Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner Survived Grief. Now She Can Do Anything

By Max Freedman

Michelle Zauner is a low-key professional. When I reach her via video call on an April morning, she’s sporting a black tee emblazoned with Chester Cheetah (yes, the Cheetos mascot), but her Brooklyn apartment’s Zoom setup resembles a DJ booth at a well-funded radio station. She apologizes for the blanket jumbled across the plush-looking couch behind her, but the lemon-yellow walls and neatly arranged framed prints above it (both are visible in her Daily Show appearance) showcase a love of, if not a need for, order. It makes sense: Zauner must crave some sort of balance to live her double life as a musician and New York Times best-selling author.

In late April, Zauner released Crying in H Mart, a heart-wrenching memoir about learning to cook Korean food staples as she lost her mom to cancer, and how that reshaped her. Just six weeks later arrives Jubilee, Zauner’s third and most vivid, high-fidelity album as Japanese Breakfast. (Oh, and somewhere along the way, she coached Angourie Rice and other actors on how to play a band for the HBO series Mare of Easttown.)

Crying in H Mart and Jubilee are back-to-back feats in which she’s revisited her most meaningful experiences and emotions to help others through theirs. They also weren’t supposed to be released so close to one another. Zauner wrote Crying casually from 2016 through 2018, and only after she submitted its first draft in the latter half of 2019 did she begin working on Jubilee. By the end of that year, the album was ready to go, but then the pandemic hit, and suddenly, it looked like the album would join Crying as a 2021 release.

Zauner thinks this shift, though completely unexpected, is for the best. “I’m very glad,” she says about postponing Jubilee. Paired with Crying, “it almost feels like a double album.” In vignette-like essays, Zauner reexamines the deepest recesses of her grief, but toward the book’s end, she begins rediscovering life’s light; on Jubilee, she leaps emphatically toward that luster while knowing she won’t always reach it.

Jubilee marks an unmissable thematic shift from Zauner’s previous two albums — 2016’s lo-fi Psychopomp and 2017’s clearer Soft Sounds from Another Planet — which both existed in the shadow of her mother’s loss. “I think I always wanted to move away from grief,” Zauner says of those two albums, “but grief wasn’t ready” to move on from her. After she drafted Crying, though, she felt powered by a new feeling: jubilation.

More often than not, Jubilee’s instrumental arrangements are so joyous — largely unlike Zauner’s solemn, shoegaze-indebted previous work — that they’re easy to confuse for another artist’s creations. But Zauner’s voice, a delicate instrument that sounds more like it’s coming from the back of her throat than her diaphragm, is unmistakable. The newfound lucidity in her vocals at the outset of opener “Paprika” is striking, and the classically beautiful horns of the chorus are a complete and welcome shock. They perfectly emphasize the thrill that Zauner feels when performing as she sings, “Oh, it’s a rush!”

On “Slide Tackle,” Zauner rides softly funky guitars and Sade-lite saxes into a subtle but tremendous groove as she commits to happiness. “I want to be pure / I want to navigate this hate in my heart / Somewhere better,” she states before making good on her goals. “Don’t mind me while / I’m tackling this void / Slide tackling my mind.” It’s perhaps the most potent example of what Zauner says is Jubilee’s guiding theme: “Learning to embrace feeling… almost like a teenager, in this almost violent way.”

Jubilee was this reckoning with permitting myself to feel joy again and to really embrace feeling in this new way,” she adds. The shift is entirely intentional. “My narrative as an artist is very rooted in grief and trauma,” she says, “and I wanted to mess with that expectation and totally surprise people with something on the other end.”

Tonje Thilesen

“Paprika” and “Slide Tackle” surprise sonically. So do the string-tinged “Kokomo, IN” and the freaky, creaky “Savage Good Boy,” but they take a different route to get there. On neither song is Zauner the narrator: A teenager stuck in a small rural town is the former’s protagonist, and this character finds only excitement in his partner traveling the world and letting others experience her personality and charm. The latter’s ruling-class narrator finds a sick sort of pride and value in retreating to his bunker during the apocalypse while caring for his family. In putting her Bryn Mawr creative writing degree to work, she found new ways to look at happiness.

“The person rationalizing this hoarding of wealth, in his mind, is doing so because he’s preserving his joy,” Zauner says. And on “Kokomo, IN,” she says, the narrator is “allowing that person to share different types of joy with other people.” She included these made-up tales to explore the “different ways that we interact with joy, whether it’s struggling to feel it, fighting to protect it, or reminding yourself to have it.”

