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Songs for Screens: Bebe Rexha on Bringing Musical Flavor to Lay’s Potato Chips

The singer also serves as a guest coach on 'The Voice' this season.

The jingle, one of the oldest forms of advertising dating back to the early days of radio, has taken on many different shapes over the decades. In the past 15 years alone, artists ranging from Justin Timberlake and Calvin Harris to Chris Brown and OneRepublic have written full-length songs intended for a blue-chip brand’s commercials that have enjoyed a double life on the pop charts.

For its latest iteration, the jingle has multiplied to become three remixes of an original song written and performed by Bebe Rexha inspired by a series of music-themed flavors of Lay’s potato chips. Only this time, instead of soundtracking a more traditional commercial campaign, the original track (“Right Here, Right Now”) will be exclusively available to stream from a Lay’s microsite as well as the recurring theme for the Comeback Stage on the just-premiered new season of “The Voice,” where Rexha will appear as Coach both on-air and on the online series, presented by Lay’s.

Rexha remixed “Right Here Right Now” based on the three different genres that influenced Lay’s new limited-edition Turn Up The Flavor series, hip-hop (Lay’s Flamin’ Hot And Dill Pickle chips), pop (Lay’s Wavy Electric Lime and Sea Salt chips) and rock (Lay’s Kettle Cooked Beer Cheese chips) in an effort to encourage a more “sensory” experience with music and flavor.

“Everyone loves music and everyone has had an experience where music really triggers an emotion, so we wanted to pair those emotions you find in different genres of music to specific flavors,” says Katie Ceclan, senior director of marketing at Lay’s. “Bebe rose to the top of the list of artists we wanted to work with for a few different reasons – she’s amazingly talented, Grammy-nominated and one of the top globally streamed female artists.”

Plus, as one of the few artists to hold number-one singles across six different genre formats (including the new record holder for the longest-running Country Songs No. 1, “Meant To Be,” with Florida Georgia Line), Rexha had the genre-fluid track record that could make the experiment work. “Bebe has experienced success as a writer, co-writer, lead vocalist and featured vocalist in many of the genres explored as part of this project, therefore she was the only natural choice,” says Lori Feldman, EVP of strategic marketing at Rexha’s label Warner Bros. Records.

The Lay’s partnership marks Rexha’s first major branding deal, and will hit stores on March 4 for an eight-week run through April 30. The project will also help build buzz for Rexha’s upcoming sophomore album, expected later this year, which Rexha previewed earlier this month with new single “Last Hurrah.” Rexha chatted with Songs For Screens from the Turn Up The Flavor launch event in New York to talk about her ongoing efforts to empower women in music, writing songs for chips and the “anthemic” direction of her next project.

Variety: As a singer-songwriter who’s been making hits for yourself and other artists since 2013, what did it feel like to finally get that recognition with a nomination at the Grammys this year for Best New Artist?
Bebe Rexha:
It’s always been a dream of mine to be nominated. It’s why every artist looks up to. I grew up watching the Grammys, so when it happened that was the best day of my life. Because no matter what happens, if you win or lose, that is always attached to your name.

Speaking of Grammy Week, you hosted your second annual Women In Harmony brunch, which this year drew more than 100 female singers, songwriters, producers and other creative in music. What was that experience like, and what do you think people left with in terms of action items?
This was technically my third event, I did one in London as well that was more of a dinner. But I couldn’t believe how many people showed up, that was really special. I remember doing my first one and it was like 40 women, and this latest one ended up being 120. That was really epic. I purposely invited the girls with no plus-one, and a lot of the girls didn’t want to come because they felt scared and I don’t blame them because you know how it is, going to a party alone. And I had to force them to talk to other people. I was really nervous. I wanted everybody to have a good time, and it ended up being great. I even ended up creating new friends and new connections, so it was great.

Has it had an impact in how you create music as well?
I’ve been collaborating with more females than I ever have before. When I was in London, I met this songwriter Camille and we actually have a song that we’re writing together and I think she’s amazing. I don’t know about any of the other girls, but it’s been cool, even if they’re just becoming friends. The energy in the room was amazing, there were no competition vibes, there was none of that. It was very chill and cool.

Was it sobering for you to see the Annenberg Inclusion report numbers about female producers, who accounted for only 2% of the top songs of 2018?
I had a female producer come up to me and say: “By the way, this one song you did, I actually produced on it but I was too scared to say anything.” And I felt so bad, because a lot of the times the guys will get really upset [when you ask for credit] so that pissed me off. But the first person I invited up on stage was this girl Amy Allen, who had the number one song the week before “Without Me,” which she co-wrote with Halsey, and then the second speaker was Tayla Parx who had the number one song that week with Ariana Grande. How dope is that?

Speaking of songwriting, what was it like when Lay’s reached out for you to write this original song inspired by these three flavors of potato chips?
Lay’s hit me up and they said they wanted to try something different and I said “Ok sure, why not?” They wanted to combine flavor and music and I love food and I love music. I’ve never done anything like this before. I wrote “Right Here Right Now,” which is an original, feel-good song for this. It was cool, the process of listening, tasting each flavor of the chips and having to pair it with the sound of classic beer cheese what could that be? What if you’re at a bar and listening to rock music? So we did a rock version and had live guitar players, live drummers come in and the electric lime sea salt we did more pop because it’s fresh and light, and we did a hip-hop version of it, the Dill Pickle remix. I never worked like that before, it was really different for me.

This kind of writing challenge seems well-suited for you, given that you’re the rare artist who’s had number one singles at six different genre formats, from pop, AC and hip-hop to R&B, country and electronic/dance. Now that you’re in album mode again, which direction might you be heading for this next project?
I think what’s gonna be the main thread throughout the album which I’m really working on is they’re very anthemic and very honest records. I definitely tap into a lot of my insecurities especially as a female and growing up, I’m 29 now. It’s very tough for me to write an honest song and have it sound really good. … I love writing more deep songs that say something, and I think that’s what my fans really want.

You’ve also just been announced as the coach of the Comeback Stage for the new season of “The Voice” that just premiered. What has that experience been like for you as the Comeback Coach?
It was an incredible experience. I’ve definitely been going at it in this industry for a long time, so I know how it feels like to be said no to and not get through to certain things. I FaceTimed all the contestants that I picked personally and said “Do you want to come back to LA? Because I think you deserve a second shot.” Being there was awesome because you do create relationships with the contestants and you want them to succeed. And I also got to pick the winner. It was an incredible experience because my music helps people, but when you’re actually working with them and you see it you can feed off their energy and that’s something I love. I have a love for helping people and their music career, so who knows what it leads to. Maybe I’ll be one of the biggest female record labels owners one day.

Songs for Screens is a Variety column sponsored by music experiential agency MAC Presents, based in NYC. It is written by Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC and former correspondent for Billboard. Each week, the column will highlight noteworthy use of music in advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as film and TV.

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