Originally written and published by me for Spectrum Culture.
Although her biggest hit to date remains a country crossover single, Bebe Rexha continues to chart a course as one of pop music’s most underrated voices. With her 2015 debut EP I Don’t Wanna Grow Up and 2018 debut Expectations, she communicated that she was going to show us crazy and that maybe she was comfortable being sad living life in the fast lane. On her second studio album Better Mistakes, she sounds at peace with both a bipolar diagnosis and deepening her sense of self through her lyrics. It’s a shame that over-commercialized production kind of kills its underlying themes of empowerment.
“My doctor upped my dosage / My mom felt bad, so she sent me roses / Without it, I feel really hopeless / And 5.7 of Americans know it,” she sings on album opener “Break My Heart Myself,” an illuminating mental illness anthem that only Rexha could pen. As much as we would like to believe we live in a much more enlightened and self-aware era when it comes to mental health, the reality is that the stigma is still very much alive—even during a pandemic—so the singer’s attempts at turning her struggles into earworms is more than welcome. Likewise, on “Sabotage,” easily the album’s best offering, Rexha comes to terms with her tendency to vandalize her self-worth: “Matches in my back pocket / I’m the queen of burnin’ bridges / I will only let you down / Why do I sabotage everything I love? / It’s always beautiful until I fuck it up.” And on “Empty,” accompanied by an acoustic guitar, she grapples with being her own worst enemy: “I break down as my daily routine / A fake smile is my accessory / I’m tired of feeling low / And I’m too tired to hurt.”
As much as its themes of mental illness and emerging femininity should be empowering, Better Mistakes ultimately falls prey to being somewhat overproduced. On the one hand, the album relies too heavily on collaborations, as they make up nearly half the track listing, not to mention that songs like “Baby, I’m Jealous” with Doja Cat would have functioned infinitely better with just Rexha. It begs the question of whether the singer’s label believed an album of dark pop songs about mental health issues with a few upbeat bangers sprinkled on top could have functioned well on its own without names like Travis Barker or Ty Dolla $ign thrown in for effect. (Noticeably absent are the 2019 singles “Last Hurrah” and “Not 20 Anymore” which could have easily replaced some of the forgettable filler.) On the other hand, too many tracks on Better Mistakes are too short—the longest song is three minutes and nine seconds, but most come in at barely two and a half. A song doesn’t have to be upwards of three minutes to be catchy or compelling, but most songs on this album felt over too soon.
Ultimately, the parts of Better Mistakes that symbol empowerment and awareness are lost to the parts that are preoccupied with chart performance. The album could have benefited from taking a page out of Expectations’ book, one that more easily balanced deep cuts with confident pop. Rexha described the album as being “based off of actual insecurity” and allowing herself to create a cohesive body of work surrounding her continuous coming-of-age as an artist. There is definite growth in her sound and delivery which, as far as sophomore albums go, is the only achievement she needs.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Better Mistakes: “Break My Heart Myself,” “Sabotage,” “Sacrifice,” and “Empty”