“Higher,” the rawest song on Rihanna’s new album, “Anti,” is a knockout two-minute soul ballad about whiskey, smoking and late-night phone calls that happens to have been written by a 19-year-old.
Bibi Bourelly, now 21, was also responsible for Rihanna’s 2015 hit single “Bitch Better Have My Money,” along with tracks last year by Usher and Selena Gomez — an auspicious industry arrival by a proud, self-proclaimed outsider.
But the same early successes that have positioned Ms. Bourelly for a viable career as a solo artist — her first EP, “Free the Real (Pt. #1),” was released on Friday via Def Jam — also set the bar high for her development. While established stars have carried Ms. Bourelly’s songs far, she will now be expected to make hits for herself, even though her nimble writing and earnest rebel image defy the easy categorization preferred by radio and marketing professionals.
“I’m the type of person who really wants to exist and live honestly, to just say what I have to say and be who I am and do what I want,” Ms. Bourelly said over lunch in Manhattan on her release day. “Fortunately and unfortunately, what I love entails, and makes, a lot of money.”
In the self-made, confessional mold of recent major-label prospects including Lorde, Halsey and Alessia Cara, Ms. Bourelly has an easy confidence in her craft and no allegiance to genre. Her own three-minute pop songs are typically guitar-based, mixing hip-hop cadences with the angst of ’90s female singer-songwriters. On the fizzy single “Sally,” lyrics about twerking and haters are shouted over a bluesy clap-and-stomp backing track.
That novel but not always seamless mix was apparent Friday night at this singer’s inaugural Society Sessions event, an aesthetically underground party in the renovated basement of the old Williamsburgh Savings Bank, where Ms. Bourelly, backed by a three-piece live band of scraggly rock guys, followed a D.J. playing recent hits by Future and Drake.
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