Happy birthday, Bebe!
As the New York City native teased on Instagram earlier this month, the track was inspired by sexist remarks a male music executive recently made about her.
“I recently had a MALE music executive tell me that I was getting too old and that my brand was ‘confusing.’ Because… I’m a songwriter and I post sexy pics on my Instagram and that’s not what female songwriters are supposed to do, especially for my age,” Rexha posted on Aug. 12.
Thursday night, on the eve of her 30th birthday, Rexha opened up to PEOPLE about the song, overcoming her insecurities as she ages (and befriending Taylor Swift!) ahead of her electric opening set for the Jonas Brothers’ Happiness Begins Tour.
Tell me about your new song “Not 20 Anymore.”
I was really scared to write a song, like, “Hey, I’m 30. I don’t care what anybody says.” All my life, when I ask my mom’s friends, the thing was: “Don’t ask a woman her age.” That’s what I was told all my life. I was talking to my friend, and I really wanted to write about the things I’m scared of, my insecurities, so that’s where it came from. The songs are a series of things I’m super insecure about: Will I end up being alone? The way that I look. Losing all my friends. Just a whole bunch of things that I’m insecure about that I’ve now made into songs. I’m a drama queen. I love drama.
How have you learned to deal with those insecurities and have the confidence you have today?
I think it’s just talking to yourself in a certain way. I can wake up one day and I might feel like s—. Like, I might eat something really bad … Last night I had Thai food and was super bloated. But I woke up and I worked out. I still felt like s— today, but you know what — it’s Madison Square Garden, it’s my birthday coming up, I’ve gotta not let myself get in my head. Because what you feed yourself is what happens. If you’re just negative all day, that’s how your day’s gonna end up. Even if it’s the best day ever, you’re gonna still have that negative sheen over it.
I just force myself to say nice things to myself and ignore the bad thoughts. We tell people all the time: “You look so cute, I love your hair color.” Blah, blah, blah. But imagine if we said that to our friends: “You’re so ugly. You need to lose 5 lbs. Your eyebrows are too thick. What’s up with those thighs. Your breath smells. You’ll never be good enough.” We say that to ourselves every day. Could you imagine [if you said the same thing to our friends]?
What are some big takeaways you’ve come away with from your twenties?
To not be so scared. To not think that one person could be the end-all, be-all of everything. Music was my everything, and obviously it’s the music business, so I used to get scared: If I did what somebody else didn’t want or said no to something or had not a good experience with someone, that they were going to ruin my career. And that’s not the case at all. If anybody’s gonna ruin anything, it’s most likely yourself. Everything is not do-or-die. And not one person controls everything. When something doesn’t work out, it’s because something better is in the wings. There’s been moments when things went to complete s—. I would break down crying. When I was in New York City, I’d walk 40 blocks, literally just crying and so upset that one record label didn’t want to sign me and I thought it was over. I wish I would have told myself: “Just relax, instead of having a panic attack and being so depressed for a long time.” Nothing is really as serious as it seems.
You’re still working on not letting other people affect you. And you blasted that music exec on Instagram for talking about your age…
Yeah. I do it from hurt, when I get upset. And then I just feel like it’s not right. I actually will post it in the moment when I’m really upset, then after I post it, I freak out, like, “What did I do?! Why did I do that?! What if it backfires and people are like, ‘You are old!’?” I see red and I get so upset and I was really hurt. I have to be careful on social media.
It’s important that you brought it up, though.
I don’t want to seem like that person that’s always complaining. I just want to be able to speak out and just shine light on it because it’s been happening for so long, and it will always happen, unfortunately, that’s just the way life is: You’re never going to fix something completely, but you can shine light on it and hopefully it will get better over time. No matter if it’s a female or a male, if they walk into a job and they’re good and they kill it, no matter what or who they are, they should have the chance. They shouldn’t be judged by the way they look or how old they are or where they come from. It’s hard to do because in our society we really are told, “This is what’s beautiful.” And it’s f—ed us up a bit. It’s f—ed me up a bit, too, I’m not gonna lie. I would love to go onstage with not much makeup on, but I like to wear a lot of lashes and over-line my lips.
You got a lot of support for speaking out, though — Taylor Swift even weighed in.
If Taylor’s on your side, you’re good. She’s the queen.
And then you guys got to chat at the VMAs on Monday.
Yeah, we did. It was really nice. I was listening to her, but I was a little in shock. I was like, “Holy f—.” Taylor Swift was telling me that I’m awesome, and I kind of just … I’d had a couple of drinks, and I was nodding and she was talking to me, but I was like, “Thank you.” But I know that we had a nice moment. She’s cool. I had never gotten to meet her, and I don’t really know her like that yet, but she seems real, in person. She really does.
And now you’re playing Madison Square Garden two nights in a row. What does that mean to you, as a New Yorker?
I always dreamed of playing at Madison Square Garden. It’s really cool to be here. A lot of people would dream to be on the stage. It’s awesome. And I remember coming to see Lady Gaga here a while back with my mom, and it was like, “Whoa!” I was 19! I remember watching it and thinking, “I really want to perform here one day.” Now I’m here.