Bebe Rexha's Template For Artist Development In the Age of Streaming
Her manager says 'All Your Fault Part 3' will drop later this year.
“One day I was literally in the studio with Murda Beatz and then two days later I went into the studio with Florida-Georgia Line,” says Bebe Rexha. The 28-year old singer-songwriter is trying to put rhyme and reason to her eclectic muse and the success she’s had over the last year where there might not have been any. “I don’t know how to explain it,” she says, “but it’s awesome.”
One thing is for sure, however: Over the course of two EPs released in the last six months -- All Your Fault Part 1 in February and All Your Fault Part 2 in August -- as well as a slew of collaborations with artists including G-Eazy, Nicki Minaj, Louis Tomlinson, Martin Garrix, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz, among many others, Rexha has been prolific. Her steady flow of releases -- without yet having a full-length album to her name -- has kept her fans engaged, created new ones and formed a modern template for artist development in the age of streaming.
“We’ve always figured that each moment is built on the other,” says Adam Mersel, her manager for the past two years. In rapid succession he cites Rexha's successes in penning Eminem’s 2013 hit “The Monster” featuring Rihanna for helping her land a record deal with Warner Bros. Records; writing “Hey Mama” for David Guetta featuring Minaj, Rexha & Afrojack for leading to her working with a higher echelon of producers; her massive hit “Me, Myself & I,” a duet with G-Eazy, for bringing her mainstream exposure; and her video with Minaj for "No Broken Hearts," directed by Dave Myers, her most-viewed video to date.
“This is an exciting new era in the music where there is no blueprint any longer,” says Larry Mattera, WBR’s general manager/executive vp of commerce and marketing, who works closely with Rexha. "There is no one way to release records. Traditionally, it was first single into the second single and into the album. It was an 18 to 24-month cycle on the low end and then you go away after the cycle’s done. The fact that we’ve put out so much music and kept her fan engagement level very high is one of the most important things in today’s modern music business.”
Earlier this year, Rexha and her team knew she had a hit with “I Got You,” but didn’t necessarily want to release it as a solo track. “We’re very close with Spotify,” Mersel explains. “Bebe was one of the first artists they really supported and she had a major footprint on the platform and was a top artist in Sweden. So we sat down with Mike Biggane [Spotify’s head of pop music] and he was like, ‘Look, every time you put something out on Friday it’s one of the most reactive songs going into the weekend.’ So we thought, how do we do this in a way that you’re still putting out a lot of music, but you’re doing it in quantities where it’s easy to digest?”
The answer was to put five additional songs out around the single and get Meyers to shoot the video for “I Got You.” Mersel says Spotify called them after they simultaneously dropped the rest of All Your Fault Part 1 EP to say all six songs were incredibly reactive throughout the weekend.
“At the end of the day, the quality of the music and whether it resonates with fans or not is still the thing that matters most,” Mattera says. "Sometimes we’ll choose a single the traditional way and our A&R guys will determine what they think the best track is. And in some cases, you have a body of work and you don’t have to call out an individual track. You can look at what’s resonating within the platforms and then go to work on the songs that are raising their hands."
Anthropomorphizing a song, in this case, meant seeing which of the tracks connected on the streaming services. After allowing the EP to breathe, the cut that raised its hand was “Bad Bitch” featuring Ty Dolla $ign which was added to Spotify’s popular Today’s Top Hits playlist, a big win for Team Rexha.
“That was a 'f--k yeah' moment,” says Mattera. "We got a track deep off of an EP onto one of the premier playlists, and that’s not typical. We were super, super proud of that. That was a moment for us and we were like, ‘We’re on the right track here. We can think non-traditionally on how you define a focus track in today’s world.'”
Led by “I Got You” with nearly 500 million streams globally (103 million in the U.S., hitting No. 17 on Billboard's Pop Songs in March and No. 43 on The Hot 100), It’s All Your Fault Part 1's six tracks would accrue a whopping 700 million audio and video streams globally, according to Warner Bros. And the hand-raising "Bad Bitch" would pick up 83 million global streams (and 38 million in the U.S.).
“We figured out that five songs are about as much as people will get through in a weekend without being like, ‘This is too much,'” says Mersel. Having worked for Mike Caren at APG and Maroon 5 manager Jordan Feldstein (and currently working in partnership with Sarah Stennett's First Access Entertainment), Mersel is equal parts manager and A&R and very involved in Rexha's song selections. “I think this is a forward model of how to do it,” he says.
