Bebe Rexha breaks out on Warped Tour
The ‘Hey Mama’ singer and songwriter comes into her own on this summer’s traveling punk rock circus
The Vans Warped Tour is often described as “punk rock summer camp,” but Bebe Rexha describes it more like boot camp.
“It’s tough,” says the Brooklyn-born pop singer, who performs in the Warped Tour when it visits the Palace of Auburn Hills on Friday. “You kind of just have to go into survival mode.”
Rexha describes mile-long walks between her stage and her artist booth, few opportunities to exercise, cold showers, stage times that fluctuate from day to day and a grueling, unrelenting tour schedule with few days off.
But the up-and-comer says it’s an invaluable learning experience and an important launch pad, and it’s teaching her to become a more well-rounded artist.
“You learn how to work with the crowd, you learn yourself, you learn your art more and you just become a better performer,” says Rexha, 25. “I don’t think you can really prepare for this, you just have to do it and then learn along the way.”
Rexha has been picking up things along the way since breaking through as a writer of Eminem and Rihanna’s smash hit “The Monster” and as a co-writer and singer on “Hey Mama,” David Guetta’s current hit that features Nicki Minaj.
Those hits have helped jumpstart her burgeoning solo career. Rexha’s EDM ballad “I Can’t Stop Drinking About You” has been played 18 million times on Spotify, and her breakout song “I’m Gonna Show You Crazy” has racked up 42 million plays on the streaming service.
Rexha’s brash, in-your-face persona is partially a reaction to her conservative upbringing. Rexha was raised in New York by first generation Albanian immigrant parents who did their best to shelter her from the outside world.
“When I was younger, I wasn’t really allowed to go out. My parents would never let me go to Warped Tour,” says Rexha, on the phone last week from a Warped stop in New York. “They were very protective of me. They wanted to live in their cute little house and be comfortable, and that kind of drove me insane.”
Rexha says she suffered a mental breakdown in her late teens, spending the better part of two years of her life locked inside her room, crying, depressed and angry at herself.
She poured herself into her music, spending as much as 16 hours a day writing and recording. “I’m Gonna Show You Crazy” — a confrontation with and an acceptance of the demons in her head — was a breakthrough moment for her.
“For a really long time I ran after what I thought people wanted, and that was the first song that I wrote that was for my own therapy,” she says. “It was a message to myself. Like, what am I so scared of? What are we all so scared of? A lot of times we hold ourselves back. That song was a reflection on that time in my life.”
Rexha, who fronted Pete Wentz’s short-lived band Black Cards, is now working on shaping her debut album. After the Warped Tour wraps next month, she’s got a few weeks to hit the studio before heading out on the road with Nick Jonas for a run of dates in September and October.
“With my album, I’m learning the only person that really has your back is you, and the only constant in my life has been music,” says Rexha, who counts Lauryn Hill, Bob Marley and Tracy Chapman as influences. “And this album, I’m learning so much about turning into a woman while still being a kid, really.”
Rexha says she has a surplus of songs for the album; the difficult part will be narrowing them down. “There’re just too many songs!” she says.
“I’m saying everything I want to say, I just don’t know what to put on the album. To me, it’s like, what do I put out first?” she says. “I’m just living my life and writing songs. Honestly, I just want to say what I feel and perform and change lives.”
Vans Warped Tour
11 a.m. Friday
Palace of Auburn Hills,
6 Championship Drive, Auburn Hills
or (248) 377-0100