Bebe Rexha, Kelsea Ballerini, Cyndi Lauper Promote Harmony to Counter Gender Bias

Bebe Rexha hosted female artists, songwriters and producers at Los Angeles music industry hotspot Craig’s for her third annual Women in Harmony pre-Grammy brunch on Friday.

The star-studded guest list included Cyndi Lauper, Kelsea Ballerini, Tinashe, Jordin Sparks, Dinah Jane, Natasha Bedingfeld, Sabrina Carpenter, Zhavia, Lindsey Stirling, JoJo, Daya, Becky G, Bea Miller, Ashlee Simpson, Betty Who, Madison Beer and hitmakers Bonnie McKee, Madison Love, Lauren Christy, Alex Hope and Jozzy, among others. Also in attendance at the women-only event (with the exception of security guards at the door) was manager Sarah Stennett, whose First Access Entertainment reps Rexha, Ross and others.

“This event is so important to me because I wanted to give other songwriters and up and coming songwriters something I never had: an environment that I felt safe in,” Rexha told Variety. “For me it makes it a lot scarier when you are in the music business and you are told to be competitive with other female artists, which is such bullshit. So what this does is it normalizes all of us being in a room together… it makes us all humanize each other and that we should all be on the same team, and I never had that. I never had an event like this and I never had anybody I could talk to.”

Rexha drove home that message in an impassioned speech to her guests. Said Rexha: “The purpose of Women in Harmony for me is to address the staggering inequality. And there are so many badass bitches in here, and it’s one thing about saying I am about female empowerment, I believe in women, and I want to help women, but it’s another thing actually showing up and being in this room.”

Rexha spoke freely of all-too-common issues of male executives dictating how a female artist is supposed to look, sound, or perform.

“Executives told me I was too old; I have had people tell me I had to lose 20 pounds and get into boot camp shape because that is what pop stars are supposed to do,” she said. “You are not alone and we all feel insecure and we all feel ugly and not good enough and that is bull shit because we are all those things. We’’re beautiful right?”

Rexha’s words inspired guest Lauper to step up to the microphone and make an impromptu, uplifting speech, eliciting applause from all in attendance.

Cyndi Lauper and Bebe RexhaBebe Rexha's Women in Harmony Pre-Grammy Brunch, Inside, Craig's, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Jan 2020
CREDIT: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterst

“If you are unhappy with the situation, then you have to make a new situation,” said Lauper. “If the record company is not a right fit, then you make a new record company. I fought all my life and I was known as a big pain in the ass because I had my own ideas, and I got in trouble quite a bit, as you can see how my career went. But I kept taking turns, and then I diversified, and it is easier to diversify because the gatekeepers become confused. The truth is our job as artists is just to keep creating no matter what. If you got a gatekeeper in front of you who is saying no, then you have to change your situation and always look beyond. Hold tight to your vision and then stick to it. Men always get a second burst here or there. We make ours. If it’s wrong, change it. If you need a new team, make one.”

Lauper later praised Rexha to Variety. “She’s got a lot of spunk,” said the singer and activist. “I think sisterhood is a powerful thing.”

Her advice to female artists in 2020?  “Just keep the channel open and keep working,” said Lauper. “Keep moving ahead no matter what. If somebody tells you no, maybe that’s for them and not for you.”

Rexha also debunked the perception that women are always pitted against each other. This year’s event, for example, celebrated up-and-coming artist Joy Morales, an artist who received a financial shot in the arm from Rexha that enabled her to complete her Kickstarter campaign and release a new EP.

Ballerini made her statement in song, performing her new single, “Homecoming Queen,” with lyrics that embrace female vulnerability.

“It is so important to celebrate women producers, women songwriters, women artists that are helping make the charts a little more equal,” Ballerini told Variety, praising Rexha for an event that calls “equality on radio and albums and all credits and all of us that work our asses off to make it happen.”

