Saturday, October 13, 2018

Expectations | Bebe Rexha



Never has a pop star existed who has been more exhausting to follow than Bebe Rexha. The Albanian singer-songwriter’s economy-class flight to fame sputtered a few times on its ascent, and her attempts to maintain and inflate that fame have kept her career in a constant state of flux since the early days, when she was plugged as the cool kid’s alternative to commercial pop whose schtick bent slightly off the path of mainstream culture.

Add some intense hair lightening, heavy vocal processing, and Beats headphones, and we have Bebe Rexha as she exists today. She’s a commercial experiment in progress, exploring every avenue to wedge herself into pop culture’s rib cage to no avail. Try as she might, she has struck gold only as a featured vocalist on tracks from electronic dance and rap musicians, not as an essential personality in commercial pop.

Her most substantial hit in the United States creates a frustrating dissonance at even the slightest thought of its existence: Out of every act available for a Bebe Rexha collaboration, quite literally nobody would have guessed she would choose country’s unsightly facial blemish, Florida-George Line. Tacked on the back of her debut record, "Meant to Be" is the closing track to an album on which it doesn’t belong. Its melody is obnoxiously sticky, but its lyrics are just as ridiculous as anything else on today’s country radio.

It seems, though, that so is the case for most songs on Rexha’s Expectations, an ironic title for a debut album from an artist whose only expectation has been instant commercial gratification. Like the dual All Your Fault extended plays that preceded it, the album spreads itself thin in pursuit of being liked by everyone, sure to lodge Rexha into every crevice of today’s Top 40 music without an exclusive alliance to any one palette. It seems, however, that she gravitates most toward mumble-rap in a few coats of paint (the Quavo-featuring "2 Souls on Fire," "Mine") and standard-build pop with default "ooh" post-chorus hooks ("I Got You," "I’m a Mess").

The album's mantra isn't dissimilar from her early work, painting Rexha as an unstable, heartbroken bad girl. Also like her early work, the album proves that Bebe Rexha can write a hook: Spare "Meant to Be," there isn't a song in the track listing that is outright bad or horribly grating on its own. ("Knees" and "Self Control" are particularly infectious, and "I'm a Mess" and "I Got You" see her hit a stride.) But the album's finishing – its inconsistent and stale production, as well as its disgraceful handling of her voice – stall Bebe Rexha's flight mid-air once again.

Expectations is available now under Warner Bros. Records.

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Maira Gall