“Be bossy. Know what you want. Fight for your dreams and just be a bad bitch.” With those words, Bebe Rexha kicked off her Women in Harmony dinner at Cecconi’s in West Hollywood on Tuesday night.
“I could buy a Chanel bag or I could throw this dinner,” Rexha told Billboard, the only media in attendance.
Rexha — whose pop/country crossover hit, “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line has topped Hot Country Songs for 13 weeks — was reviewing the dismaying stats from the recently released USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative that revealed in 2017, women composed only 16.8 percent of artists on the charts when the idea for the evening came to her.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s not many of us!’ No wonder why sometimes we get competitive as females because there’s not enough room for us at the table. And I said, ‘We need to really support each other.’ I was thinking, ‘I wanna have a dinner, and I want to make a special thing and make it intimate and private,’” the Warner Bros. artist said. “A lot of times when you meet other artists or songwriters, we’re all insecure and all the same, so I feel like this is a safe environment. I want to make that known to everybody tonight — that they can just talk to each other and maybe work with each other. That’s my goal.”
Billed as “a celebration and conversation amongst the strongest female writers, producers and artists in the music business,” the convivial and uplifting evening brought out more than three dozen top female creatives, including Charli XCX, Avril Lavigne, Kelsea Ballerini, Havana co-writer Ali Tamposi, “Despacito” co-writer Erica Ender, Kim Petras, JoJo, producers/writers WondaGurl and Lauren Christy, Daya, Priscilla Renea, Sevyn Streeter, Ester Dean, Krewella, Phoebe Ryan, AlunaGeorge’s Aluna Francis and Julianne Hough.
Though not designated as a networking event, even before the main course was served. the women, seated at two long tables, were passing around cell phones to enter contact information, trading songwriting tips, planning writing sessions and swapping war stories, such as The Regrettes’ lead singer Lydia Night recalling being told “no girlfriends allowed” backstage at one of her own shows. Though admitting she was “initially intimidated” when she saw the guest list, in no time, 17-year-old Night was enjoying “a bunch of f—ing badass women in a room eating together and empowering each other. It’s so important. It doesn’t happen.”
The dinner comes at a pivotal time, as Tamposi, who wrote “Comfortable” with Rexha, noted with the possibilities ripe to mine current events. “With [the] #timesup and #metoo [movements], I think there’s really room to write about that and bring awareness through music,” she said. “With more women writing together, we’ll have this collaborative energy to share an important message that more women can relate to.”
Similarly, Charli XCX felt it was crucial that women come together during this critical era. “We’re at a time where celebrating women is of utmost importance, and I think everybody in this room has always been a champion of female empowerment, especially showing it isn’t just men who sit behind the scenes, which is a common [perception] in the music industry,” she said. “This is a room of amazingly talented songwriters, who have had multiple Billboard No. 1s. I just walked in and I’ve already seen five or six women I’ve collaborated with in the studio in the last couple of weeks. It’s important to shine a light on this community that doesn’t always get a lot of coverage.”
Lavigne, who is working on a new album with Christy, noted there were no such gatherings when she first got signed as a young teen in the ’90s. “It’s just encouraging to be around other women in music in general and songwriters. It’s inspiring for everyone,” she said. “I haven’t really been to anything like this before. I’m running into some cool songwriters.”
Ballerini walked into the room only knowing Daya, Rexha and JoJo, “So I’m excited to get to know some new friends,” she said, adding that she was especially excited to see JoJo: “I have a video of me and my friends at my 10th birthday party dancing to [JoJo’s 2004 breakthrough hit] ‘Leave (Get Out).’” Leaving the evening “being able to call on each other and know each other is a very valuable thing.”
Among the other attendees were Nat Dunn, Chloe Angelides, Delancy, Zhavia, Ilsey Juber, Liza Owen, Jenna Andrews, Victoria Zaro, Emily Warren, Lindsey Sterling, Shy Martin, Carlie Hansen, Nija, Simon Wilcox, Koko Laroo,Noonie Bao, Ava Max, Asia Whiteacre, Kiiara, Sofia Carson and Amy Allen.
Atlantic Records artist Streeter, who has also written songs recorded by Alicia Keys, Usher and Ariana Grande, was looking forward to the collaborations sure to come from the evening. “Everyone in here is someone I just know that I can learn from and connect with, exchange numbers with and collaborate with,” she said. “Any time there are women in Hollywood coming together to do this type of thing and support each other, I’ll always be here.”
Happily for Streeter and the other women in attendance, Rexha’s goal is to make the dinner an annual event. “I want it to become what the Clive Davis [pre-Grammys party] is,” she says. “I would love to expand it to executives and just really be a celebration for women in the music business.”