That struggling point feels important, as Jubilee isn’t entirely without its downcast moments. Zauner says that “In Hell,” which she originally recorded for Soft Sounds before adding some new flourishes for Jubilee, is “maybe the saddest song I’ve ever written.” Its tale of Zauner’s last moments with her dog may feel thematically out of place on Jubilee, but Zauner views it as an opportunity: “Look at what you can endure and still experience joy [afterward].” On another melancholy tune, “Posing in Bondage,” Zauner’s fictional, tied-up narrator still hopes that her lover will come home soon, even though she knows his return is deeply unlikely. Even in their darkest times, people can create their own light.

“Posing in Bondage” is special in that it’s one of two Jubilee songs with co-production from Jack Tatum of dream-pop institution Wild Nothing. The two also co-wrote Jubilee’s buoyant lead single “Be Sweet,” which could have been a radio smash in the ‘80s, with bouncy guitar-bass interplay, cresting daylight-white synths, and a chorus so ebullient you’d have to be a literal rock not to sing along. It’s certainly Zauner’s most joyous song to date, and her cries of “I want to belieeeeeeeve” are awash not in desperation but excitement. It’s an appropriate sentiment for a song about finding elation in forgiveness, one with a pre-chorus cry as memorable as the chorus’s wail: “Make it up to me, you know it’s better!”

“Better” describes Zauner’s mindset at large these days. The tremendous emotional burdens she experienced during and after her mother’s cancer battle are now preserved in text, and her work to re-spark her joy is etched in musical amber. With Crying in H Mart and Jubilee, she’s letting the world know not only that she’s been through rough times and come out OK, but that you can, too. “It’s been six years since my mom passed away, and that grief is gonna live with me forever,” she says. “But I still am capable of joy. I still experience it. I still want to fight for it in my life.”

Bop Shop: Songs From Yola, Taemin, Sigrid, And More

If you came over to my apartment in 2018, I probably made you watch Sigrid’s “Strangers” video because I was full-on obsessed with the Norweigan pop star’s pulsing ode to a pretend love affair. Her new track, “Mirror,” is another emotional anthem, but this time it’s about falling in love with yourself. After Dua Lipa, Jessie Ware, and Kylie Minogue’s latest albums, we’ve been told that “disco is back” — but it never left! For some of us, disco is not a trend that comes back around every few years, but a way of life — something Sigrid clearly subscribes to. In her confident new bop, Sigrid sings about falling in love with who she sees in the mirror, all while delivering a solid self-love dance-floor filler. Like in “Strangers,” Sigrid’s “Mirror” video features high-waisted jeans and energetic choreography, including an epic desert dance-off against herself. Sigrid always understands the assignment. —Chris Rudolph

Lil Nas X Saves His Younger Self In Emotional ‘Sun Goes Down’ Music Video

After sliding down a stripper pole to hell, then seducing and dethroning Satan in the music video for “Montero (Call Me by Your Name),” a flamenco-rooted banger that sent the internet and conservative pundits into chaotic frenzies for its controversial imagery, Lil Nas X is back with another cinematic visual. And this one’s his most personal yet.

On Friday (May 21), Lil Nas X dropped “Sun Goes Down,” a somber track that reflects on the artist’s past struggles coming to terms with his sexuality and identity as a gay man. The track spotlights a slow-whining guitar plucking that lends the composition a melancholic sound, over which Nas X sings: “I wanna run away / Don’t wanna lie, I don’t want a life.” The string elements mirror that of “Montero,” which was mastered by the same team, including Take A Daytrip, Roy Lenzo, and Omer Fedi, the producer behind the pop-punk patinas of artists like 24kGoldn and Machine Gun Kelly.

The visual is similarly reflective, beginning with today’s Nas X sitting in a meditative state, floating above a pool of water. He watches visions of past performances and award-show appearances before being sent back to a time when he still worked at a Taco Bell franchise. There’s a cameo from his actual father, R. L. Stafford, who drives him home from work, as well as a reimagining of his high school bedroom. The clip culminates with an emotional prom scene. It starts out lonely, with Nas X surveying the dance floor alone as other couples slow-dance in pairs. At this point, he escapes to a bathroom stall to cry. But after some encouragement from his future self, he rejoins the party. The visual was directed by the artist himself in collaboration with Psycho Films.

