Bebe Rexha is the young pop singer and songwriter behind the hooks of a slew of top 40 Billboard Hot 100 hits, from David Guetta’s “Hey Mama” to G-Eazy’s “Me, Myself & I” and Eminem & Rihanna’s “Monster,” the 2013 blockbuster that launched Rexha’s career. And with an acoustic set Thursday night in Seattle, the rising solo star gave fans an intimate look at the blueprints of her addictive radio hits.
With only a guitarist in tow, Rexha flaunted her bare-bones songwriting prowess as part of the emerging artist series Next Up: New Artists New Music, a partnership between Billboard and the W Hotels. The six-song set found 26-year-old Rexha—born and raised in Brooklyn to Albanian immigrants—casually chatting with fans and telling the stories behind her music. She opened with “No Broken Hearts,” her recent single featuring Nicki Minaj, and then recalled the rags-to-riches tale of her start in the biz. “I only had $200 in my [bank] account and I played this next song for all the music executives that sign the biggest stars,” she said before breaking into “Monster.” “Eminem changed my life. I’m going to play it just like I originally sent it to him.” She wailed on the track, proving a sultry vocal powerhouse, as she described a struggle with personal demons.
Next up was her 2014 underground hit, “Can’t Stop Drinking About You.” “It’s about my ex boyfriend,” she said to the packed crowd of 200 guests, which included Victoria’s Secret model Chanel Iman. “Yeah… he’s a loser.” The crowd erupted in laughter. “I was like, ‘I can’t stop thinking about you…’ So that became, ‘I Can’t Stop Drinking About You.’” Before launching into the song, Rexha noticed a young fan outside the venue, snapping photos through the windows, and invited her onstage. “Just don’t touch the booze,” cracked Rexha.
Rexha even performed a brand-new track. “I just wrote and recorded it last night,” she said of “Human,” which confronts social media addiction and its toll on modern life. “It’s not a hit,” she said, “but it’s important to me.” She cooed over tender guitar strums: “Phones in our faces / Where’s the conversation / Losing ourselves / I just wanna be human / What am I chasing? / Posting that picture for validation.”
On a rendition of Guetta’s “Hey Mama” — the hook for which, she admitted, was written in “like 10 minutes” — Rexha went line-for-line with the excited audience. “I wanna hear you calling my name!” she sang, before flipping it to the crowd for the refrain. She hopped offstage and prowled the floor, inviting fans to sing the chorus into the mic.
Rexha closed with “Me, Myself & I”: “I wrote this song about a break up,” she explained. “The same one! Please don’t think I’m out there just breaking up with people all the time! But this song is all about loving yourself. That’s all you need.”
“I don’t need a hand to hold,” she sang with conviction. “I have a fire in my soul.”
The Next Up: New Artists New Music series showcases a total of four artists that have reached the Top 10 of the Emerging Artist chart (which monitors the most shared songs on Twitter in the U.S. by up-and-coming artists). The series kicked off with a performance by R&B upstart Gallant at the W Los Angeles – West Beverly Hills in May and continues with soon-to-be-announced artists performing at W Hotel locations in September and October.
No Broken Hearts
Can’t Stop Drinking About You
Me, Myself & I