EDM and mainstream pop music have been having a musical love affair over the past couple years. Electronic music began by slowly started working its way into the radio airwaves, playing to the background of power vocals such as Lady Gaga and Rihanna. The worlds became ever more intertwined. By 2012, Usher was collaborating with David Guetta and Rihanna with Calvin Harris. These were the first movements that eventually helped pave the way for national awareness and enthusiasm for EDM. Growing and expanding from its European roots, electronic dance music has taken a foothold in the culture of America and spread to the rest of the world. International artists like David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Zedd count themselves among the handful of DJs, songwriters and producers that are working across this musical spectrum of electronic, dance and pop genres. The next big name in this arena might be singer/songwriter Bebe Rexha.
Bebe Rexha is what some would easily call the full package: she’s written international hits like “The Monster” for Eminem and Rihanna, performed vocals for Cash Cash, and collaborated with DJ superstar David Guetta. Artists like 25-year-old Rexha are further solidifying the natural relationship between catchy pop vocals and lyrics with the heart-thumping beats of electronic dance music. You already likely know her from her hit “I Can’t Stop Drinking About You,” blasting across the radio and top 40 countdowns worldwide.
Breaking into the EDM/pop scene isn’t easy, and once you’re in, having the natural talent and skill to succeed is even harder. Taking a look back, Bebe Rexha might have been an unusual bet as someone to have a music career. Rexha grew up in an Albanian American family in Brooklyn, New York. Surprisingly, her family showed no particular inclination, interest, or talent in music.
“Nobody in the family was musical, nobody liked music. Listening to 80s music and Albania music. Musically my parents looked at pop music as a bad thing,” she commented.
Her family lacked the funds to pay for her to attend singing or piano classes so she instead listened to songs on the radio to learn about music. Rexha loved to be the center of attention from a young age, even trying to steal the spotlight from her brother on his first birthday. With this bold energy and fearless attitude you could say she was destined for the stage. Always wanting to sing for people and with a natural love for music, she defied those around her who said she wouldn’t be a good musician and learned what she could on her own.
Eventually by the time she was 13, she’d gotten ahold of her first instrument: a trumpet. This experience learning to work with and play a trumpet would teach her how to create melodies, as the trumpet plays the lead melody in a band. Developing these unique melodies became a passion of hers that would ultimately help her music and song writing career.
Rexha also spent time writing short poems at a young age, which she would then turn into songs. At the National Recording Academy there was a Grammy Foundation that put together a contest asking teens to write and submit their best song. Rexha was, at the time, part of a female pop group and submitted one of her songs. Amongst the 700 applicants for “Best Teen Songwriter” she found her name being announced as the winner. That was when the moment clicked – she could really do this.
In high school, Rexha was something of an outsider, excelling in academics. She was part of the honors program and spent time hanging out with the school counselors, a group of adults in their 30s and 40s, because she thought the other kids were “boring.”
She was a good student with a consistently high GPA. Her parents never asked when her report card was coming out or what her grades were because they already knew they would be good. In addition, she was, of course, a self-proclaimed theater nerd. Her love of music continued and she won an award for “Most Likely to be Successful in Music.”
Rexha then spent a little over a year in college before dropping out to pursue her own music projects. The gamble paid off.
Since then she’s written hit songs for like number one Billboard Top 100 hit “The Monster” for Eminem and Rihanna and sang on Cash Cash’s song “Take Me Home.” She’s opened for Bruno Mars, Usher, and Bon Jovi. Chart-topping major hit? Check. Plans to keep creating electronic dance hits? Check, she’s currently collaborating with David Guetta.
Today she still draws on her Albanian heritage, infusing her music with drums and heavy beats. Rexha feels strongly about her own music, “When it comes to my own artistry, like the stuff on my album, it has electronic components to it. It can actually surprise people and it’s some very artistic stuff, but still some love for my electronic music is in there.”
Rexha has a natural stage presence and loves performing more than writing. The first major festivals where she performed were Lollapalooza in Chicago and Hard Rock Calling in Hyde Park, London. The headliner of Hard Rock Calling was Bon Jovi, drawing a massive crowd of over 60,000 people. As an opener for the festival facing such a massive crowd Rexha was scared out of her mind. “I had never seen a stage that big in my life. The stage was ridiculous. I thought I would be able to run around the whole stage and that I was superhuman,” she remembers.
The world of music festivals is still somewhat new to her. “I know I was late to the game. I never even knew what festivals were because my family was immigrants and I never had friends who went to festivals. I just never knew about them till I performed at one and it was this whole other world I never even knew of,” she says.
