With her new album, Better Mistakes, BEBE REXHA’s bringing it bigger and badder than ever before. Speaking to Notion, she lets us in on the process of creating club-ready dance hits and evolving her sound, as well as her stance on industry sizeism.
“I would show you me but I look scary, like really scary,” proclaims a familiar voice from behind the dark box of Zoom. A lie we know was told — and proved to be right. We smile back as her face appears. One word: stunning. The response: “How do I put a sticker over my face?” A mood for the past year. We begin recording.
In case you didn’t get the memo, Bebe Rexha is here to save 2021. The release of her new studio album, titled Better Mistakes, is a blend of punchy pop perfection mixed with the kick-ass rock and dance vibe that she’s become somewhat famous for. Y’know, the hit the back I’m about to start sl*t dropping at around 1am because your friends are ready to go hard on the dance floor vibe.
Thanks to the initial release of slow-jam “Sabotage”, bop-o-clock “Sacrifce”, and her smash-hit collab with Doja Cat: “Baby, I’m Jealous”, think of the Better Mistakes album as the older (and nastier!) sibling to the Gaga x Grande release of “Rain On Me” that we got in 2020. It’s actually one of the only things we got out of 2020 mind, but here we are. But Better Mistakes began its life way before 2020 even showed its face.
“I started this album years ago and went through a lot of different renewals. The first one was good, but was going towards this pop world that I didn’t want,” Bebe tells, a nod to the discarded work that didn’t make the grade. “I was working with the wrong people. And then I had an album that I stripped most of the songs off and started from scratch. I know my label was like ‘What the fuck!’ That wasn’t what I wanted. Then I had this pure and clear direction of what this album is about. I had a base camp of people who were the originals. We’d bring people on, like I’d feel I needed a ballad and would bring others to sessions to bring missing songs in.”
- Dress Olivier Theyskens
- Necklace Paco Rabanne
- Leggings Annakiki
- Bodysuit Annakiki
- Earrings Dena Kemp
And such a collaborative journey understandably brings the nerves: “I don’t want to be negative but I want to put my album out and just disappear. Not like to die or anything, but go to an unknown island and not have any technology so I can’t look at tweets or anything.” The mountain ahead seems steep. “Obviously you want your songs to do well and for people to like your shit. Like nobody ever goes with the intention of trying to write a bad song.”
Said in jest, but she has a point. This new outing follows a career of vast and varied work that landed Bebe one of the most viewed figures in music. She not only disrupts the market, she grabs Grammy nominations, and also sets the direction and inspiration for others. With almost 25 million listeners clicking play each month, average ain’t an option here. P.S… Remember that mention of “Rain On Me” further up the page?
“Damn, I also really wanted a dance song like “Rain On Me”. I really love that record, but my best friend Wilford said that I have never done a gay anthem for him that he wanted to dance to. He hates most of my songs. He just wants happiness. Diana Ross or old Mariah all day. So I agreed to do something like that for him.” We brace for impact thanks to the hate crime committed by Wilford’s words.
“The funny thing is that I’d written a song with U.C and Justin Tranter, with Justin and I doing lyrics. I started bringing in this kid Pablo (Bowman), he’s actually from the UK. I was in the country and wanted to go to the studio late at like 8pm. It was somewhere in Shoreditch in this little smallest cute place in a warehouse that was creepy,” laughs Bebe, before crediting her British teammate with time on new album tracks “Death Row”, “Empty” and “Baby, I’m Jealous”.
“So I go in to meet Pablo, we write, he starts playing something that’s super pop and I was like… No. I wanted guitars and elements that don’t feel obvious. Later on he texts me about a hook idea he did with Burns, who is a co producer for “Rain On Me”. Pablo sends me the hook of “Sacrifice” — keeping in mind the album is complete at this point — and it’s incredible! Who produced this? Burns. I had to do this song.” #Gagged.
- Earrings Delfina Delettrez Katkim
- Top Hogan McLaughlin
With the stars aligning and Wilford getting his desired gay anthem, the once revealed ‘dream’ collab with Kanye West has taken its place on the back burner — and it seems we’re OK with that, for now: “I don’t know if that will ever happen… I’ll be OK if that doesn’t happen. I don’t know. I am kind of indifferent about it now.”
Totally in our stride and feeling more like we are here to kiki with a girlfriend than interview with a music superstar, Bebe drags us back to her overwhelming and not-so-secret desire to spread joy and go out and dance, as she goes looking for an extract from a track that never was. It turns out “Me, Myself & I” with G-Eazy started its life in a totally different way to the one we all know, later cut by her US label as she embraced the arms of the UK music scene.
