I would like to begin this piece with a moment of respectful silence in memory of my autocorrect feature, which died in the process of writing this article.
If you haven’t heard by now, Danielle Bregoli, AKA Bhad Bhabie, AKA the “Cash Me Outside” girl just signed a deal with Atlantic Records. Seeing as my Facebook friends’ list is about 2/3 music industry professionals at this point, I’ve consumed Facebook rant after YouTube rant after professionally published thought piece on this, almost all lamenting that “this is the end of good music, and we might as well just pack up our electric guitars!” Guys. Please. Chill. Out.
The minute the ink dried on Danielle Bregoli’s signature did not mean that all those years of learning an instrument (or several) were wasted. The Earth didn’t stop turning. This piece of news (originally broken by TMZ) does not instantly knock you down a peg further away from signing your own major record deal. Try to take this well, but most of you are just as far away from that big moment as you were a week before you heard the news. Bhad Bhabie is simply a high profile case of what has been happening in the music industry for years now. In this article, I’m going to break down what the hell is going on in the mind of the consumer, the world of Bhad Bhabie, and the bank accounts of the record industry.
Inside The Mind Of The Consumer
“But Clara, the music! Think of our precious ears!” Go listen to her first song. Really, objectively listen. Does “These Heaux” (pronounced “hoes,” obviously) honestly sound a million times worse than any other viral rap song of 2017 on YouTube? I suppose you’re forgiven if you live under an ocean of alternative music, and only come up for air to listen to a song like this once in a blue moon, before congratulating yourself on your superior taste in music and diving back in again (while you’re still here – did you know that Justin Bieber’s voice has gotten deeper since “Baby,” and he has a new haircut?). I’m not a music critic, but the song is ideal radio length, the beat sounds professional, Danielle’s voice has stylistic autotune applied, and she’s rapping about money (or lack thereof). If a teenaged girl who shares #FashionGoals with Bregoli heard this at a house party, it would blend right into the background.
As for people like us… You do know that an ironic YouTube view is still counted as a view, right? As of writing this, “These Heaux” has 26 million+ YouTube views, about 695K thumbs up, and 335K thumbs down. If you were one of the people who only clicked the thumbnail because your metal band’s bass player posted the link on your Facebook timeline with the caption “dude, the music business is fucked!” (bonus points if he assured you he was practicing 30 seconds before), you’re part of the reason why Bhad Bhabie charted on the Billboard Hot 100. As of their current system, Billboard weighs 150 song streams to equal one traditional sale (such as in the iTunes store). 1,500 song streams is equal to one album sale (digital or physical). If it helps you sleep tonight, know that hardly anyone is actually buying “The Heaux” – it’s everyone streaming it on Spotify and watching the music video, may they be there to roll their eyes and recite the Lord’s Prayer, wake up their equally annoying sibling on a Saturday morning, or genuinely enjoy the track.
Pro Tip: The Billboard system works the other way around too! If you really want to support your favourite bubbling under band or artist and give them a shot at charting, buy their album immediately (or stream your favourite songs until you’ve hit 1,500 listens when added up).
Inside The World Of Bhad Bhabie
What seems like a lifetime ago, a clip from a daytime talk-show, Dr. Phil, went viral. The episode featured the celebrity TV doctor attempting to mediate a relationship between a concerned mother and her “out of control” 13-year-old, Danielle. In classic daytime TV fashion, the ruffled, midriff baring middle-schooler ended up challenging the women in the live audience, who were giggling at her rather low-brow use of the English language, to a catfight outside the studio after taping, slurring together her now famous expression, “cash me outside, how bow da?” (“catch me outside, how about that?”). And from there she went.
Let’s face it, every single person who agrees to appear on a reality television show (and especially one that exposes their flaws) wants fame – why do you think so many tone-deaf “vocalists” audition on camera for TV singing competitions? The aspiring star gets their 15 minutes, a weekly show that’s been on the air for so long it’s becoming stale gets a peak of public interest, even if it’s just to watch a train wreck – it’s a win-win. Danielle Bregoli and her mom didn’t accidentally stumble into the public eye – they pulled off their plan, and now the phrase “cash me outside” occupies space in your brain, regardless of the associated emotional reaction.
For all the mockery of her intelligence level assumed by her command of her native tongue, Danielle is very smart. She reportedly started charging for public appearances, and threatened Walmart with a lawsuit for slapping her “cash me outside, how bow da?” phrase on their clothing without asking for permission or offering royalties, thereby maintaining control of her brand. A philosophy that is gaining traction in the music industry and entrepreneurship at large is that a big break only happens to people who are prepared for the opportunity. For example, your favourite superstar artist, your inspiration for wanting to be a musician since you were a kid, could knock on your door right this second and tell you that after reading your fan mail for years, they want you to come along on their worldwide, Olympic-stadium tour to open for them. This is your big break. Only hang on, you don’t have a professional website, or a concept for merch, or even a logo. Yeah, you could still open for them, but it wouldn’t have nearly the same impact as if you had had your act together. Danielle Bregoli, the “cash me outside” girl, had her act together and seized the moment she went viral from an appearance on an American daytime talkshow, and used it to build the brand of Bhad Bhabie, with all the pieces already in place. She was ready to bring it to the masses.
Inside The Bank Accounts Of The Record Industry
I know a lot of artists who still have this idea that their God-given musical talent, four-hours-daily practice schedule, and dimly lit restaurant gigs will get them “discovered,” because major record labels see true artistry and sign the artists that bring quality and pride to the company. Dear friends, let me know when that true artistry also brings in 26 million+ views on your debut single solely by word of mouth promotion (sorry).
In the good old days of the record industry, the general public still bought complete, bundled albums. This allowed label execs to both swim in pools of money – Scrooge McDuck style, and invested in undeveloped talent. Those days are over. Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and Straight Up Piracy™ don’t pay out royalty checks to the same amount as brick and mortar record stores once did; as members of the independent music business reading this, you probably already know. If you’re just like me and don’t have a single CD player in your entire apartment, it’s usually hard to be convinced to buy the digital copy of an album from a band you’re not a super fan of. Why am I bringing this up? Because when the market crashed and those swimming pools dried up, artist development was the first thing to go.
Labels used to be able to take relative risks if they believed in an artist strongly enough. “Potential” was a word in their vocabulary. Nowadays, they demand (and need) a quick, guaranteed return on investment. No matter how technically skilled they are, major labels aren’t offering deals to street performers without an engaged social media following, clear brand identity and proof that they can make money. It’s all about taking a well-working machine and scaling it up in size, not building an invention from scratch!
Bhad Bhabie was already a public figure, and her debut, independently released rap song, “These Heaux,” (yes, it’s still pronounced “hoes”) showed that she had a public eager for more of her bold personality. It doesn’t take a genius A&R rep to think “here’s a wild idea: what if we offer that loudmouthed Danielle kid a contract where we invest a bit of cash into studio time and video shoots, and then take a bigger portion of the profits? She’ll appeal to the kids, who will beg their parents to buy them the tickets to her concerts where they can be peer pressured to buy any merch with “cash me outside” emblazoned on it. Hell, we don’t even have to pay for marketing, she’s already viral!”
So What Happens Now?
Once again, the Earth did not stop turning. Bhad Bhabie’s “success story” doesn’t make you any less of an artist. The music business is a business, after all. She’s a symptom of what’s going in the mainstream music industry right now, not the cause of its downfall. You are and have always been amazing, now go back to practice.
By the way, “These Heaux” is my new guilty pleasure.