Photo courtesy of Warner Records
Bebe Rexha On 'Better Mistakes,' Working With Travis Barker & Her Dream Collaboration
Bebe Rexha has never been averse to sharing raw emotion. But with Better Mistakes, her second album, she dug even deeper.
"I was coming to an acceptance of myself and being like 'This is what I've gone through, this is who I am,'" the singer/songwriter tells GRAMMY.com over Zoom from her home in Los Angeles. What that meant, Rexha says, was dissecting her mental health issues further and admitting her self-sabotaging and jealous tendencies.
But Better Mistakes came with some familiarity, too. Rexha, who's found a handful of hits with everyone from Florida Georgia Line to The Chainsmokers, wasn't shy about having a cohort of collaborators on the 13-track record. Everyone from Doja Cat to Travis Barker are featured on Better Mistakes. And as always, Rexha's explosive vocals dominate the album, which oscillates between pop, hip-hop and rock.
To mark the release of Better Mistakes on May 7, Rexha spoke to GRAMMY.com about working with Barker, mental health and the hardest song to put on the album.
What was the process of making Better Mistakes like for you?
It was a good two-and-a-half, three years ago. I was going through the phase of accepting myself and all the things that I was going through, but I'm still a bit unhappy with myself as a person. And I got into the studio with Justin Tranter, and we just started writing. He makes me feel really safe, and he just told me, "Let's write about real things that you're going through, jealousy, mental health, your body." That's what we did.
You've always been brutally honest in your music. How did you take that to a different place with your new LP?
I mean, I didn't really. I've always talked about my mental health and the struggles that I have with myself. But then I feel like getting to a point where we're talking about self-sabotage and then actually being jealous of other females. I feel like that's another step.
I think there are levels in life and things that you go through, and it was just things that were coming up. I was dealing with not accepting my mental health diagnosis and new things that were coming up in my life, and then that's when we wrote "Break My Heart Myself." And I was coming to an acceptance of myself and being like "This is what I've gone through, this is who I am."
I get jealous sometimes. I'm not what a normal, hot girl should look like in terms of size. I have a mental illness; I deal with it constantly. Sometimes I am my own worst enemy, and we were just talking about things that I was actually just dealing with and things that I was just trying to come to accept.
What was it like for you when you finally got the proper mental health diagnosis?
When I got my diagnosis about being bipolar, I kind of knew all my life that there was something not right with me. [Doctors] were always kind of like, "Oh, anxiety, depression, anxiety, depression". Like, is there ever going to be an end to this?
And then there were moments of clicking. I would go to an industry party, and it's kind of good to be seen and kiss babies and hug people. However, when I would go to these things I would just feel so stressed and so anxious I couldn't do it. I couldn't even get ready. That's when I was like, "Thank God I have people helping me get ready because I could never do it myself—like, ever."
I have a very hard time leaving the house. And when I finally figured out what my diagnosis was, I kind of was upset and angry because then I felt kind of embarrassed. I was like, "Is there something wrong with me?" Because there's such a stigma behind mental health and mental illness, I was kind of embarrassed and then I was kind of like, "No, I'm not going to be embarrassed or victimize myself."
And that's when we wrote "Break My Heart Myself." People think it's about love, but it's actually not about love. It's a song saying I've already broken my heart so many times by self-sabotaging [and] being in situations where I couldn't control the way that I was feeling, and I don't need anybody else to come into my life — whether it's a hater, a lover or a friend—I broke my heart.
So, it's kind of anthemic and empowering: I don't need anybody to hurt me, I've done it myself.
For "Break My Heart Myself," you collaborated with Travis Barker. Was that a way to pay homage to your days in Black Cards with Pete Wentz?
Yeah. For me it's like, I was always such a fan of Blink-182, but I feel like the true artist in me is that girl. Sometimes I battle wanting to make songs like that and just being that girl fully. But then, I feel the stress of having hit records, what pop music is and what's selling is constantly a battle within myself.
It's a lot of stress to be successful and to stay on top. So, my favorite song on the album is definitely "Break My Heart Myself," and it just felt like the most me. I wanted another element, and I thought that he would be perfect for it, so I asked him. Working with Travis has been very eye-opening because he comes to set and will literally play the drum part over and over.
Travis does not complain, is kind and every time he plays the drum and his part, he f**king nails every [time]. He does not miss one kick drum, one snare, one cymbal. He just f**king loves it.
That leads to my next question. Listening to the runs and some of the sounds on the record, did any specific rock albums or artists influenced Better Mistakes?
Yeah. I love The Killers, obviously Queen. More currently, Twenty One Pilots. I grew up listening to a lot of No Doubt. I listened to Aerosmith, Nirvana and Led Zeppelin, but I also listened to a lot of Lauryn Hill. I love The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. I'm also Red Hot Chili Peppers obsessed. I love having a sheen of some type of rock somewhere. That's what really makes me happy.
You recently addressed being sexually fluid. What made you want to talk about that now?
Because I've been super-honest more than ever. There's nothing to hold back. I feel [freer] to be myself because I feel like I've come to a certain point where I'm not worried if people don't accept me or not because I'm lucky to have had some success and I feel that I can be myself fully.
I already have my fans who love me, and I know they always got my back. In the beginning, you get kind of scared, you don't want to be judged. But now I'm just 100% myself. This is me with all my imperfections.
There's obviously a lot of power that comes in owning your mistakes and I feel like that's something that you've always done. Why is it important for you to write songs about that?
We all make mistakes, and when I was younger I was like, "I can't wait to grow up, get my s**t together I'm gonna figure it all out. I'm gonna be peaceful, and everything's gonna make sense." Then when you grow up you're like, "I'm wiser, but I still don't know everything, I don't have the answer to all the things that I wish I had the answer to and I'm still quite f**ked up."
It's so important that we just talk about being compassionate with ourselves more than anything, wherever you are in your life, because we're always making mistakes. We have to just learn how to accept ourselves because we're all human. I'm still making mistakes but I'm making better ones.
While putting together the record, did you face any challenges?
My mom doesn't love "Mama" because my mom had me when she was super-young. She was 17, and we kind of grew up together. She was more like a sister, and I think that for her, the hardest thing with this album is she takes things very personally, especially when I talk about my struggles.
She feels like she did something wrong. She doesn't understand that it has nothing to do with her, she did a great job. I was scared to put "Mama" on there because I was really dramatic with that record and saying "I don't belong to heaven but because I sold my soul just like you have."
But what I was trying to say was, "I'm not perfect, and neither are you, Mom." That was a tough one. She hates that song. But it is what it is.
Many of your hits have been collaborations. Who do you dream of collaborating with?
I have so many people that I want to collaborate with. I would love to collaborate with System of a Down. I love them so much. My favorite thing is to get in the room, but if I could, I would even send a track over and have them mess with it.