Bebe Rexha is currently the longest running woman in the No. 1 spot on the country charts, thanks to her ubiquitous duet with Florida Georgia Line on “Meant to Be.” On her debut album, Expectations, Rexha uses her songwriting to explore a lot of country music’s traditions but doesn’t step foot back in that down home territory musically. From pop country to the more edgy pop hooks Rexha explores on her album might be a difficult conversion for the people who’ve helped that single rack up over one billion streams. But her penchant for alt-rock inspired guitar riffs, dark though they might be, could help soften the blow for some of those cross-genre fans. There isn’t a lot here, however, to indicate Rexha will experience any breakthrough success on that level in the pop arena with this album. What Rexha brings us instead is the work of an artist who really wants to color outside the lines and break every known rule of formulaic success — and that’s something pop music needs more of.
Riffs decorate the album’s opening tracks, “Ferrari” (a strange ditty that equates its protagonist with a high-performance automobile), “I’m a Mess,” and “Shining Star.” The latter song is one of the album’s most interesting, focusing on a female anti-hero, telling the story of a woman who is a mess and the man who selflessly loves her. It’s a gratifying rewrite of basically the songwriter’s template for most of music history, in which the roles are reversed. Rexha’s delivery and pitch are reminiscent of Ellie Goulding, but with a starkly different musical backdrop.
Rexha mines and references a slew of influences on Expectations. There’s no Police song actually sampled on the very Police-like “2 Souls on Fire” though Sting would probably like a duet with Quavo. Meanwhile, “Self-Control” and “Sad” could slide into Sia’s catalog, and “I Got You” is Peter Gabriel-esque in its sparse verses, though the chorus is a modern day banger.
The songs most likely to break through are “2 Souls on Fire,” “Sad,” and “Mine,” all tracks that will sit comfortably on a Spotify pop playlist. Overall, Rexha paints a picture of a woman drowning, playing with themes of depression, a lack of self-control, and unpredictability: in short, an actually dangerous woman (sorry, Ariana). But, unlike many pop starlets, none of this feels autobiographical. Rexha has done a masterful job of painting a nihilistic scene in which she’s an observer, and sometimes an unreliable narrator. That distance she maintains makes this an interesting experimental pop music — not one guaranteed to bring riches and platinum plaques, but certainly one that will push the genre forward.