It’s a hard pivot from the fast-tweeting, bop-slinging Lil Nas X that entered pop culture with the wild success of “Old Town Road,” showing a different side of the singer and letting listeners into his life. “in the “sun goes down” video i go back in time to visit a younger version self who’s struggling inside, hating himself, & doesn’t want to live anymore,” he wrote on Twitter ahead of the song’s release. “i try my best to uplift him.” This weekend, Lil Nas X will be the musical guest on Saturday Night Live in a two-part set that will likely include “Montero” and “Sun Goes Down.” Next month, on June 4, he will perform at the Can’t Cancel Pride virtual concert benefiting the LGBTQ+ community along with Demi Lovato, Hayley Kiyoko, Troye Sivan, and more.

Bop Shop: Songs From BTS, Lakeyah, Aly & AJ, And More

It’s comeback season! Ultimate boy band BTS is back with another Song of the Summer contender with the upbeat, retro, free-flowing “Butter.” Marking a true evolution from the “Dynamite” era, BTS maintain their unique musicality and artistry while also pushing themselves to new heights both sonically and visually (hello, electric blue hair!). Accompanied by an equally brightly colored, vintage-toned music video, the group’s always flawless choreography is, dare I say, “smooth like butter,” and truly displays the members’ teamwork and synchronicity. BTS tend to give their fans the songs they feel they need in the moment. Coming off the heels of “Life Goes On,” “Butter” is the perfect gift to ARMYs who are entering hopefully a much better, lighter, fully vaccinated 2021. —Sarina Bhutani

Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour Has A Song For Every Mood

The biggest pop song of the year begins like a diary entry. “I got my driver’s license last week,” Olivia Rodrigo sings, then quickly adds another person to the narrative: “Just like we always talked about / ‘Cause you were so excited for me / To finally drive up to your house.” By now, we know that the story ends with her passing the street and leaving the subject of the song in the rear view. But we also know the addictive engine that fuels her No. 1 hit “Drivers License” — highly personal songwriting coupled with excellently crafted song structures — is the same one powering Rodrigo’s entire career, as heard on her impressive debut LP, Sour, out today (May 21).

With help from her co-writer Dan Nigro, Rodrigo splits open her rock-tinged songs with details as real as what you’d send in a text (“reruns of Glee,” “crying on the floor in my bathroom”) and the occasional strategic F-bomb — lessons she picked up from her idol Taylor Swift. The songs themselves remain easy to digest; Sour‘s tracklist suggests an Inside Out-style approach to feelings with “Happier,” “Jealousy, Jealousy,” “Brutal,” and more telling you what you need to know in title alone. Yet there’s a sly sophistication in Rodrigo’s work, informed by her approach to disciplined songwriting. “I really think that more or less forcing yourself to write a song sometimes is really beneficial,” she told MTV recently. “I think you can’t rely on those lightning bolts of ideas to strike you all the time.”

That said, Sour has enough lightning bolts to fill Zeus’s quiver. From blistering pop-punk to more measured folk and pop-rock elements, Rodrigo spends its 35 minutes wisely spanning the sounds that speak to her, leveraging them to speak for her as well. “My dream is to have it be an intersection between mainstream pop, folk music, and alternative rock,” she said ahead of the album’s release. Below, we break down Sour, track by track and mood by mood.

Bop Shop: Songs From Katy Perry, Joywave, The Marías, Wonho, And More

Prior to forming the alt-pop band The Marías, singer María Zardoya and drummer-producer Josh Conway grew up admiring the films of directors like Pedro Almodóvar and Wes Anderson, each with their own singular, colorful styles. The group’s forthcoming album, Cinema, is infused with a mutual passion for the screen, including the hypnotic lead single “Hush.” The track entrances with a minimal electronic beat and almost blasé, sometimes whispered kiss-offs, while the visual is reminiscent of Giallo-era Italian horror. Decadent blood-red tones suggest something delightfully sinister is at work. —Coco Romack

Miss E… So Addictive Unleashed Missy Elliott’s Future. 20 Years Later, We’re Still Catching Up

By Alex Gonzalez

When Missy Elliott got into the studio to record her third album Miss E… So Addictive, the bar was already set high. Her first album, 1997’s Supa Dupa Fly, was accompanied by iconic music videos for “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly),” and “Sock it 2 Me” that found her dancing in outlandish costumes to elaborate choreography on cinematic sets in collaboration with visionary director Hype Williams. For Missy’s sophomore effort, Da Real World, Williams likewise created the visual for “She’s a Bitch” all while Missy’s continued creative partnership with Timbaland earned her a Guinness World Record when “Hot Boyz” hit 18 weeks at No. 1 on the Hot Rap Singles chart.