This month, Ballerini called for a change in the long-running practice in radio not to play two female artists back-to-back. “I went there,” she said. “I have been quiet about it for so long because I am one of the lucky few that does get played on country radio and I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I also feel that it’s my job as a woman that does have a voice in country radio to stand up for the people who don’t. How are the young girls listening to the radio right now going to know that they can be a country singer or a pop singer if they don’t have someone to listen to?”

Kelsea BalleriniBebe Rexha's Women in Harmony Pre-Grammy Brunch, Inside, Craig's, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Jan 2020
CREDIT: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterst

Fifth Harmony alum Dinah Jane, who has new music and a tour planned for 2020, expounded on that idea, telling Variety, “I love that we are supporting one another. This industry is always heavily run by men. We are here celebrating our growth.” Being a person of color, she continued: “I am a Polynesian woman and it’s very unheard of to hear a woman in music of my ethnicity running the game. Bebe and Jordin Sparks are here … to be standing here with all these ethnic women, I am here to represent. This is bigger than me.”

Sparks was also moved by Lauper’s words, noting that girls just want to have fun, but also make an impact.

“She made amazing points, and to hear that from somebody that’s been doing it for so long.. to hear that from her, especially when we are all here, all different ages and we all have the same goals. We want to make creative music and touch people and have fun while we do it, and to have someone like Cyndi say that in this whole room where we can hear it and see her do it was very powerful to me,” said Sparks, fresh from a Broadway run and preparing new music for release. “I was very grateful that Bebe invited me to this event today. It’s been a minute since I have been in a room full of beautiful, powerful women and I just feel so good.  This is what people need to see, the women in the industry talking, chatting, having a good time. She made a good point about people being pitted against each other and it’s not really they case. It’s what people want to say. But I am so honored to be a part of this. Be able to see these girls, and have coffee and be able to chat and get along and step up together.”

Natasha Bedingfield and Jordin SparksBebe Rexha's Women in Harmony Pre-Grammy Brunch, Inside, Craig's, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Jan 2020
CREDIT: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterst

Offered Sabrina Carpenter: “Music is love, so I think that everyone in this room who loves music and loves making music-you can’t get much better than that. It’s so great that Bebe is encouraging it, especially at this time of year when there is so much competition, it’s nice to take a step back and remember that we are all working towards our dreams. ”

Zhavia, who attended the event with RECORDS and Arista A&R executive Jenna Andrews, took advantage of the opportunity to network. “There are a lot of amazing producers and writers here that could definitely help me with my music,” she said.

Jenna Andrews (C) and Zhavia Ward (R) and guestBebe Rexha's Women in Harmony Pre-Grammy Brunch, Inside, Craig's, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Jan 2020
CREDIT: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterst

Love said being in the room felt like a “we are all together and we have a family outside of songwriting.” This was especially meaningful in light of Rexha’s earlier remarks that she often finds herself as the only woman in the room, be it during sessions or meetings.

“I am also the only girl in most rooms writing for rap sessions and with other artists,” said Love, one of the all-female contributors to Selena Gomez’s all-female-produced, -written and -engineered “Rare.”

said Chelsea Maclin, VP of marketing at Bumble, which sponsored the event: “Bumble is committed to closing the gender disparity gap for women everywhere, and we know there is still a lot of work to do in music. We were honored to co-host Bebe Rexha’s Women in Harmony pre-Grammy brunch and lend our voice to help elicit change in the industry alongside the incredible women in the room.”

Bel, an artist from Australia, said that traveling to L.A. for Grammy Week was worth the trip. “It is nice to be at an event where women are celebrating women,” she said. “I love how Bebe’s background is in songwriting. She’s an incredible songwriter and at the core she is an artist, and this whole event is about women and their multifaceted talents and how we need to raise the percentage of music in this industry.”

JoJoBebe Rexha's Women in Harmony Pre-Grammy Brunch, Inside, Craig's, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Jan 2020
CREDIT: Chelsea Lauren/Variety/Shutterst

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