inside the very modern fame game of bhad bhabie
We meet the artist formerly known as Cash Me Outside Girl in London, to understand what it means to turn viral infamy into hip-hop stardom
Photography Goodboy Shady
You might not know the name Danielle Bregoli. You might not know her stage name, Bhad Bhabie, either. But chances are you’ll definitely know the Cash Me Outside How Bow Dah Girl. Yes, Bhad Bhabie is the latest artist turning viral infamy into a bonafide music career. In fact, she is here in London as part of a European tour. The 15-year-old has gold records, has been nominated for awards and collaborated with Lil Yachty, Ty Dolla Sign and Rich the Kid. She’s on a roll. Hers is a very modern pivot. A journey from infamy to celebrity powered by the white heat generated from endless scrolling feeds, the rolling inescapability of reblogs, and the perilous momentum generated by raging memes.
Bhad Bhabie was introduced to the world on an episode of Dr Phil with the fantastic title of I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried to Frame Me for a Crime. By the end of the episode Danielle had become The Cash Me Outside Girl. Annoyed at the “hoes” in the audience laughing at her, she came back at them with “Cash Me Outside How Bow Dah”. A vague and humorous and grippingly abstract threat to fight them. She became Cash Me Outside Girl in the maelstroms of social media. Another looping meme spectacle of exploitation and condescension. She is a very good example of how much of modern celebrity works: fleetingly and hatefully and in a desperate rush the bottom.
Danielle spread with hostility, a sneering and snobbish distaste for the assumed stupidity of “white trash America”. She was picked up by a manager and groomed into a rapper and signed to Atlantic. Her debut single, These Heaux, has picked up 71 million views, and made her the youngest ever rapper to have a single hit the Top 100. Follow up singles Hi Bich and Gucci Flip Flops hint at a future that extends beyond her 15 minutes of Dr Phil fame. Her music taps into the current hip-hop mood, a mix of minor key menace and brash consumerist glory.
Her PR says she doesn’t want to talk about Cashing Anyone Outside on Dr Phil. You can understand why, because at what point does she become successful enough to leave this behind? And yet without it, it is a story without a beginning. Bhad Bhabie isn’t successful off the back of hard work, some raw talent or a burning desire to make music. Which of course is Very Modern also. What she does have in her favour is a compelling viscerality and emotion, a bratty honesty and an innate ability to cash in on the cycles of the attention economy.
Bhad Bhabie doesn’t seem particularly interested in engaging, and who really could blame her. She manages to entirely blank me at first. Not in a shy way, but in a very not bothered way. She is staring at her reflection in a mirror, eating a slice of melon and picking at her teeth. She’s just got to London from Paris on the Eurostar. “I just went to regular places, like got food and stuff,” she says of Paris. “I tried to go to Claire's to get some nails but the mall wasn't there anymore, it was a train station. I did a show last night. We played some festivals. Paris was cool.”
“I always loved music. I never put it out. I never said I wanted to be an artist. I was kinda like, you know, I like music, I have this platform now, I can do whatever the fuck I want, and I wanna do music.”
Then she starts burping. Her manager asks her to behave. It is strangely charming, almost. “Did you tell me not to do that?” she asks her manager. Yes, it turns out, her manager did ask her not to start burping: “We covered this in media training” he jokes, with the humoured sadness of a supply teacher. She burps again and starts laughing. She is resolutely not interested. She mainly speaks in one word answers in a lolling drawl. She’s been media trained, sure, but the problem really is what do we expect her to say? Media trained for what? What kind of opinions do we expect a 15-year-old, who never wanted to be a musician, to have about music and performing, when really she has simply been thrust into the spotlight off the back of being a Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old. She says the right stuff, when pressed on what kind of career she might want, what she likes about music, why she wants to do it.
Is it hard to be away from home? I ask. “Not really. I’m used to it. I was removed from my home when I was like 13. I was taken away and brought somewhere else. It's not new.” So what are you finding the hardest? “Explaining myself to people. Explaining what I do and why I do it. Everyone's like aren't you the Cash Me Outside girl. I'm like no. No, no, no, no, I don't do that anymore.” Do you think you'll always be the Cash Me Outside Girl? “I'm just, you know, I'm gonna keep doing my thing.” Why did you want to make music? “I always loved music. I never put it out. I never said I wanted to be an artist. I was kinda like, you know, I like music, I have this platform now, I can do whatever the fuck I want, and I wanna do music.” How did you you think people would react your music? “Like, ‘what the fuck is this?’ Even I was like what the fuck am I doing.”
Which, more or less, sums it up. Plenty of people have managed to spin their 15 minutes of fame into 25, or a dumb hit single. The most surprising thing is that Bhad Bhabie’s music is not bad. Gucci Flip Flops and Hi Bich are actually both quite good, seeing as they come out of a lineage that includes Kim Kardashian’s EDM-lite-dirge Jam (Turn It Up) and Paris Hilton’s racist-reggae-bop Stars Are Blind.
Kim and Paris are very different though, both songs were more embarrassing than exploitative, they were the vanity projects we expect of primped and vapid and monied LA It-Girls. But there’s a lingering feeling that this is all a manipulative money making scheme. A lingering feeling that it is an impossibility for Bhad Bhabie to ever really transcend being the Cash Me Outside Girl.
A puff piece interview with her manager Adam in Variety, catches the feeling almost by accident. “After making the TV rounds, the response was, it could be 15 minutes of fame just slightly extended,” he says. “Most meme or Internet stars, without intelligent people around them, will sizzle out and that’s the end of it. We have to pivot and reverse engineer what this is. Typically you have someone with talent and you’re trying to make them famous. We had someone who was super famous, but had to find, what is that talent?”
And which is the spirit of the age, really, isn’t it? Fame first, which arrives in a visual cacophony and with attention grabbing soundbites and packaged within a divisive character, and then find a way to sell it. The product itself is not massively important as long as it can be cashed in on.
You're 15, I ask, would you like to live the life of a normal 15-year-old kid? “What do you mean?” Is it not weird, I say, do you not find this whole thing weird? “I don't find any of this weird.” But this whole thing is really fucking weird, isn’t it?
Photography Goodboy Shady