Entering the new millennium with So Addictive, released 20 years ago this week on May 15, 2001, the pressure should’ve been on. Yet Missy told MTV News the entire behind-the-scenes experience yielded “a very stress-free album.” “We worked in Westlake Studios in L.A. and we caught a good vibe there! The vibe was very futuristic and retro mixed,” she said in an email. “It varied from ‘Dog in Heat’ and ‘One Minute Man’ — that had the old school vibe — to ‘Get Ur Freak On’ and ‘Slap! Slap! Slap!,’ where the sounds were futuristic, so you got a nice cocktail of music.”

The sound and mood-spanning album and its accompanying music videos still hold up as ahead of their time today. During recording, Missy set out to create music that the listeners would not only hear but also feel. On the album’s lead single “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy raps, “Me and Timbaland been hot since 20 years ago,” a line that holds even more resonance two decades later.

“When we’re in the studio together, she pushes me to the next level,” Timbaland told MTV News. “So Addictive was a very impactful album. And it was very critical for her because she wanted to make each song and each visual different. Every album she does, she’s always like, ‘I’ve gotta be better than the last.’”

Though it was released as the project’s lead single, “Get Ur Freak On” was actually the last track Missy recorded for So Addictive. Timbaland insisted the album was solid and complete, but Missy pressed for one more song. “He went up and down the keyboard, and finally I heard the ‘Get Ur Freak On’ sound, and I said, hey that right there — that is crazzzzzy!” Missy said in an email. “So I ran in the booth with only three sounds on that record. It wasn’t the complete song the world knows now, but I went in and rapped on it and when I came out of the booth, Tim said, ‘That’s crazy.’ Guess he wasn’t mad at me anymore!”

With its infectious Punjabi-influenced melody, “Get Ur Freak On” is a song Timbaland says came from “just vibing in the studio.”

“When I found that sound, I was like, ooh, this feels like India, or ooh, this feels like Bombay,” Timbaland said. “And when people ask me, ‘What was you thinking?’ I’m like, everything you was thinking. I was searching for something that was going to take me somewhere I ain’t never been… It’s like playing a video game. Sometimes you put it on pause. You come back the next day and you see it different. It’s the same thing when you create. That’s how me and Missy are. That’s how we create.”

Timbaland admits he never watches Missy record her songs, as Missy prefers to get in her zone solo. The same process applies to her music videos. So Timbaland, who appears in several of the clips alongside her, was kept in the dark about the concepts Missy imagined until the actual days of filming.

The cameo-filled music video for “Get Ur Freak On” went equally big with Missy grooving in a jungle as dancers wiggle from trees around her. It marked her first team-up with Dave Meyers, who quickly became her go-to visual collaborator for the next 20 years. Near the end of the clip, Missy swings from a chandelier, an element that almost didn’t make it into the video.

“Whatever I would visualize, [Meyers] would try to make happen,” Missy said in an email. “I said at the last minute, I want a chandelier to hang from in my video, and he said ‘OK!’ I said, but I want it to be a big oversized one… and he said, ‘OK!’ He said, ‘Somebody go find Missy a chandelier for her to hang from,’ and Gina Harrell from the video department at the label was like, ‘But we are over budget,’ and Dave was like, ‘But we need it, so let’s find it.’ I don’t even know how much that thing cost but I’m probably still paying for it.”

Another star of Missy’s visuals alongside Missy herself was Trina, who appears in “Get Ur Freak On” and raps on the remix of “One Minute Man.” The two first met in 2000 during spring break at Daytona Beach. At the time, Trina was hot off the release of her debut album, Da Baddest Bitch. Missy recruited the Miami rapper to appear on her own LP.

“Mona [Scott-Young, Missy’s then-manager,] reached out to me like, ‘Hey, Missy’s got this record for you. She wants you to jump on it with Ludacris,’” Trina recalled. “I was excited. Then Missy called me maybe a week or so after that like, ‘Mona said she sent you this, I want to make sure you’re feeling it.’ I remember I was kind of sick at the time. I had a cold. And she had to turn it in I think that day or the next day, and I was like, oh my God, I want to get my voice together. I had no time, I had a deadline. So I had to do it with a scratchy voice, sounding very raspy. And I was like, ah, I hate my voice. And everybody was like, ‘We love it, we love it.’”

