The Big Business Of Becoming Bhad Bhabie

Kluger was initially against the idea of getting back into the music business, but he consented to some studio time to see how Bregoli sounded outside the car. At that first trial session, she felt painfully self-conscious. “I was like: ‘I don’t want to put these headphones on. I don’t want to get in this booth,’ ” she says. When she finally got in front of the mic, it took a few moments to work up the courage. She got into the zone. “I was like, literally, ‘I’m prettier than all of these people in here.’ I looked at the people in the room, and I was like: ‘I’m better than you. I can do this. I’ll be fine. I won’t look stupid.’ ”

That first trial session landed her a second one with Aton Ben-Horin, the global head of artists and repertoire at Warner Music Group. He was impressed by Bregoli’s online following — by then, well over a million on Instagram — but told Roof and Kluger that she had a future only if she could actually rap. He brought along a songwriter’s sketch of an unfinished track called “Hi Bich,” a trap-pop banger with a mean-girl hook. When Bregoli got in the booth, he knew he had something. “I was convinced that even without Dr. Phil, without anything, this girl would have done music,” Ben-Horin says. “There’s something really special about her phrasing, and I think that’s actually part of why the ‘cash me outside’ phrase went viral. It wasn’t just that she said ‘cash me outside’ — it was the way she said it.” Over the course of the next two weeks, they recorded 14 songs together. On Sept. 15, a news release from Atlantic announced that it had signed Bregoli to a record deal. (“With her burgeoning rap career, Bhad Bhabie is set to prove that she is more than just a meme.”) A lone tipster told TMZ the deal was worth millions; Atlantic declined to comment.

Bregoli had in the meantime changed her Instagram handle to @BhadBhabie — officially pronounced Bad Baby, but sometimes mispronounced Bad Barbie or Baahd Bobby. (Bregoli has since suggested that “Bhad” stands for “been hated and doubted.”) Kluger disliked the misspelling but accepted the name as a good first step away from her past: She was no longer the Cash Me Outside Girl. “She’s not allowed to say ‘cash me outside,’ ” Kluger says. “No one on my team is allowed to use those words ever.”

In December, Bregoli visited the Atlantic offices in Midtown Manhattan. She showed up a little past 11 in the morning, chewing caffeine gum from the gift shop in the lobby and drinking a giant strawberry smoothie. By then, she had released four singles as Bhad Bhabie — each a more perfect pop distillation of a gritty brand of trap rap. “Hi Bich” made its debut on the Billboard Hot 100; its video has been viewed over 100 million times. The internet seemed to resent its own enjoyment.

Bregoli took a seat at the corporate coffee table. “It’s cold,” she said, shrinking even smaller in her oversize hoodie. Bregoli is a boggling study of proportions — small feet, small frame, superlong acrylic nails and a horsy ponytail that her mangers say they make her wear as a strained prophylactic against sexualization. (“Anything a real 15-year-old girl could wear, dial that down to a 9-year-old,” Bregoli says.) Her scale takes on an even greater sense of whimsy in relation to her all-male entourage, which that day included Kluger, Roof and her full-time bodyguard, Frank Dellatto. Dellatto was hired to protect Bregoli (mostly from herself) after the Spirit Airlines altercation. He now lives in Hollywood with her and her mother — part driver, part brother, part bodyguard, part friend. On this trip to New York, Bregoli was staying with her grandmother in Mill Basin, in the very same house where her mother grew up and caught the Brooklyn accent that Bregoli now exhibits in some reconstituted form. The day before, she visited a walk-in nail salon to have her nails redone in blue and white — for Hanukkah, she joked. (Bregoli is half Jewish, on her estranged father’s side.) Bregoli gets her nails done twice a week; Dellatto, who manages her schedule, tends to spend a lot of time in the salon.

“I don’t really get too, too, too involved with everything,” she explained, flipping her hair like a kind of punctuation. “The reason why I’m in New York is because I have to, like, sign papers, or something to that effect.”

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