Not every young woman trying to break into the music industry has quite the same luck as Bibi Bourelly. Thanks to penning one of 2015's biggest singles, "Bitch Better Have My Money," for one of pop's biggest stars, the 21-year-old's name blew up overnight, with everyone wanting to know more about who was behind the viral Rihanna hit.
Born and raised in Berlin, Bourelly uprooted herself and moved to L.A. after high school in 2014 to pursue a music career. Fast-forward to one year later, Bourelly had a single with Rihanna, and has since stayed busy churning out music of her own. In May, she released her debut EP Free The Real: Pt. 1, a sonic mixture of bluegrass, soul, psychedelia and rock 'n' roll, from which single "What If" earned a Best New Track nod from Pitchfork.
While she was in New York we spoke to Bourelly about her getting vulnerable in music, the need for ultimate honesty, and how she feels about that Rihanna single.
What did you grow up listening to? How has that influenced your music overall?
My dad is a professional musician, so I grew up thinking of music as everyday sounds. It was always playing in my house. I didn't really develop a taste for music until I was older. My dad would play fusion jazz, rock 'n' roll, Stevie Wonder and his own music (which is what I took in the majority of the time) around the house. I developed a love and a taste for pop music. My music of choice would be Destiny's Child, Britney Spears, Alicia Keys or a "Think Pink" Barbie cassette tape. I learned how to take music in like any other sound you take in on the street. I took it in like a language.
You've tweeted before about how your self-expression has been compromised. In what situations have you encountered that?
My self-expression has been compromised because everyone judges you for how you say things as opposed to what you're saying. We live in a world where it's very trendy to be egotistical. I think we also live in a world where there's just a lot of insecurities that exist within people, which is systematic and circumstantial. That's not me attacking any one person: It's just a fact. When you say things on a broader spectrum and they go to a lot of different people, it becomes a weird process because everyone is judgmental, and I don't want to feel like "Fuck everyone." But lowkey I do feel like that.
I feel bad for saying it, but as far as my every day personal life, I think my self-expression has been compromised. Musically, what I've learned in the last couple of years is that music is one thing and business is the complete opposite thing. I'm learning how the two go hand-in-hand, unfortunately. It's fucked up for someone like me, who is in love with music's purity and is superbly emotional, because the majority of people around me make it to generate money. It's just contradicting. [Music] becomes this manipulating thing.
What do you get insecure about when it comes to music?
I get insecure about everything, dude. I get insecure about the way I look and the way I say things—it's kind of crass sometimes. It's not crass because I want to hurt anyone's feelings—it's crass because that's how I learned how to speak. I get super insecure about the way I put things into words, especially when I speak about things I'm passionate about. I just feel like it's my responsibility to be truthful as an artist, so I try to be as truthful as I possibly can.
Why do you feel like you'll be judged for speaking your truth?
Well, because I will be. At least in interviews I'm doing right now, people really care about what the fuck it is I'm saying. The way I say things sound fucking crazy sometimes, so, it's just easy to be a target in that sense. But, I'm learning. You have to be who the fuck you are. I'm slowly coming to that conclusion.
Photo courtesy of Def Jam
When has making music been a burden to you?
Music just comes out of me. It becomes difficult when it evokes feelings you've been trying to deny or push away. It gets hard when you have a song inside of you that you don't want to write because you know it's going to evoke a bunch of shit you don't want to deal with. I don't think songwriters or anyone who uses art as self-expression can push that to the side like other people can. I'm so passionate about it. I just care so fucking much about it, and that's a burden too.
Did you have any trepidation about releasing your EP? What tracks did you feel most vulnerable about sharing with the world?
I have anxiety about putting out any song—it's like my diary. It's literally my words, my thoughts, and my emotions just going out there. I get mad anxiety every single time because of that, because people have access to who I am. As a track that's more vulnerable, I'd say "What If" because of the way it was written and I felt more vulnerable when I wrote that song. The song has this really dope guitar player named Robert Kerner on it. [It was written in] my small New York motel room. We had chardonnay, and we were sitting there just chain-smoking cigarettes and he started playing this crazy ass guitar riff. He kept closing his eyes and playing, and I just blanked out and created the track. It was a really natural, emotional process for me. I also feel vulnerable on the song "Guitar" because my dad [Jean-Paul Bourelly] is on it.
Do you think that writing "Bitch Better Have My Money" has overshadowed your career, or do you feel like writing the track launched it for you?
I think it helped me. If I were to look at it like it overshadowed my career, I'd never be in this place. It would be an egotistical thing to say. I got to write a single for one of the biggest pop stars of our time. I don't even see a negative in there. Granted, if you look deep enough, you're going to find some bullshit in everything. I mean, look at where I'm at now. I don't think it's overshadowing me.