Despite working with Kanye West, Usher, and Selena Gomez, 21-year-old Bibi Bourelly remains grounded: she never feels overwhelmed by the icons she fraternises with, and aims to keep her outlook original and unaffected by fame. “At the end of the day, l just want to be myself,” Bourelly says over the phone, her voice cracking from a night smoking blunts with her college friends, “I don’t set out to be like anyone else.”
Bourelly was born to a Moroccan and Haitian background in Berlin, and spent time living in DC. She rebelled at school, insisting that her future was on the stage, not in the classroom, and relocated to LA after linking with a manager who discovered her on Instagram. Soon, she was working with Rihanna, writing her platinum-selling single “Bitch Better Have My Money” as well as the songs “Yeah, I Said It”, “Higher”, and “Pose” for her sixth album Anti.
Yet despite being a prolific writer for other artists, Bourelly sees herself today as more focused on her own music. As a solo artist, Bourelly has a deep sense of individualism and has fought hard against expectation and acceptance. She writes music about lust, ambition, empowerment, and equal rights. She is campaigning through her music to correct society's failure to recognise talent over colour or gender. “I'm not leaving in silence. You won't see me crying. You gon’ see the fire in my eyes. If I go, I'mma start a riot. I'm fighting for my life”, command the lyrics on her solo track “Riot”. Her ethics are paramount to her career’s monetary value.
Now signed to Def Jam, Bibi is still contributing songs and lyrics to a prime selection of chart-topping artists while working on her own music. Her single “Ego” topped the Spotify charts when it was released at the end of last year, and she’s currently working hard producing, writing, and recording her debut album. We spoke to her about her values, her school days, and what she’ll do if Donald Trump gets into power.
Which of your own values would you want to instil in the next generation of women?
Bibi Bourelly: Not to be timid. To have the courage to just speak up and not be mistreated. My dad always encouraged me to allow myself whatever freedom l need. l think every young girl has the power to really be great at something and can prosper. I can still feel unsure in myself and l’m still insecure about certain things, but my desire to be happy and my desire to be free is very strong. I just want to do things the right way. I don’t want to be afraid of anything.
Female artists are less afraid right now to speak up for what they deserve.
Bibi Bourelly: I think there is a new generation of girl power emerging, but l don’t think girls always wanted to see each other win. A lot of senior artists say that they support women, but they have a machine of people behind them telling them to be that way. l don’t think it’s always true and genuine. I wouldn’t necessarily label myself a feminist. I’m not saying girls gotta stick together, because l personally don’t do that. Good people have got to stick together. Respect is not divided by gender. I’m just someone who wants to do this the right way. I just want to be accepted for everything l am. I want the people to support me and stand by me. If you happen to be gay and l inspire you then that’s dope, if you are a chick and l inspire you that’s great, but really l don’t give a fuck who you are.
Who are the women in music and across the world you look up to?
Bibi Bourelly: I look up to anyone who has the courage to fight for individuality, to be themselves. I like Azealia Banks, she’s cool as shit. Instead of being inspired by people, l’m more inspired by actions. I’m more inspired by incidents or situations. So when l see someone tell the truth and l see a woman be brutally honest, that inspires me. If l see someone who isn’t afraid of being shunned and she honestly doesn’t give a fuck what you think about her, that’s inspirational. And that’s one in how many women?
I read that you weren’t particularly interested in school.
Bibi Bourelly: School for me was a really, genuinely hard thing. It was hard because l am an artist. You can’t send an artist to a place where we learn at a mad slow pace sitting in a class. l don’t give a fuck about boring myself for 45 minutes! No one cares, no one in my whole school cared. l’m gonna forget all the shit l read there. All l wanna do is write a song, or draw a picture, [or] write a poem or story, and l’m sat there doing algebra. l realised that all these people don’t understand me. This shit genuinely makes me unhappy. l was straight up depressed. Put me in a situation where l have to learn things the academic way (or) l won’t be successful? Fuck that, get the fuck out my way. Then everyone calls me nuts when l decide to do what l want to be happy. They said “This girl crazy. She thinks she’s becoming a singer and making her dream come true.” It wasn’t until l was successful that people went from calling me crazy to great. l’m not nuts or a genius, l’m just somebody you are not about to instil fear in. You can’t scare me from doing what l was born to do.
How did you go from school to getting signed by Def Jam?
Bibi Bourelly: l write songs every day because it’s just something l’ve been doing since l was young. l am a creator, it’s how l communicate. I wrote “BBHMM” when l was 19. l just keep wanting to drop songs — numbers can go away, deals can go away, things can stop being successful, so l need my focus. My focus is to exist as a creative person, trying to tell the truth and do the right thing. And if that makes me successful, then that’s amazing.
I think what’s different about your style of writing is that you speak about not recognising your limitations.
Bibi Bourelly: I truthfully feel that way. l see people at my shows, singing my songs. When l talk about doing shit until l die, that’s my limit. l’m a very extreme person, not just an emotional person, which can be a bad thing. l’m prone to a lot of dangerous things because l’m so extreme, so passionate; l don’t have limits. You are not ever going to tell me when l reach my maximum level of creativity or if l reach the maximum level of anything l want to do. l always know there is more.
Feeling emotions so extremely must be overwhelming. How do you channel that sentiment into lyrics and melody?
Bibi Bourelly: It’s definitely overwhelming. The words are coming from my heart. When you are saying something that you do really believe, that’s unusual. Not a lot of people do that. l had to learn how to be so honest, so now l’m good at it. l had to get in the habit of really understanding how l was feeling, speaking solely from the heart, saying exactly how l felt. That should always overwhelm me. Think about when you call someone up and make a deep and revealing confession — l do that all the time. For people to discredit my feelings, or for me to get too caught up in the moment, that feels overwhelming too.
You tweeted recently that you’d move back to Berlin if America votes in Donald Trump. What will you do if he gets into power?
Bibi Bourelly: I don’t even think that’s a possibility. l have more faith in our people. l don’t even wanna talk that up. Everyone’s entitled to a voice — it’s just a shame someone like that is running for power. It just shows what can happen if you have money.