“So it was actually originally called “I Don’t Need Anything”, it was inspired by UK music at the time. I’d sent it to the label in the US and they said they couldn’t put it out. I’d do more dramatic dance songs and I love Sia’s songs “Chandelier” and “Titanium”. That’s the dance level I want.” We hold free as she furiously goes searching for that original demo — “I’m trying to find the fucking song for you, give me two seconds!” — before letting us hear what could have been.
As for the more personal touches this time around, this new incarnation does feature an insight into her personal life, including rather sound advice in title track “Better Mistakes”: ‘I should die my hair/fuck my ex/lose my phone/better mistakes’, she proclaims. “Literally, literally, literally. That is literally me,” she shouts in agreement with her pointed lyrics on how to deal with that ex who just won’t take a seat. “A writer said it should be ‘call my ex’. Sis, call my ex? No. Fuck my ex! We have to go for it.” We admit at 2/3 from the list. Bebe stares.
- Full Look Balmain
- Rings Djula and Anita Ko
While it’s easy to get lost in the new music vibes and to catch a ride on the wave of fun that is Bebe Rexha, she’s also simultaneously tidying up an industry that often aims to divide, not unify. She called out the bullshit from designers who didn’t want to dress her at the Grammys in 2019 because of her size. As she put it so perfectly on the night: “Yo, you wish you could’ve dressed my fat ass!”
“People are revolting. They’re like ‘Fuck the system!’ and I live for it. It’s nice and refreshing and brands and businesses are seeing what’s happening,” Bebe begins as she goes in with noticeable passion, soon referencing some of the changes she’s witnessed in rejecting body shaming and sizeism. “Even the trend of ‘I’m so fucking sick and tired of the photoshop’, and then it slows down and people are showing their stretch marks and under-eyes and pimples. I am living for that and see that becoming a thing with people becoming much more apologetic and comfortable in their skin. I want that to be cool!”
Sadly it doesn’t erase the hurt already caused to her mental health, as we see in a moment of refection on previous red carpet looks where the demons and pressures of the industry took over. For a moment, we pause.
“I can look at myself on red carpets and it makes me feel really sad,” Bebe states before taking a beat. “Looking at it, I feel the way I felt when I was there. I was at the American Music Awards and I was super anxious and having a panic attack because I felt fat. I looked back at the photos and I looked so ft. I was much skinnier than now and it’s fucked up. That’s why I only fuck with the people that want to fuck with me now.”
But is the industry even listening? Kinda.
“Obviously the higher brands are sticking to their same old shit, which is annoying,” Bebe dismisses. “Some designers, naming no names, their dresses might look cool but they’re dicks. When you put their clothes on, it looks like shit. But the Dolce & Gabbana stuff they send to me is fire. I’ve also been getting a lot more love and pieces sent that haven’t been worn before, which is always cool. Obviously there does have to be a few alterations to fit my butt!” Bebe laughs, circling back in on why others feel the need to comment so heavily on her body size.
- Jacket Hogan McLaughlin
- Earrings Messika
- Sunglasses Marine Serre x Gentle Monster
“I’m in the public eye. More people are going to look at me so I can’t complain about that. They want to look at something that’s pretty. But it comes to a certain point about if you’re happy with where you’re at. If you’re not, change it. Do what you need to do. If you’re considered a little too thick or heavy, who gives a fuck?
But it makes you feel like you’re not good enough because others don’t want to dress me as I don’t ft in their sizes. It does this fucked up thing to your head — that was the most heartbreaking. It says they don’t fuck with people who are heavier or past these inches or past this weight. HUH? What if you’ve got a rich boss ass bitch or guy who is thick as fuck and can buy the whole store out? You don’t want to dress them? You’ve got to be rich AND skinny? Naaa.”
And the church says amen.
Keeping the faith, Bebe wants the world to keep spinning forward. And while fame is a vibe all of its own, her achievements are undeniable. But what would the girl from album one think of the Grammy winner’s success now?
“Oh wow. If you told me, I wouldn’t believe you.” Humble in thought, she pauses. “I went on tour with Nick Jonas and his music director, his name was Cedric. Fast forward eight years, I went into rehearsals and I looked at my pianist who I knew but didn’t know where from. We sat down the other day and he asked if I could tell when I first met him. I didn’t know and so he told me it was from that Nick Jonas tour from the start of my career. He said to me: ‘You haven’t changed one bit. I wanted to see how this girl was and you walked in and it was the same person as I met before’.”
As for our question of the girl with the dreams of making it big… “Maybe she’d think it’s cool what’s happened to me.” Cool is certainly one word for it all.