If you’re a passive music listener you know Bebe Rexha. You’ve heard hits she’s written for herself (“Meant To Be,” “Take Me Home,” “Hey Mama,” “Me, Myself & I”) and hits she’s written for others (“The Monster,” “All Hands On Deck”). Her voice can be described as the zeitgeist of “indie pop voice” marinated in Auto-Tune; her sharp tone can be grating at times as well. Rexha’s three-octave vocal range jumps from healthy mid and upper range belts to vowel-breaking techniques across this confusing mess of an album.
On the primal opening song, Rexha compares herself to a “Ferrari” and laments about how quickly people can move through life. The metaphor is so dramatic that it’s quite laughable. The standard power-pop production and overly serious vocal delivery cause this song to be a clumsy opener. The main problem with Expectations is its lack of identity. Once the album is finished, there is no semblance of who Bebe Rexha is. These songs could have been on any young pop star’s album, none of the music on Expectations feels special, it’s all quite vapid. Rexha has an enviable track record of perfectly written pop songs. Unfortunately, on this album, she seems to be suffering from the same issue that plagues so many famous pop singer-songwriters (Meghan Trainor, Sia (sometimes), Julia Michaels): the quality of the songs she gives to other artists far surpass the quality of the songs she keeps for herself. The writing doesn’t break new ground or cover old themes in new ways.
That’s not to say there aren’t bright spots. Two tracks that appear on the latter half of the album, “Don’t Get Any Closer” and “Grace,” are stellar. The production on these tracks move away from standard radio pop and are more interesting and inventive, at least in the scope of this album. Even with these tracks, Expectations feels like the product of a lost artist. There’s country-pop (“Meant To Be”), mainstream pop (“Ferrari,” “I Got You”), R&B-influenced hip-hop pop (“2 Souls on Fire,” “Steady.”), you name it. In fact, it seems as if when compiling the tracklist Rexha and her team/label were hellbent on including a song that had at least of mainstream pop’s dominant tropes. A feature from one of the Migos? Check. A song about anxiety? Check. A Latin-influenced song? Check. Tropical house? Check. Another rent-a-rapper feature? Check. Even with all these different flavors, the stew still tastes bland. Including all of these separate tracks provokes this question: In an attempt to please a multitude of audiences, is Expectations even pleasing to the artist herself? Maybe she’s mistaken versatility for identity. This is only Rexha’s debut album so there is still hope, but after nearly half a decade of professionally releasing music, one would hope Bebe knew who she was, artistically, by now.
My expectations, pun intended, for this album were 35-45 minutes of big hooks, surprisingly disarming verses, experimental yet palatable production, solid vocals, and a good sense of who Bebe Rexha is an artist. Well, at least I got some big hooks and charming verse here and there.
KEY TRACKS: “Don’t Get Any Closer,” “I’m A Mess,” “Grace”