In the video for “One Minute Man,” Missy dances in a luxury hotel with colorful rooms, bouncy beds, and even defies gravity in a dojo. In a particularly memorable scene, she pulls her own head off of her neck and continues to sing. Trina said she has been a fan of Missy since the beginning of her career, but she remembers being shocked by the video for “She’s a Bitch.” When it was time to film her part for the “One Minute Man” video, she had no idea what to expect.

“She just said, ‘I’m shooting my video. I need you to be in L.A. Mona’s gonna hit up your manager with all the info,’” Trina said. “‘Everything’s going to be there. All you’ve got to do is show up.’ She didn’t give me no detail, no nothing. So just imagine me, I’m new in the game, I pulled up to her video, and it’s like a museum, because there are dancers hanging off the wall, there’s face paint, and there’s a big bed and it’s moving up and down. It was just next level. It was like being on a production of a movie.”

In addition to instantly iconic music videos, the album’s futuristic sounds made it feel like a brand-new experience. With Timbaland and Missy collaborating on fresh, forward-thinking beats and sonic templates, Missy earned her first Grammys; “Get Ur Freak On” won the award for Best Rap Solo Performance and album cut “Scream a.k.a. Itchin’” won for Best Female Rap Solo Performance.

But immortalizing those fresh sounds was no easy task. Before the days of digital software Pro Tools and FL Studio, Missy and Timbaland recorded vocals and instrumentals on large tapes called reels, which Missy has described as “a headache” to use.

“They required more labor,” Timbaland says. “You grab the tape, you put the tape in, and you have to line it up.  And then the engineer had to go run to work the tape machine, and then run to the back to change the tape and lock the tape… We were in a time where our brains were working faster than what the world was doing.”

To this day, Miss E… So Addictive remains one of Missy’s most revered albums. Her artful visuals have since earned her an MTV Video Vanguard Award in 2019 — “I have worked diligently for over two decades, and I never thought that I would be standing up here receiving this award,” she said in her acceptance — and the six-beat “Get Ur Freak On” melody is one of the most recognizable sounds in pop music.

Outside of her own music, Missy’s pen game is untouchable. In 2002, she collaborated with Trina again to produce “No Panties,” the lead single from her sophomore album Diamond Princess. She has also written and produced tracks for Mya, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey, Toni Braxton, and more.

But So Addictive captures Missy’s ambition not only as a musician but as an artist. “There were no boundaries when it came to my artistry and music,” she said in an email. “I did what felt good to me and not what was the trend — so if you weren’t following the trends, you basically had to break the boundaries.”

“It was all about the Missy era,” Trina said. “It was the sound, it was the collaborations, it was the videos, the creativity, the space performances. It was just everything that she gave to the game. I don’t feel like there’s any artists in the game that have been as creative as Missy Elliott. I feel like she’s a genius and she deserves all her flowers.”

Jay-Z, Foo Fighters, Tina Turner And More Will Be Inducted Into Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Jay-Z‘s Empire State of Mind is well documented, but what about a Buckeye State of Mind? He’ll find out later this year when he celebrates his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

The rap great joins a crop of performers including Tina Turner, Carole King, The Go-Go’s, Foo Fighters, and Todd Rundgren for its class of 2021, what the organization calls its most diverse group of inductees ever.

Indeed, the six honored acts this year span generations of pop, soul, new wave, alternative rock, and hip-hop; the induction of Turner, King, and The Go-Go’s marks the very first time three female artists have made it in via the performers category in the same class.

In addition, an accolade called the Musical Excellence Award will be given to rap icon LL Cool J, late soul/R&B legend Billy Preston, and late metal guitarist Randy Rhoads. Meanwhile, German electronic pioneers Kraftwerk, late jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, and Delta blues musician Charley Patton will receive the Early Influence Award. The Rock Hall’s Ahmet Ertegun Award, which is given to non-performing music industry professionals, will be presented to executive Clarence Avant.

John Sykes, the chairman of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Foundation, said in a statement that this year’s class embody the spirit of the institution: “This diverse class of talented inductees reflects the Rock Hall’s ongoing commitment to honor artists whose music created the sound of youth culture.”

