Bibi Bourelly Talks Singing Through Her Pain, Writing for Rihanna & New Single 'Sally'

Ryan Jay
Bibi Bourelly

Ciroc and sushi is Bibi Bourelly's go-to snack at Def Jam HQ as she plops down on the office floor for her interview with Billboard one January afternoon. Her publicist mentions that the unfiltered singer/songwriter has made a habit of making the floor her chair. Even when she's writing songs for Rihanna (See: "Bitch Better Have My Money," "Higher" and "Yeah I Said It'), lending her gritty vocals to Usher's "Chains" featuring Nas or putting a dude who's trying to front in her inbox on blast, her down-to-earth demeanor magnifies her own star power. Previous releases like "Riot" and "Ego" are FUs to perfect bubblegum pop while her latest offering, the funky ditty "Sally," extends that middle finger to the haters, though she describes it as a note to herself. 

"Sally is just a song that I wrote talking to my alter ego," she explains. "When I write, I don't really consciously say, 'This is what I've been going through in my life and I'm gonna put this into words.' It's just a song that I kinda went in and did then listening back to it, I realized, 'I'm talking to myself.'" She notes that Sally isn't her real-life alter ego. "I'm not like Beyonce and Sasha Fierce but in that moment [writing the song], I was being too much of a bitch to say 'Bibi' so I said 'Sally.'"

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The Berlin-born songstress, 21, honed her talents in a household led by her father, a jazz musician, and her late mother, an artist. She took vocal lessons when she was 14 for four months with a teacher "who really understood the blues and real grit" which helped Bibi project her voice. She adds, "[My teacher] was like, 'No bitch you better sing!' so I learned how to sing loud and not be scared."

Bourelly also credits her confidence to the pivotal moment when she packed her bags and spontaneously moved from Berlin to Los Angeles as a tenth-grader. "You kind of have to know you have something when you pack your shit and like, 'Fuck y'all, I'm leaving,'" she offers with a laugh, recalling her frustrations with high school. "What really fucked me up was I was trying my hardest at school, even though the world, the people around me really didn't see it or recognize it. I was trying to fit within this kind of structure or mold. I couldn't."

The same could be said about her pen game. Writing Rihanna's 2015 hit "Bitch Better Have My Money" was confirmation that she had the world's attention. "I knew I was going to get validation eventually and [that song] gave me that," she said. "People in my personal life just caught on to the fact that maybe [I do] know what I'm talking about."

Pain has become a frequent muse for Bourelly, who learned to cope with hardship at six years old when she lost her mother to cancer. "I can't even put that pain into words. I don't want to say I feel blessed but low-key, I understand why fucked up things happen in life because I think, now at my age, feeling that low or helpless, especially at six, feeling that empty handed and not knowing what to do ... feeling that way kind of humbles you. It reminds you that everyone is the same."

Bibi insists she's not a downer, though. For her upcoming, yet-to-be-titled project, she will be communicating her experiences -- both good and bad -- on wax. "Music is the way I talk to people," she says. "It's like a weird in-between. I think that's where the desperation and the urgency in my voice comes from a lot of the time 'cause I'm constantly trying to move forward but it's not necessarily me being mute to the fact that I'm hurt. It's not depressing, it's not sulky, it's not tryna pull you down but I think my project shows that I've been through things and that I'm trying to get out of it."

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While Bourelly isn't the type to map out a five-year plan, her career objective is simple. "I'm just tryna make real music. I don't want to force the people to follow me. I don't wanna shove [my music] down no one's throat. I just want people that fuck with me to fuck with me. And fuck with me because you see someone trying to be themselves -- not because you want to be like someone. Let's build real shit back up again." 

Watch her interactive video for "Sally" here.