Bebe Rexha’s voice makes a quirky, squirmy sound that may not be your cup of squeak. But if it is, then it’s crazily irresistible and, given the right melody, unstoppable. Her serpentine wail is the precious ingredient in some of today’s biggest hits, the factor that’s turned otherwise bland songs like Louis Tomlinson’s “Back to You” and Florida Georgia Line’s “Meant to Be” into body-rocking and chart-topping gold.
But after years hustling in the shadows of other people like Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, David Guetta, G-Eazy and more (she also wrote Eminem and Rihanna’s 2013 hit “Monster”), the 28-year-old singer’s first album has next to no guests. She is pop’s Giving Tree no more. And, judging by the lyrics, Rexha has been feeling rather raked over. “Maybe I’m just comfortable being sad,” she sings with a dark quaver on “Sad.” As the song and its title suggest, Expectations is full of sexy songs and a cornucopia of self-esteem issues.
“I’m A Mess” updates Meredith Brooks’ 1997 classic “Bitch”: “I’m a mess, I’m a loser/ I’m a hater, I’m a user/ I’m a mess for your love it ain’t you/ I’m obsessed, I’m embarrassed.” “Don’t Get Any Closer” also goes hard on the Nineties diva fandom, nailing the Gwen Stefani power squeal when she threatens to share “all the things I’ve been hiding” over the crackle of a record player she’s tooling with in her attic of secrets. On the other side of the spectrum, there’s the lusty romp “Self Control,” which is more like Hey Baby-era No Doubt, with its dancehall vibes and lyrics about giving into an obsession: “And I don’t mean cigarettes and alcohol,” Rexha sings.
On Expectations, Rexha paints herself as a heroine trapped in an ivory tower of her own making. But her cat-scratching upper register suggests sensitivity more than vengeance. She turns an Ed Sheeran-esque ballad like “Knees” into a firecracker of desperation, singing “I’m praying for closed doors and open windows … Don’t be scared to leave.” She does even better on “Ferrari” by enunciating the hell out of “Mulholland Drive” as she slams on the accelerator because “living in the fast lane’s getting kind of lone-lay.” As Brittney Spears, the ultimate Nineties queen, said on her own debut 20 years ago, Rexha’s lone-lay-ness is killing her.