. Young people can still see their dreams come true in spite of adversity, which, according to Rexha, is simply what you make of it.
“I always loved writing music, but I didn’t take it very seriously until I was signed to a record deal and got dropped,” she says. “I knew I had something special in my songwriting, so I was like – you know what – nobody’s picking up my calls since I got dropped, I’m just going to write songs and produce them and vocal edit them and I’m going to collaborate with anybody I can find.”
Collaborating with anybody she could find has put her on a trajectory with privileges open to very few. From penning Eminem and Rihanna’s “The Monster”, and songs for Selena Gomez, as well as for up-and-coming artists, she’s traversed genres as a writer and has continued to do so as an entertainer, avoiding the one-dimensional marketing exercises that artists are often forced to participate in.
“People in the music business like to put you in a box,” she says. “It’s easier for humans to have somebody to describe them as something. That’s never been me. I’ve worked with David Guetta – that’s dance. Now it’s Florida Georgia Line, which is a country collaboration. I’ve also done hip hop.”
Rexha’s smart enough to know that this sort of freedom largely stems from her ability to both write songs and perform them. “I think being a writer allows me to be ubiquitous, be everywhere and not have any boundaries,” she says. “It all works in a weird, crazy way because I’m writing all these songs. It just works.”
Bleta, in Albanian, means bee – hence the stage name Bebe. Rexha certainly works as hard as the fuzzy pollinator but for all her openness to collaborate with any type of artist she also possesses the fearlessness to insist on operating on her own terms.
“Writing for myself and for other people is exactly the same,” she says. “I can never say that I need to write a song for whoever. It’ll never come out. ‘The Monster’ was from a quote I found off the internet. It was something like, ‘We stop looking for monsters under our beds when we realise they’re inside of us’.”
“This was right after I was dropped and I was finding it hard to accept the fact that I got dropped. I didn’t really like myself and thought it was something that I did wrong or that I wasn’t a good enough artist. The song is really about accepting yourself with all your imperfections and that insight stuck.”
So, who is Bebe Rexha? According to Rexha, we’ll have to wait for her new album to find out. I hazard a guess that new record labels are all waiting in line. “Well it’s funny,” she says. “Now these labels are all like, ‘We want you to work on the next album’. It’s gonna be kind of dark but very relatable, and it gives you hope.”
There’s no fear now – certainly none for monsters, because there’s nobody if not Rexha who has transmuted that terrifying mangled face of failure into success. “I think I’m very unapologetic,” Rexha says. “I don’t follow rules. I do it because I just do what I want. Fear is fun because I will do the thing that scares me the most.
“And I think that’s who I am – fearless, unapologetic and a renegade and disruptive.”