After years writing hits for and being featured on other artists' hit singles, genre-hopping singer/songwriter Bebe Rexha released her debut, Expectations. In addition to writing Eminem and Rihanna's Grammy-winning hit "The Monster," and breaking a country chart record with her Florida Georgia Line single "Meant to Be," that titular pressure was high, to say the least. An improvement upon her trio of EP releases, Expectations succeeds in presenting mature, forward-thinking pop of the dark, introspective variety. Rexha's vulnerability is part of the draw on Expectations, turning heartbreak ("Knees") and lust ("Mine" and "Self Control") into endearing moments. Her strongest tracks are honest and insightful, a refreshing change for mainstream pop, examining the perils of fame on the Lana Del Rey-meets-Sia "Ferrari," where she laments "living in the fast lane's getting kinda lonely," and "I'm a Mess," which finds Rexha juggling with fame and her own anxieties as she accepts "it's gonna be a good life/that's what my therapist says." She can churn out driving pop gems, channeling contemporaries Dua Lipa and Zara Larsson on "I Got You," and also push her vocals on ballads like the tender "Grace" and the longing "Pillow." Guests include Migos' Quavo on the yearning duet "2 Souls on Fire," Tory Lanez on the atmospheric "Steady," and Florida Georgia Line on that smash "Meant to Be," which broke a record as the longest-running Hot Country Songs number one fronted by a female artist. While the album could benefit from some tightening -- the middle stretch stalls the momentum -- Expectations affirms Rexha's songwriting prowess, ear for catchy hooks, and ability to pull emotion from otherwise serviceable radio pop.
by Neil Z. Yeung