If it seems like Dave Grohl, evergreen spokesperson for all things rock, should already be in the Rock Hall, don’t worry: He is, having been inducted in 2014 as part of Nirvana. The same goes for 20th-century music icons Carole King and Tina Turner, who were both previously inducted for their work as halves of duos. King and her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin — who penned hits like “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Chains,” “The Loco-Motion” and dozens more — were inducted in 1990; Turner made it in the following year for her long partnership with Ike Turner, which yielded “River Deep – Mountain High,” “Proud Mary,” and more.

The nominations for the 2021 Rock Hall class were unveiled in February and also included Mary J. Blige, Iron Maiden, Rage Against the Machine, Kate Bush, Devo, Chaka Khan, Fela Kuti, New York Dolls, and Dionne Warwick. An act is eligible for inclusion at least 25 years after the release of its first commercial recording.

The 2021 Rock & Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony, its 36th, will take place on October 30 and will air on HBO and stream on HBO Max at a later date.

Bebe Rexha Goes Deeper: ‘People Need Real Right Now’

By Jack Irvin

As Bebe Rexha settles into a Zoom call from her Los Angeles home, I preface our interview by letting her know it’s “for Rexhars and Bad Bitches only,” referencing a 2017 viral clip in which the pop star yells at “perverts” telling her to “take [her] clothes off” in the comments of an Instagram Live chat. “Yay! Finally,” Rexha says, unwrapping a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup after a long day of press. “Now let’s get the real fucking talking out.”

Rexha isn’t afraid to say exactly what she’s thinking, and it shows in her songwriting. On confessional hits “I’m a Mess” and “Me, Myself & I” with G-Eazy, she sings candidly about her experiences with anxiety, depression, and self-acceptance. It also appears in her social media presence, which features equally candid and often unfiltered discourse with fans, as well as funny photos and clips that are frequent fodder for stan Twitter memes. Where some viral videos capture her making “power-bitch moves,” as when she’s caught confidently strutting in a bright red suit, others find her overcome with emotion: In one clip, she covers her face with her hands and cries during an interview. Rexha is well-aware of her tendency to freely express her thoughts and emotions, but how does she feel when these vulnerable moments are shared among the masses?

“I’ve seen them sometimes, like the one of me crying… [and] the ‘pervert’ one I know, but I didn’t know how big it became until I had people coming to my shows and saying it to me,” Rexha tells MTV News. “If I look good and it’s cute, yeah, I like it. But if I look like shit and they’re making fun of me, no.”

Prior to our conversation, Rexha didn’t know the “power bitch moves” video had made the rounds online, but with her sophomore LP Better Mistakes — her most liberated body of work to date — out in the world as of last week, she says the album certainly counts as one. “A power-bitch move to me is anything that requires putting yourself out there,” she says. “This album is a power-boss-bitch move.”

Better Mistakes comes nearly three years after the release of her debut album Expectations, a gap elongated by changes to the pop star’s team. (She signed to Salxco Management in September 2020.) As she began to craft the new project, Rexha wanted it to live in the same catchy, vulnerable realm of the self-deprecating “I’m a Mess,” which she feels “most connected to” of her catalog of hits. From there, she was inspired to write songs like the piano-driven, self-destructive “Sabotage” and rock-laced “Break My Heart Myself,” which opens the album with direct references to her experience living with bipolar disorder, taking Klonopin to remedy its symptoms, and fearing her own intrusive thoughts. Through her no-holds-barred lyricism and openness about her bipolar diagnosis, which she shared publicly in 2019, she’s always been honest with fans about her mental health. But now she’s letting listeners into her head like never before.

“When I was younger, I would have loved to have somebody to look up to that was open about [mental health], so I didn’t feel so alone,” she says. “It’s something that’ll always be a part of me, and I was thinking if I’m real with my fans, maybe there’s somebody out there who will listen to it and it’ll help them.”

Writing about these often-taboo topics comes easily to Rexha, a seasoned songwriter who’s also penned hits for superstar artists like Selena Gomez (“Like a Champion,” “Crowded Room”), as well as Eminem and Rihanna (“The Monster”). However, she still gets pangs of nervousness before releasing such intimate tracks about her mental health due to how they affect one listener in particular. “My mother, for some reason, feels like she made a mistake and fucked up in some way,” she says. Rexha wrote the Queen-sampling track “Mama” about her mom’s endless support. “I love her to this day. She gets a little upset when I put songs out [about my mental health], but I’m a grown woman now, and people need real right now.”