Of course, in typical superstar fashion her first festival experience as a fan was completely surreal. She recalls, “I went to Ultra Music Festival to see Swedish House Mafia for their last show and it was insane, it was the first festival I went to as a fan. My manager took me along with his friends — mansions, boats to a yacht with model chicks, yachts to behind VIP with golf carts to our seats.” Their night ended with over a 100 bottles of champagne for their group, which could not all, understandably, be drunk and which they generously showered all over the crowd.
The turning point in her career where she realized that she had “made it,” so to speak, was taking off on a flight to another performance. She was always terrified of flying, having a panic attack each time she flew. It was during all these crazy flights, she found herself getting her first record deal in conjunction with her constant flights every other day, which subconsciously linked the two.
“Every time I’m in the air I get really emotional and every time I’m in the air I think about what I’m doing — and I’m going to the next show and jumping from state to state and jumping from plane to plane – but it is all these times to me that are a reminder [of my success],” says Rexha.
Since then she’s gotten used to her fears of flying since she travels so much. She is forever thankful of her fans: “The fact that I get to go and do these shows and people actually come out and sing my songs – and especially when I see people sing my songs and that know all the words that is something that is so amazing to me.”
When it comes to her craft, her raspy vocals exude a sort of trap-pop harmony. Listeners are drawn into her sultry looks and emotionally infused vocals. She loves dance music and incorporates electronic sounds into many of her tracks. “Sometimes people are not sure of what they want till they hear something new and different,” she says.
The music landscape is tricky and she wants to make sure she is doing her part to push and evolve the sound of electronic music. She feels that artists or bigger names that want to collaborate often want to follow and develop something through their methods and in their style.
“I understand that’s what makes them “them,” but a lot of them get stuck in the Dark Ages and I’m very clear when I talk to them that they need to be innovative and fresh – not only for the people, but for me as an artist since we’re collaborating. I need to feel somewhat inspired by what we are creating and feel that it is something new and different,” she comments. Amen sister, amen.
She brings out raw emotion and draws from darker experiences, in many of her lyrics. Her latest single she just dropped, “I’m Going to Show You Crazy,” shows a range of internal and external battles she is fighting. The lyrics play out:
“There’s a war inside my head sometimes I wish that I was dead, I’m broken,
So I call this therapist and she said girl you can’t be fixed just take this,
I’m tired of trying to be normal,
I’m always overthinking I’m driving myself crazy,
So what if I’m ****ing crazy,
And I don’t need your quick fix,
I don’t want your prescriptions,
Just cause you say I’m crazy,
So what if I’m ****ing crazy,
Yeah I’m gonna show you”
Her music has a purpose to showcase struggles and bring a new sound to evoke a different type of emotions in her listeners. Always pushing the boundaries, she feels that, “If we are creating something that has been done before then I don’t really feel like we are changing the world and I feel like we are doing it for the wrong reasons. I feel like we are doing it to fit radio or fit in what we think people want.”
Her latest song is her favorite and the song she would pick if she could only choose one to play. “It’s like my life anthem. It’s one of the most pure songs I have ever written in my life about me,” she says. This song has an aggressive, powerful sound that is delivered with such purpose you feel the “crazy” coming out in each beat.
“There’s something amazing about song writing, its great, but when you see people performing your song and they’re singing it to you live while you are singing, there is no feeling like that,” says Rexha.
When it comes to the eternal debate of whether electronic dance music today is noise or art she is conflicted. “I do feel right now that EDM music is in a little bit of a crisis because we are all chasing mainstream and when you are chasing mainstream you are already too late.” She respects artists like Skrillex, Guetta and Zedd who’ve created original distinct sounds and styles, drawing on a variety of different genres and incorporating a range of techniques.
In the end she feels that, “If a lot of people want to dance there will always be a form of — electronic dance music will never die and it will just transform and change.”
Having recently moved to Los Angeles, Rexha is just getting started and not planning on stopping anytime soon. Propelled by her recent release of “Gonna Show You Crazy,” she is on track to have an unstoppable 2015. She hopes to do major festivals again, like Lollapalooza, in addition to her own tour, dropping new music, and producing new music videos.
She can’t deny her recent success, but is even more optimistic about the future – and so are others. She recounts, “I think the 2015 year is my year. I had this Buddhist guy walk up to me, grab my hand and tell me 2014 was not my year and 2015 was my year – and I kind of believe him.”
Written by FestPop Staff Writer Sarah Chorey
& Interview by FestPop CEO/Founder Scotty Moore
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