You may know Bhad Bhabie, aka viral internet star Danielle Bregoli, as the “cash me outside” girl, but you can now catch her on all international streaming platforms, as her debut album dropped just three days ago. The album, titled “15,” contains 15 songs with features from YG, Lil Yachty, and Lil Baby, among others.
While these featured rappers have become household names, Bhabie’s new music career has the disturbing potential to represent an overall trend in the popular music industry, where the business and image of the artist often mean more than the music itself. Equally concerning are the debatable cultural aspects of Bhabie as an undeniably successful rapper, at least in terms of popularity statistics alone.
Her recent nomination for Billboard Music Awards’ Top Rap Female Artist sealed the deal that Bhabie really is a rapper, even though when I searched online, her genre came up as “TV Personality” before anything regarding her music career did.
Bhabie has two certified gold singles from the Recording Industry Association of America, and three of her songs made it on the United States’ Billboard Top 100 songs chart. Clearly, there are quite a few people listening to Bhad Bhabie.
Her appeal to these listeners may come from the very same reasons other people give for disliking her: Bhabie is a 15-year-old white female who rose to fame through her obscenely bad attitude and appropriation of black culture, which was broadcast nationwide on the Dr. Phil show.
But, Bhabie’s polarizing effect on the public brings up an important element of the music industry: an artist’s image. With so much music gaining traction online, sounds and images are woven together, and an artist rarely exists without their image broadcast loudly, if not louder, than their music.
The entertainment industry is all about image, but should the music industry be that way, too? If an artist’s image is not authentic, what does this say about their music?
Bhabie’s image is largely fabricated, or at least exaggerated. She is not old enough to drive a car, so starring in music videos “driving” porsches and hanging out in Rolls-Royces may not do a whole lot for viewers not willing to participate in this fantasy world.
All of these observations are just a way of asking: how much, if at all, do listeners even care about authenticity? Does Bhabie, as an artist, actually gain any merit from owning the watch she raps about in her single “Gucci Flip Flops”? Rap artists used to pride themselves on being “real,” but perhaps Bhabie’s music is spawning a different audience altogether.
Bhabie’s contradictory image is not the only issue that arises from her involvement in the rap scene. Like her image, her overall presence may confuse listeners and pose questions for the future of the scene as a whole.
In the past, Bhabie was accused of cultural appropriating black culture multiple times, often with evidence to support the accusations. Her choice to wear cornrows is the easiest and most obvious choice to reject, but her image and an appropriation of a culture that is not hers, goes deeper than her hairstyle.
The last controversial aspect worth touching upon is how Bhabie rose to fame.
To summarize her journey as briefly as possible, product placement manager Adam Kruger said: “I’m going to find something that’s just so obscure, and I’m going to make it popular. I’m going to pull every trick I’ve ever pulled with brands and make someone into a walking, talking brand to prove my worth.”
Kruger “proved his worth” by creating the image of Danielle Bregoli as rapper Bhad Bhabie through brand-dropping and sponsored content. The artistic integrity may not be there, but the lyrics Bhabie spits don’t really match Bregoli as a person, either.
Does this mean Bhabie is any less confusing or contradictory to the music industry than before? Maybe, because her presence is not really her own, but the result of marketing and business executives.
However, maybe this makes Bhabie’s presence worse, because she proves that artists may not need integrity to become rich and famous. Ironically, big business and traditional authority prospering are the subjects that rap tends to systematically oppose.
Then again, the absurd and entertaining fame of Bhabie may be more the result of the viral potential in internet culture than the result of privilege and orchestrated injustice.
The entertainment world operates differently than the real world, and so does the internet. As Bhabie said in a 2017 interview with Fader Magazine: “From social media to the industry, it’s… just a whole different world.”
The question that remains is what do listeners — or, should I say, consumers — want to hear more of?
One must decide whether or not Bhabie is the type of artist who deserves their continual support, and, either way, if it’s possible to help deserving artists gain traction without caving in to the unethical methods of advertisement seen today. Will old-school ethics survive as modern internet culture becomes the primary method, and workspace, for hopeful artists?
Ella Boyd is a first-year from Maine who attends Scripps College. She traded alpine skiing for writing for the student paper, and enjoys creating art through film, music, and poetry.