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“Hey, what’s up! It’s Bebe here, in Venice Beach!” A young woman with black hair stands against an orange-striped wall in a YouTube video from 2015, seemingly seconds after the cameraman has said, “I dunno, that place looks cool? Stand there and say something.” She is wearing stripes, her hair very dark and her lipstick is very red—the 2015 fashionista has logged on.

Is she… some kind of YouTube star, maybe? Let’s keep watching. “I got my trusty speaker,” she says, brandishing a piece of rounded white plastic as big as her forearm. “I’m gonna be playing—I’m gonna show you—crazy, from random strangers—I have no idea who these people are.” Okay, things are starting to break down here. Bebe (style note: it’s Bee-bee, like two insects, not BayBay, like the guy with the kids) is looking left to right, possibly for help(?), seeming confused, but trying to cover with a lot of enthusiasm. The video has an obvious edit here. Probably not a YouTube star.

“Hopefully they’re going to like it?” We’re back from the edit, but Bebe has her entire body turned to her left, away from camera, already seeming bored. “And they have no idea it’s me. Singing the song. So… let’s see what happens.” Ah! Okay! A singer! A ‘Bebe Rexha’ is apparently a singer. What follows is two minutes of Bebe gamely walking up to strangers on the Venice boardwalk who have no idea who she is. Several older men seem to be hitting on her. She is unphased. The video, in a stunning flourish of self-awareness and SEO, is called “Who Is Bebe Rexha.” About 18 months after its release, she hosted the MTV European Music Awards. She has had legit hit songs, viewed hundreds of millions of times. Now, she’s playing Warsaw this Friday.

But, like, who is she? People still don’t seem to know. This video is still tweeted out regularly, as is the phrase “Who is Bebe Rexha?”

So, let’s investigate. Who is Bebe Rexha? Is Bebe Rexha famous?

Bebe Rexha is a singer and songwriter whose biggest hits are “No Broken Hearts,” with Nicki Minaj, and “I Got You.” The two songs together have about 285 million YouTube views. I am a member of the New York Sports Club chain of exercise gyms (not to brag), where “I Got You” is in heavy rotation. It’s catchy and does that semi-Caribbean xylophone thing Justin Bieber and Skrillex started with “Where Are U Now.” But it isn’t especially…  compelling. I have never fallen from one of the many complicated exercise machines where I lift extremely heavy weights because I have been like, “I must know what this song is!”

But here’s why I really like Bebe Rexha (and to be clear I do really like her). She grew up here in Brooklyn, went to public high school on Staten Island, and has basically been working her ass off to get famous ever since. She entered songwriting competitions, which she parlayed into getting an agent, which she parlayed into working with Pete Wentz on a weird post-Fall Out Boy project called Black Cards—check her out singing a 1930s pop pastiche while appearing in a 1950s horror pastiche video for “Club Called Heaven.” It is not good. But Bebe Rexha is here, on time, to fucking work.

I used to work in the music industry, and please believe me that many stars would rather do anything than actually show up where they said they’d be when they said they’d be there to actually do something. According to legend, it took ODB like 15 hours to record his few lines in Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” remix because he kept getting drunk and falling asleep. I personally used to work with an artist who employed a “publicist” whose actual job was to drive to his house, wake him up, and drive him to his appointments, because he otherwise wouldn’t show up anywhere.

Bebe Rexha is not one of these people.

Check her out in a promo for those 2016 MTV EMAs, one of several unique promos. She is not bored, she does not seem like she is mentally running through the mistakes made by her manager, which forced her to do a complicated day-long promo shoot for some dumbass awards show she is hosting in Europe. Check her out on YouTube talking about her Albanian heritage. Check her out performing on the Elvis Duran morning radio show. Her Wikipedia page prominently mentions that she played the trumpet in her high school band. Bebe Rexha is here, she is working, she has a positive attitude, she will definitely do one more take.

Most pieces on Rexha—and there are actually a lot!—tend to focus on her work as a songwriter. Specifically, many start like this 2015 New York Post profile: “Bebe Rexha co-wrote Eminem and Rihanna’s 2013 smash “The Monster”—yet she’s never even met them.” In fact, Rexha has written songs for artists like Nick Jonas, Bella Thorne, and Selena Gomez, and more people you probably have not heard of. A story that she likes to tell is singing the hook for David Guetta’s hit “Hey Mama” (more than a billion views), but not getting credit for it, until she made demanded credit.

Also, and there’s no way to not mention this, Bebe Rexha is not shy about using her body. Obviously, there is nothing remarkable about a pop star using their sexuality, it’s common practice from Frank Sinatra to Britney Spears. But there’s something… a little odd about the way she does it. It’s presentational, work-like. The Bebe Rexha in music videos and red carpets isn’t really a character who is free with her body, or passionate, or reckless, or even especially sexual. It’s more like she seems to have made a business decision that you would like to look at her butt and so spends some amount of time showing you her butt. Then she would like to stop showing you her butt. You can just imagine her stepping into a plunging bodysuit to attend the LA Pride festival in West Hollywood like a construction worker putting on his boots and hardhat, sighing with the old familiar pain. It’s all part of the job.

But back to the question—is Bebe Rexha famous? Let’s check the numbers.

She has 379,000 Twitter followers (Ariana Grande, 44 million; Nicki Minaj, 20 million; David Guetta 21 million). She has 1.8 million followers on Instagram (Ariana Grande 101 million; Nicki Minaj 77 million; David Guetta 7.1 million).

She’s playing Warsaw this week, a Greenpoint venue which holds 1000 people. Its other upcoming shows are Teenage Fanclub, Ty Segall, and The Damned’s 40th anniversary tour. British old-man shout-core duo Sleaford Mods are playing the night before Rexha; their show is sold out. As of this writing, Rexha’s is not.

I was hoping to end with an expert ruling from one of the hosts of Who Weekly, a podcast about marginal celebrities. Turns out I’m not famous enough to get a reply.

So I’ll do the final verdict myself. Bebe Rexha is popular but she is not famous. However I’d say she’s on the road to being famous. And she’s working hard to get there.

Image via Bebe Rexha’s Instagram


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