There’s always something weird about an artist who manages to make it big before finishing high school, but Bhad Bhabie was barely a teenager when the world was first exposed to her incomprehensibly brash, ‘DGAF’ demeanour. It was two years ago now that a Floridian girl entered a TV studio known as Danielle Bregoli and left an international celebrity – the ultimate product of a soundbite generation, destined to be defined by a catchphrase that could’ve ruined her life or turned her into a superstar.
Cash me outside, how bow dah?
The show was Dr. Phil, and it was Danielle’s bad behaviour that had landed her there. Her mother Barbara Ann, a single parent, had grown tired of Danielle’s shitty attitude: “I Want To Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried To Frame Me For A Crime” was the line the CBS show decided to lead with.
The audience’s raucous reactions to Danielle’s clapbacks lead to her moment: “Cash me outside, how bow dah?”, she shouted, pointing a killer, manicured nail or five into a front-row of riled-up 40-year-old women. That inarticulate threat made everybody on the internet take note.
Bad ‘burbs kid
It was March 26th 2003. Gareth Gates and The Kumars were riding high in the charts with their rendition of Elvis Presley’s ‘Spirit in the Sky’. Rom-com fans were flocking to see the Ashton Kutcher and Brittany Murphy charmer Just Married at their local multiplex. When you speak about it, it might seem like a lifetime ago, and for Danielle Bregoli it was.
She was born on that day in Boynton Beach, Florida, to Barbara Ann and her now-estranged father Ira Peskowitz. The mundanity of her suburban American upbringing drove her to hotwire cars and sell drugs as a kid, a way to kill time that led her down a troubled, dangerous route; one that naturally forced her mother to fear for her. She probably had dreams like everybody else did, but when you’re in a town that nobody else seems to have succeeded in, your ambitions become insignificant; your goals change to feel a little more realistic.
So when that Dr. Phil platform arose – albeit in negative circumstances – of course, Danielle Bregoli had every right to grab it and run. It might’ve not been her intention at the time (her pouting, hair-flipping behaviour is so remarkably Gen Z, you’d struggle to label it staged) but that short slice of screen-time was enough to hook people onto her personality and pull her and her mother out of the setting that had suppressed them for so long. She struck the iron while it was hot, and transformed herself into the hip-hop star she never knew she was. Goodbye Danielle Bregoli. She was Bhad Bhabie now.
Bhad Bhabie is born
There was once a time when manufactured stars were the bane of the industry; a sign of popular music’s untimely death. But those attitudes have changed, perhaps because those acts are so salient that we barely have the opportunity to care. Bregoli’s transformation into a rapper was an idea proposed to her by manager, the Scooter Braun-esque starmaker Adam Kluger. She just so happened to jump on a beat while hanging out at a music studio with friends; Kluger overheard her natural flow and the rest was history.
The success came thick and fast. It took just two independently-released tracks – ‘These Heaux’ and ‘Hi Bich’, both of which charted in the Billboard Hot 100 – for Atlantic Records to realise there was star potential there. In 2017, the ‘Cash Me Outside’ girl had become a major label player; the criticisms only flew in faster. Considering she was 14 at the time it dropped, ‘Hi Bich’ is still the kind of slickly-delivered trap-pop track that male rappers have been releasing for the past three years to critical acclaim.
The songs that followed – take the dangerously catchy ‘Gucci Flip Flops’ featuring Lil Yachty, for example – were all signs of an artist who could detach herself from her criticisms and do whatever the fuck she wanted, and it worked. At this year’s Billboard Music Awards, there were three names up for Top Rap Female Artist: Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Bhad Bhabie. It felt like a benchmark moment for a young rapper whose had to tackle an equal level of wild fanfare from her supporters and a sea of criticism at the same time.
Naturally, there’s a level of cynicism that surrounds Bhad Bhabie’s songs solely because of their source, but to say she’s not talented would be an unfair take on her skill as a performer. She’s sold out a tour already, is prepping to release her first mixtape (might all of these criticisms be slightly premature?) and has worked with the same rappers that Yeezy and Migos run with. Of course, if anything could throw a rapper’s integrity into turmoil it would be the promise of a pretty fat paycheck, but even if her entire career post-Dr Phil has been one wild industry construct, she’s flexing her skills in a way that’s far more interesting than the mundane, greying journalists who refuse to give her the time of day.
She’s the perfect representation of Generation Z in a way. Dismiss the criminal charges and teen tearaway antics, and you have a young woman who’s been told that the reality of reaching your dreams is something kids from middle America aren’t permitted to think about. Bhad Bhabie is the 15-year-old sticking the middle finger up to that old-fashioned idea.
If you strip the story of Bhad Bhabie’s rise to fame back to its bare bones, and view it simply as the story of a young girl with her sights set on doing something better with her life, your ability to criticise her for having her career handed to her on a plate is thrown into question. What did you want Danielle Bregoli to do? Is escaping from the dreaded five minutes of fame something we should celebrate or berate musicians for? Would you rather troubled young kids from working-class backgrounds shut up, or made it? People just feel at liberty to criticise her because of where she came from.
Sure, she’s no Nas, but the majority of issues that people have with Bhad Bhabie are applicable to so many people in the pop world today; artifice, even in small measures, isn’t anything to be ashamed of anymore. So let’s focus on the music and let this 15-year-old kid – which is, by the way, what she is at the end of the day – have her fun. She’s doing you no harm; that beef-laden, carjacking history is well and truly in her past.