In September 2016, the world was introduced to thirteen-year-old, South Florida-born Danielle Bergoli on an episode of Dr. Phil entitled: “I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried to Frame Me for a Crime!” Bergoli cussed out her mother, Doctor Phil, and the audience while waving inch-long nails, and speaking in a nearly parodic accent learned from “da streets.” At one point, she leaped out of her chair and challenged the audience to “Catch me outside, how about that?” Or, with her accent, “Cash me outside, howbowdah?” After the episode aired, Bergoli became famous overnight. “Cash me outside” shirts were sold at Walmart, the video clip was made into a song, and memes proliferated–“When your professor won’t raise your midterm grade from a 49 to a 92–cash me outside, howbowdah?” All of this was controversial. Many argued that the internet and its memeification of Bergoli had given her, as well as her unabashed cultural appropriation, an even larger platform than her TV appearance had already afforded her. Then, Bergoli began to release music under the name Bhad Bhabie. She has secured herself a multimillion-dollar, multi-record Atlantic Record deal, and a nomination for best female rapper. The “Cash me Outside” Girl has, somehow, made the transition from meme star to genuine rapper. She was swooped from certain obscurity by producer Adam Kruger, who heard “Cash me outside, howbowdah?” and saw dollar signs. She shamelessly appropriates Black culture, something she denies blatantly, saying “you cannot act a color.” Her music is profane (“Walk in the bank, fuck it up, pokin’ that bitch with a shank, fuck it up (Fuck it up)” Bergoli raps in “Gucci Flip Flops”). Many maintain that Bergoli’s fifteen minutes of fame should have expired long ago. And, when we listen to her sing these lyrics in her little-girl voice, it begs the question if some of her appeal is based on the same novelty of hearing a young child say “fuck” when they really mean “fire-truck.” Bhad Bhabie rolls with, and fights with, a coven of similarly aged superstars. A series of shaky videos recorded on cellphones shows Bhad Bhabie cussing out, and attempting to fight WoahVickyy (user name of Victoria Waldrip, a fifteen-year-old whose fame is predicated on her claim that, despite all evidence to the contrary, she is black) as Lil Tay, the ten-year-old “youngest flexer” looks on. Grown men almost double the girls’ height hold Bergoli back as Lil Tay screams and WoahVickky gesticulates with her huge nails. It’s hard not to feel like the situation is comical or, more nihilistically, that it is a gross culmination of our celebrity culture: a violent spectacle of young girls imitating Black culture for their own use.
These arguments are important when considering Bergoli, but it does ignore a couple of salient points. While Bergoli is not a great rapper, she’s not a terrible one, either. While her songs are no masterpieces, they are catchy and approachable.
Her first mixtape, 15 (the title a reference to her age), received mixed reviews. Mixed reviews aren’t bad for a girl who was slated for less than fifteen minutes of fame. And, while the sounds on her album are perhaps not unique, repetitiveness and redundancy are not new to the pop industry. And, like Lil Pump, her songs’ catchiness cannot be overstated. Surprisingly, along the way, Bergoli also displays some technical skills. Bergoli not only has more than a modicum of talent but exudes energy and aggression that is captivating for the listener. Her confidence in “Gucci Flip Flops,” for example, makes the listener feel confident in Bhad Bhabie.
Bhad Bhabie had been branded as the “bad girl,” but apocalyptic visions of Bhad Bhabie are perhaps over-dramatic. While not a squeaky-clean role model, in “Hi bich,” Bhad Bhabie brags about her sobriety: “I do not sniff it or roll it (nope)/ it do not drip when I pour it,” bringing the same aggression to these lyrics as the following: “I do not run, I re-load it.” In “Mama Don’t Worry (I Ain’t Dirty)” Bergoli reminds the audience that she “did all this dirt and still ain’t dirty”–a reference some have suggested refers to either her virginity or the fact that she will abstain from continued drug use. In the music video for “Mama Don’t Worry,” the viewer sees Bergoli’s tumultuous life unfold, including Bergoli’s strained relationship with her mother. While their arguments may be familiar to a viewer, the ending, in which the two women lie together on a couch, suggests that some wounds have healed. And, indeed, at fifteen, she was able to pay off the down payment on her house and provide a comfortable existence for her family. Fame, it seems, has been more proactive in healing these two women’s relationship than Dr. Phil. In addition, she has tried to distance herself from her persona on Doctor Phil, admitting to her poor behavior and describing herself as “trash” during that appearance.
While Dr. Phil may have been able to tease out her life for the sake of a live studio audience, her music provides another outlet. In “Story (Outro)”, Bergoli raps (although, “raps” may be an overstatement. Really, she rambles while a beat that almost matches her diction plays in the background) about her relationship with her father and mother, as well as various traumas she has encountered. And, there’s something serious to be said about attempting to see the world through a troubled teen’s perspective and listening to Bergoli’s story, along with trash rap banger “Gucci Flip Flops”.
Of course, she remains a problematic, divisive figure, and she keeps getting herself into trouble. Like, in mid-November of last year, when she threw a glass of water at Iggy Azalea (although, really, it just hits the side of Azalea’s wig, and mostly lands on another man) and had to be held back. Azalea was mostly unfazed by the event, but Snoop Dog even weighed in on the situation, calling Bergoli’s actions “gangster.” Again, it’s difficult to feel as though this situation is not a repeat of her beef with Woahhvicky: two women who engage in reductive imitations of Black culture fulfilling our desire to see celebrities attack each other.
However, young Bergoli has grown, from meme to one hit wonder, one hit wonder to a rapper with a multi-million record deal with Atlantic Records. It’s not impossible that Bhad Bhabie, too, might be able to make a transition— from making shameful rap-pop bangers, to being a real name in hip-hop.