Rexha was nearly done with Better Mistakes prior to the pandemic, but after its onset, she decided to take more time to sit with it. Then, she started to feel “really bored” and tired of the compositions’ gloomy nature, so she added songs like the club-ready “Sacrifice” and trap crooner “Amore.” These brought bursts of positive, upbeat energy to the project’s eclectic set of pop, dance, hip-hop, rock, and alternative sounds. “I’m like genre-fluid or something,” Rexha declares. “It’s painful for somebody to be like, ‘You have to write one whole album and have it all be one genre.’ Like, I would literally lose my shit.”

One of the only genres she opted to avoid on the album is country, despite the fact that her 2017 single “Meant to Be” with Florida Georgia Line is her biggest hit, with 50 weeks at No. 1 on country radio, a Grammy nomination, and more recently, a Diamond certification from the RIAA for 10 million units sold. “That was a song that lives on its own,” she says, noting that she “wasn’t in the mood” to further explore play with its stripped, plucky tunes this time around, though she’s considering a Nashville writing trip in the near future. In many ways, her foray into Western styles was unexpected, as was the monstrous success of “Meant to Be.” “We did not follow any rules whatsoever,” she adds. “I don’t like following rules.”

She shared the same sentiment working on Better Mistakes by doing what comes naturally to her, and has just so happened to score her many — often unpredictable — hits in the past: collaborating with other musicians. She gathered a group of artists she admires and who simply “felt right” for the record, including Travis Barker (“Break My Heart Myself”), Ty Dolla $ign and Trevor Daniel (“My Dear Love”), Lil Uzi Vert (“Die For a Man”), Doja Cat (“Baby I’m Jealous”), Pink Sweat$ and Lunay (“On the Go”), and Rick Ross (“Amore”). Flexing her curatorial skills, the inclusion of such high-profile features makes the album sound like a top Spotify playlist, a savvy move in today’s listening climate.

Rexha also wants to uplift other artists with her work, hosting the annual Women in Harmony events to bring together women in the music industry to discuss their experiences. She hopes to collaborate with many more women in the future, and an appearance by Doja Cat on Better Mistakes (“I love her vibe. She’s an amazing person,” she says) is a start. “With girls, there’s still a sense of competitiveness in this industry, and it’s really sad,” she says. “I see a lot of other artists who also say they support women, and I know them behind the scenes, and they don’t. They’re not what they say they are, and that’s really shitty.”

Though Rexha still experiences “moments of self-doubt,” she says she’s “definitely in a better place” with her mental health today than she was while writing Better Mistakes. Yet even the fact that she’s also been in a relationship with filmmaker Keyan Safyari since last year doesn’t drive the musician to write about bright subjects like love. Instead, the album features lyrics that chronicle feelings of emptiness and bring a touch of cheekiness to emotional highs and lows (“I know that it’s crazy to die for you, but I’d do it tonight,” she sings on “Death Row.”), making for a dark, edgy listen. “I thrive in darker, minor keys, and darker lyrics and concepts,” she says. “I’m good with my love life, but I can’t write a love song. It’s really hard for me.”

While she felt some of the classic sophomore-album pressure to recapture the success of her debut, above all else Rexha set out to create each song on Better Mistakes without creative restraint or extreme-hit potential in mind. “Right now, it’s more about writing songs that make me happy, and to really keep defining who I am as an artist,” she says. “Then if the song blows up, that’s even more incredible. But if not, it doesn’t define me as a human.” Now that the album’s out, however, how does Rexha want to be defined as an artist? “Like I do whatever the fuck I want,” she says. “I want people to be like, ‘What’s Bebe going to do next?’”

Bop Shop: Songs From Rostam, Saweetie, Brooke Eden, And More

Kings of Convenience, the early 2000s indie answer to Simon & Garfunkel consisting of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe, are back. The duo have been pretty radio silent since they released their third album, Declaration of Dependence, in 2009 — until last week, when they announced their upcoming fourth album, Peace or Love, with a new single, “Rocky Trail.” On the folk track, the two sing about relationship regrets while strumming their guitars, with their soothing hygge harmonies lowering your blood pressure pretty much as soon as you hit play. Who could ask for more after this past year? Saving us from our stress and depressing inner dialogue, the Kings of Convenience have returned at the perfect time. —Chris Rudolph