Swipe right, hook-up, ghost or be ghosted, rinse and repeat: modern relationships can conjure up very specific type of numbness. It's called the internet, look it up!! But in the midst of our increasingly bleak, emotionally repressed lifestyles, the heart-on-sleeve, give-no-fucks music of an artist like Bibi Bourelly is a welcome imploration to feel things, both good and bad.
The last time we spoke to Bibi she was the 20-year-old who seemed to come out of nowhere to write Rihanna's iconic "Bitch Better Have My Money" – an impressive accolade in any artist's book, let alone that of a relative unknown. Anyone who has yelled the song's hook with their head thrown right back and some form of middle fingers/gun fingers pointed at the ceiling will know it's a pop growler teeming with glorious rage and nonchalance. But fast forward a bit and now 23-year-old Bibi is steadily carving out a place for herself beyond that particular credit: the past few years have seen co-signs, features, and songwriting credits from and for the likes of Lil Wayne, Usher, Selena Gomez, and Camila Cabello. Have faith in Weezy to know what's up.
When we meet, on a late summer afternoon in a flashy central London hotel, she looks bemused at the suggestion that constantly being associated with "BBHMM" might become frustrating. "Limiting? No! It's an opportunity, and I took advantage of that opportunity and it opened doors. That was the first song of my career, so it set the standard very high – but I can live up to that. That's not a problem."
To Bibi, music has been a vocation – a medium through which to speak her spiritual truths. With three EPs to her name, her recent Boy (In Studio) release uses stripped-back live recordings of largely old songs to let her powerhouse voice take centre stage. Its distinctive gravelly texture makes her disarmingly candid lyrics seem to pour out of your headphones or speakers like plumes of delicate smoke. Overall, Boy is a collection of intimate, dusky songs that confront various aspects of love – obsession, self-doubt, disappointment. And sure, writing about love isn't some novel idea, but Bibi does it in a way interesting enough to warrant this reframing of past material.
We're sitting on a couch in the hotel bar, and while she's wearing unremarkable, comfortable-seeming clothes and appears relaxed, hair cascading from a high ponytail, there's a fierceness in her eyes and in the animated, heavy-on-hand-gestures way she talks. I ask if all these songs are about one person (they're not), then wonder aloud if it's weird that her lyrics make me feel like I know this much about her life and her relationships – and have the right to know more. Being so open in your art is surely kind of terrifying. There must be things she keeps to herself? "If it's not all there, then one day it will be," she says, frankly, every bit as at ease in person as on her records. "The way that I write songs is very pure, it's not calculated; the same way a kid speaks, that's the only way you connect to that primal, intuitive spirit. You gotta be honest – I can overthink this and come up with some kind of equation, but the truth is all you've got to do is be fucking real."
She returns often to this idea of "realness" – it seems an important quality to her. When we talk about relationships, she mentions honesty as the trait that she values the most. And with her music, tapping into some sort of emotional truth is everything. There's a line on "Sunshine" – "I don't take compliments well, but I'm so self-obsessed" – that I imagine resonates not only with me, but a load of other semi-awkward "millennial" women. "I just say how the fuck I feel," she says, when I ask if she's targeting that particular demographic. "Turn on the microphone, give me the fucking guitar and I say it. And if it's out there for women then that's cool, if it's not that's still cool – it's all straight. But I think it's very important for us to be able to freely say what we feel, to be loose with our tongues."
Bibi confronted and dealt with complex emotions in this way from a young age. She was born in Berlin, where her mother died when Bibi was six years old. And, because her father was a touring musician, Bibi and her twin brother went on to spend their youths between Berlin and their aunt and uncle's place in Maryland. Along the way, she had to learn how to shape a sense of self. "I've seen a lot of death, I've been back and forth between places, lost friends, gained new friends – I've had a lot of experience in a short amount of time. I don't want to spend my life suppressing myself. I don't want to spend my life not doing everything I can to come into who I am."
You may have found yourself in a similar state of mind. There's a point somewhere between the near-giddy, hormonal rush of your teens and the sudden 'oh wow, this is adulthood' reality of your thirties where so many of us can feel pulled between the person we've drifted into becoming, and the one we'd actually like to be. It's more than being beholden to peer pressure – it's about recognising how you are the only one holding yourself back. Bibi's music, and her approach to growing into her twenties encapsulate this in a way that really strikes a chord. As we sit, the hotel bar blasting out Frank Ocean in the background, I find myself thinking about how – whether it's falling intensely for that fuckboy artist, or shutting out reality and chugging too much wine when you've been let down by love – the only person you really have control over is yourself. And that the least you can do is be true to that (even if that can feel scary). Something about the way that this reality hardly seems to faze Bibi emanates a certain kind of power.
We talk about fears and insecurities, and how her newfound position in the music industry might pressure her to behave in a certain way: "Of course I feel pressures – it's the fucking entertainment industry. And I'm a black woman, who isn't pristine or perfect and is very open about that. But I don't give a fuck, y'all, this is who I am – I shouldn't have to pretend. For what? To hide who the fuck I am? We're all imperfect, we've all got issues: weird psychological insecurities, problems. Why the fuck am I gonna sit here and pretend like I don't have none of that?" All the same, she doesn't wish to appear ungrateful. She quotes a Kipling poem, using it to highlight how she has those insecurities but tries not to "entertain them; to speak them into existence". Instead, she opts to "be ready to face the shit you're scared of".
At no point did I imagine an interview with Bibi Bourelly would lift me like a particularly refreshing therapy session, but her passion is as unwavering and powerful as her music, and I feel oddly empowered by the end of our time together. Getting ready to leave, I realise I'm charged with emotion. In a world where it's easier to watch a crush's Insta stories than it is to actually face up to our emotions and talk to them, where it's easier to slip into other people's expectations than to consider who we actually want to be, Bibi Bourelly is providing the antidote, forcing us to confront the reality of our twenties. "I've always felt like I had to fight with society because I have this undying desire to be exactly who I am, so I don't give a fuck if you like me or don't like me – but I'm gonna make you feel something. That's my role because it's needed and necessary. Even if you feel negative emotions, at least you're moving: you go down, you come back up, that's how life is supposed to work! However you want to interpret it, I make music to help people survive."
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