This model also gave lift and validation to Rexha’s eclectic muse, which she felt had been previously stifled by the industry. “Back in the day everything was so specific to the ‘type’ of artist you were,” she says. “This is what you look like, this is what you sound like, it was like boom-boom-boom. Being a writer at the time, it was actually hurtful because people would be like, ‘Wow you’re stuff is too everywhere, who are you?’
“When I was just doing songwriting they would send me sheets,” she continues, “and they would say things like, ‘This artist is looking for this, there’s a new girl group and they’re looking for something that sounds like Rihanna meets Christina Aguilera and Coldplay, or whatever, and we want this type of vibe.' But I don’t like boundaries.”
Indeed, last month Rexha dropped her second EP in All Your Fault 2, which swung even further and wider than Part 1 with nary a genre limitation in sight. From trap (“That’s It” feat. Gucci Mane and 2 Chainz), pop balladry (“I Got Time) and the chant-worthy (“The Way I Are [Dance With Somebody]” feat. Lil Wayne) to EDM-inflected pop (“[Not] The One”), art-damaged world beat (“Comfortable” feat. Kranium) and pop country ("Meant to Be" with Fla-Ga Line), the playlist possibilities seemed limitless.
“When we were starting to track list it out, it was like, 'This makes no sense,'” says Mersel. “[Bebe] was like, ‘I just put out Part 1 and that’s like really, really tight, and now I’m putting out this next one, for which all six could really be smashes. But I’m worried that they don’t work together.’ And I said, ‘Listen, it’s just about you, they still all say the same thing and they all still have your voice, and you’re such a unique artist that it’s still Bebe.' And Part 2 just exploded.”
Thus far, Part 2’s audio and video streams surpassed 150 million globally with “The Way I Are (Dance With Somebody)" at 119 million global streams (29.6 million U.S., peaking at No. 34 on Billboard's Pop Songs in July). And "Meant To Be" with Florida Georgia Line is at 7.5 million on-demand streams, No. 10 on Billboard’s Pop Digital Song Sales and hit the top 15 of the iTunes chart. All this in addition to Rexha's feature on Tomlinson's "Back To You," which currently stands at 245 million streams globally and 53 million in the U.S.
“Literally, she was on hip-hop blogs, country radio, Spotify’s Today’s Top Hits, all at the same time,” enthuses Mersel. “I keep calling her the ubiquitous pop star because that’s just really what it is. We’re seeing in the last couple of weeks with Part 2 and all the social growth -- she just fits everywhere.”
Rexha explains that part of her varied approached stems from her traditional Albanian upbringing, in which being married by 18 or 19 with kids is the norm -- and what she rebelled against. “I wanted to live my life freely and just do what I wanted and be who I am,” she says. “Who I am is a lover of music. When I listen to ‘Meant To Be’ it makes me equally as happy as listening to ‘Hey Mama’ or listening to ‘Me Myself & I' or ‘I Got You.’ They’re all different and they all fulfill me in different ways. And that’s the beauty of music."
When Mersel is asked if Rexha’s ubiquity in so many far-flung genres might dilute her message, he resolutely disagrees. “We’re the playlist generation,” he says. “That’s why we live in this world now, because we make playlists on these platforms and we put a Sam Hunt song next to a 2 Chainz song next to an Adele song. That’s just who we are as a people. We just want to hear what we want to hear. Bebe wants to put out what she wants to put out, she wants to say what she wants to say. But it’s still her, and she’s still saying the same thing on each of these records."
Rexha, who’s represented by William Morris’ Sara Newkirk Simon, Ben Totis and Tony Goldring, will be on tour through October and November and is playing larger venues like New York's Terminal 5 and L.A.'s Wiltern, according to Mersel. Her manager says he would like her to put out something "at least once a month.” He notes that she has 900 songs on a hard drive that a music executive "offered her millions of dollars for," and also says there will be an All Your Fault Part 3 before the end of the year. Perhaps at some point after that, Rexha may even put out a full-length album.
“I do want to put a body of work together,” Rexha says. “Like one full album before I die. [Laughs] That'd be really cool. I’m not against that, it’s just how it will all come together.”