Interview: The Music Industry Broke Bibi Bourelly’s Heart
Bibi Bourelly first showed up on the mainstream radar as the songwriter of Rihanna‘s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” But as seen with her commanding TV debut on the Tonight Show recently, the rising singer has no trouble going it alone.
I sat down with the 21-year-old at SXSW a few weeks ago, and we discussed how her undying love for music will always outweigh the frustrating struggles of the industry. Read on to see what the fiery singer had to say.
I caught your set at Fader Fort, and you were TURNT up! I was curious to know if you had any pre-show rituals? I usually like to be alone when I get on stage — it’s a really meditative process for me. They say the voice is the connection to your soul, as weird and hippie as that may sound. When you get on stage, especially when you’re singing the songs I’m singing, you have to show your heart to the people. So I have to get comfortable and focus on myself, and I have to be alone to do that.
This is your first time at SXSW, so what’s been your favorite moment so far? I was at a Stormzy show last night, it was really lit. I jumped into the mosh pit! Everyone was like “you’re forgetting who you are!” But I didn’t give a fuck. I went with my home girl Little Simz, and it was lit. I was so drunk!
I love that you’re so fearless both on the stage and in your music. A lot of female artists nowadays are quiet and have the machine run their game. You seem to be the complete opposite of that. Thank you, but I don’t really focus on that. I think when you label yourself, you imprison yourself. Granted, I am a woman. But when I acknowledge those things I kind of hold myself back. So I try to just be the best I can be. It’s not in my personality traits to be timid. I can be, but that’s not who I am — man or woman.
Got it. And you’re such a melting pot, with growing up in Berlin and being Moroccan and Haitian. Have your surroundings influenced your music? Yeah, of course. My dad [musician Jean-Paul Bourelly] is really the main influence — he’s so good at what he does. Just because of his talent and skill, my brother and I were always surrounded by excellence. Excellence in the sense that these people could really fucking play. Of course living in different places and being exposed to different things is an influence, but it takes away from what you do a little bit.
And we all know you’ve worked with Rihanna, but do you have anyone else you’d like to collaborate with? I just want to make genuine music, I don’t want things to be premeditated. The industry kind of scarred me a bit, because I do this shit. It seeps through my pores. I feel like it kind of broke my heart, and I now understand people are not who they say they are.
So you saw the bad side of the music world. Like, imagine in love, right? I dedicated my life to music, I’ve been doing it since I was a kid. People don’t really understand that. Nineteen years of my life every day, for hours after school. It was my way of getting people to listen. It was my way of interpreting emotions and connecting with people. I thought, “What if I worked really hard?” When I got into the game, it wasn’t what I thought it was. I was shattered. And I got to the point where I was like, “do this for what?” But I had to pull myself back and look at myself in the mirror, and realize it was for the people.
You’ve seen both sides, so when you put that in your music it becomes more honest. That’s a rare thing to have. Yeah, I’ve seen the industry from the inside out. I’ve seen how people talk when they don’t think you matter. I’ve seen music get stolen. Music! Like it comes from your soul.
I’ve been listening to your songs, and the one that stood out to me was “Riot.” It’s very feisty. I think it’s pretty straightforward, y’know. I’m not weak.
A lot of songwriters want to stay out of the spotlight. But I feel like with you, you put yourself out there in a way that’s so relatable. These are my songs! I was born to do this, this is my life. What else would I be doing? How am I going to write a song and just give it away for the rest of my life? When you go in and write subconsciously, it’s all unmeditated. When you see a kid pick up the English language and say “mama” and “papa,” music is my language. I’ve been around it since before I could talk.
So what can people expect from you this year? Do you have an album on the way? I’m working on an EP…I think [laughs]! I want an EP out soon, I have so many songs, man. It’s hard when you don’t drop your music, because I’ve always had this innate desire to be understood and to be accepted for all that I am. When you don’t have music out, people don’t really know you. People will [connect], but people will also not like me for who I am. But I think it’s my responsibility. I’m very sensitive and I get upset at the fact that not everybody will like me. And I think everyone does. But I’d rather be who I am than be liked. What does life mean if I don’t get to be myself?
You have such a special and unique personality. Were you like this as a child as well? Yeah, I’ve been very very consistent since I was a kid.
And I’m sure you’ve been asked about the plagiarism claims surrounding “Bitch Better Have My Money.” How frustrating was it to have someone make those accusations about your music? Pull up a beat, get me behind the mic, and see how quick I can write a song.