Entertainment & Arts

Bebe Rexha: 'I banged on doors until my hands bled'

Bebe Rexha Image copyright Warner Bros

Bebe Rexha has made a good living out of writing hits for other people and, occasionally, getting to sing them herself.

The New Yorker rose to fame after helping craft The Monster for Eminem and Rihanna, and Me Myself & I for G-Eazy, among others.

She's currently in the UK top 10 as part of Rita Ora's all-star pop banger Girls, while her recent single Meant To Be - a duet with country duo Florida Georgia Line - spent 28 weeks at number one on the US country charts.

It's all the result of a 10-year struggle to make it in the music industry.

"I literally banged on doors until my hands were black and blue... Until they were bloodied," the 28-year-old tells the BBC (her hands seem fine, in case you're concerned).

Ahead of the release of her debut album Expectations next week, here are 10 things you need to know about the most improbably-named pop star since Englebert Humperdinck.

1) She's part of the Albanian chart invasion

Image copyright PA / Getty Images
Image caption Left-right: Rita Ora, Dua Lipa and Bebe Rexha

Just like Dua Lipa and Rita Ora, Bebe is of Albanian descent.

"There's something in the water over there," she laughs. "We're strong. We're built like horses and we can withstand anything."

The singer's father Flamur moved to the US when he was 21 and worked menial jobs to support the family. "Mum and dad worked really hard but they never let me know that we had no money," says the star.

Nonetheless, their home in Staten Island was "very strict", the star recalls. "Music was seen as a bad thing. My dad was like, 'That's the devil's career.'"

2) She's not one to blow her own trumpet, but...

Despite her father's objections, pop became a refuge for the youngster.

"Growing up, I was always very anxious and I didn't know why," she says. "The only way I felt truly calm and safe was when I listened to music."

Aged eight, she decided to take up the trumpet - which she credits with honing her ear for melody.

"I can still play Hot Cross Buns," she laughs.

3) She once sold make-up to Rihanna

Image copyright Getty Images

Aged 18, Bebe was working in a New York department store when one of her future collaborators swept through the doors.

"I'd walked away from my make-up stand to go and get lunch but someone was like, 'Rihanna's at your counter!'

"I left my lunch and ran down - and suddenly she was in front of me. Stunning, stunning, stunning in real life. I was like, 'Wooooow, she is so beautiful.'

"Everyone was bothering her and trying to take pictures. I was like, 'Leave her alone, let her buy her make-up in peace... And let her talk to me while she does it!'"

4) Pete Wentz put her in a band - then he quit

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In 2010, with Fall Out Boy on hiatus, Pete Wentz was "goofing off" in a recording studio when he overheard Bebe singing next door. Within minutes, they'd formed a new band, Black Cards.

"She's just an awesome, a natural talent," he enthused as he unveiled Bebe to the world.

Pitched as a "fusion of reggae and electronic music", Black Cards went on to release a handful of singles, including Club Called Heaven and Dr Jekyll & Mr Fame.

It wasn't as bad as the preceding sentence makes it sound, but the project was quickly put out of its misery - although Pete let managers inform the rest of the band.

"I was mad at him, I was like: 'Why can't he just tell me himself?'" Bebe recently told the NME.

5) Her career's had several false starts

After Black Cards fell apart, Bebe scored a deal with Island Records, which also failed to work out. The singer was despondent, but she persevered.

"You talk about kicking down a door? I wouldn't leave the door. If somebody opened the door and kicked me, I'd knock again and go, 'I'm back!'"

She eventually gained recognition as a songwriter, penning hits for Selena Gomez and Korean boy band Shinee while pouring the pain of previous rejections into a song of her own...

6) Eminem gave her a Monster hit

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In 2013, Bebe started writing a song called Monster Under My Bed, which was destined for her debut album.

"The monster was my anxiety and depression," she says. "It was a song to myself where I said, 'This is who I am. It's not changing, and I have to accept it.'"

The original demo has all the grandiose drama of Florence + The Machine - but the singer had a gut feeling Eminem would relate to the spirit of the lyrics... "And my gut was correct."

He turned the song into a worldwide smash, reaching number one in 23 countries. Although Rihanna replaced her on the chorus, Bebe's original background vocals were left intact. Amazingly, though, the singer only recently got to meet her collaborator.

"I've been doing interviews for the past however many years and people always go, 'How's Eminem?' And I'm like, 'I don't know. I haven't met him!'" she laughs.

That finally changed in May, when the rapper brought Bebe on stage at the Coachella music festival.

"It was so cool," she grins. "I looked at him in rehearsals and I was like, 'Oh my God! It's so cool to meet you.'

"He said, 'It's not cool to meet me,' and I said, 'Oh yes it is!'"

7) Record labels warned her not to discuss her mental health

Image copyright Warner Bros

Although The Monster was a huge success, Bebe's record label worried about her addressing similar themes on her debut single I'm Gonna Show You Crazy.

Specifically, they cautioned against the opening lines: "There's a war inside my head/Sometimes I wish that I was dead."

"The label was like, 'This is too much. You can't talk about depression. You can't talk about mental health. You'll scare people off [by] talking about wanting to die.'"

But Bebe insisted - and was vindicated by fans' reaction.

"To this day, I go on tour and moms came up to me and say, 'My daughter was cutting herself and you saved her life,'" she says.

"Lots of people have real, dark issues. I think sometimes you need to listen to music to know you're not alone, to make you feel better."

8) Meant To Be nearly didn't happen

Earlier this year, Bebe became the first female artist to debut at number one on the US country charts, with Meant To Be - her collaboration with arena-filling Nashville duo Florida Georgia Line.

The song was written in just two hours - but Bebe had initially been reluctant to meet singer Tyler Hubbard.

"I'd already written a song that day and it had gone to crap," she says. "There was drama in the room, the [singer] was breaking up with her boyfriend, so I was like, 'I can't do this'.

"But my manager was like, 'Just go in, you never know what'll happen'. So I show up and Tyler seemed kind of over it too.

"But I told him I was nervous and tired and he was like, 'Listen, my wife said in the elevator that if it's meant to be for us to write a great song, then it'll be'. And I was like, 'That has to be the theme of the song!'"

The rest, as they say, is history.

9) She's fighting for women in the music industry

Earlier this year, Bebe hosted a dinner in Hollywood for top female artists, songwriters and producers - including Kelsea Ballerini, Avril Lavigne, Charli XCX, Emily Warren (who wrote New Rules) and Erika Ender (Despacito).

"Basically, everyone at the table had top 10 hits - and it was all women," she says.

Called Women In Harmony, the event was designed to strengthen the bonds between women in a male-dominated industry.

"The problem is that 84% of songs on the radio are male... [so] of course women are going to get a little bit weird and act more competitive because there's no room for us.

"So the way we make it better is we make more room for ourselves. How do you do that? You build relationships. You support other females. You call each other, you have hits with each other, you collaborate with each other.

"You throw dinners, you reach out a hand - instead of it being this competitive thing where we're trying to kill each other.

"Because if we kill each other, there's less of us - and I ain't that girl."

10) Her pizza game is strong

Image copyright Getty Images

Bebe's father grew up making pizzas in New York so, naturally, she has strong views on the subject.

"A good pizza needs to be simple," she says, championing the humble Margherita as the king of pizzas.

"The best pizza has a nice crispy crust, then a great tomato sauce and a really good mozzarella. When you fold it in half, it should not flop over, it should stand straight. And there should always be a teeny bit of oil that falls on your chin.

"This is my true passion, everybody."

Bebe Rexha's new single I'm A Mess is out now. Her album, Expectations, is released next week.

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