After five minutes at the Bhad Bhabie concert, we realized nobody in the 21+ area was dancing. A man in a goatee and long plaid shorts sat stone-faced, arms crossed in front of his chest. Two women sipped their drinks, not talking to one another. In front of me, a man texted and scrolled through the entirety of opener Asian Doll’s set, his head slumped on his hand. It wasn’t until a top-knotted boy no older than 13 ran up to his bored mother at the barrier, asking for her to pass over her own phone, that we realized that in our quest for comfort and minimal physical contact, my friend and I had unintentionally placed ourselves in the “parents who don’t want to be here” section.
We had arrived that day in Spokane, a small Washington city near the Idaho border, to see 15-year-old rapping and meme sensation Bhad Bhabie perform one of her last shows on her first ever tour. Having first achieved fame for her bad behavior on the daytime talkshow Dr. Phil, the rapper (given name Danielle Bregoli) has pivoted to a rap career and achieved a surprising amount of success, scoring a record label and placing a few sharp, bratty singles on the Billboard Hot 100. I had been looking forward to the concert for a few weeks by the time we rolled into town, but while I’ve seen countless shows in my lifetime, I usually didn’t have so many questions when walking through the front doors.
Like: What kind of crowd would come see Bhad Bhabie, who has emerged as a point of fierce contention among casual and diehard hip hop fans? How long would this concert even be, considering Bhad Bhabie has only recorded a handful of songs, most of which barely hit the three-minute mark? Would I, a 27-year-old be the oldest person at the show? Are Bhad Bhabie fans mainly “old” people like me? Friends my age had seen Bhad Bhabie perform in New York and Los Angeles. Would the same be true in a city in Eastern Washington?
The most pressing question was, simply, why? “Why?” is what my friends and family asked when I told them the reason I would be out of town this weekend. For many, Bhad Bhabie is a novelty act, a joke, or worse, a stain on American pop culture at large. I could see one friend’s respect for my music taste dissipate rapidly as I explained why I love “Hi Bich” and Bregoli’s newest hit “Gucci Flip Flops” — and that, frankly, the whole experience of seeing the famously foul-mouthed teen perform live seemed fun. (My friend who agreed to go with me avoided that question altogether by keeping our reason for leaving town a secret from her friends.)
We spent three hours zooming down I-90 from Missoula, our excitement to see this actual baby perform increasing with every mile of the road trip. When we arrived at the venue, the block was quiet. Costumed children trickled past the Knitting Factory entrance, heading to the Christian theater performance down the street. A man in a tie dye shirt outside delayed us, asking if we knew that rap stands for “rhythm and poetry” before making us listen to a weak freestyle and imploring us to buy his mixtape.
We made it in 20 minutes after the start time expecting the show, like most, would start late. But inside, the kids were already raging.
“Giving a lot of these out?” I said to the doorman as he wrapped a 21+ band on my wrist. “Not really,” he said. “It’s a teeny bopper show, you know.” We passed by the Bhad Bhabie merch table, which offered Bhad Bhabie t-shirts and hoodies as well as sets of mink false eyelashes for $20 a pack, and stepped into the main room of the venue, joining a legion of a few hundred or so budding hypebeasts screaming for Asian Doll, along with the others in the 21+ section.
I couldn’t watch as Asian Doll brought a young boy with Xs on both hands up on stage for a requisite mid-set lap dance, so I looked around at my 21+ brethren. While most were responsible parents looking out for their kids, there were others, like me, who were clearly here for themselves. Many of us were insufferable. A clearly wasted woman with bright red hair and dark eyeliner screamed “BHAD BHABIE” and “TITTIES” every few minutes, as Asian Doll performed. At the bar, a man who looked to be in his fifties begged a woman who looked to be in her forties to dance with him. He had ostensibly come here to hit on moms, I guess? And just ahead of me, a group of four people who looked to be in their early thirties laughed and rolled their eyes through the entire night.
The air was thick with self-consciousness: adults thinking through the reasons they were there and kids, possibly at their first shows, sporting their best Bhad Bhabie and Justin Bieber-esque outfits. As I washed my hands in the bathroom, teen girls swirled around me, fixing their hair and makeup, drunk on the freedom of being out from under their parents’ control for a night. (Others likely drunk on illicitly obtained alcohol, as well.)
But when Bhad Bhabie came out, the atmosphere of complete abandon that makes live shows actually fun finally took over. The lights went down, two screens played clips from Bregoli’s Dr. Phil and TMZ appearances as well as footage from her own YouTube channel. After Bhad Bhabie’s look alike hype person took to the stage, rap’s first teen arrived looking as young and small as the fans who came to see her. In the back of the under 21 crowd, two young siblings danced with each other with a level of sassiness and confidence usually reserved for a teen’s bedroom mirror. They knew the words to every song of each artist and jumped and hugged each other when, at one point, Bhad Bhabie waved to them from the stage.
By the end of her first song, I was convinced she was born to perform.
Bregoli strutted and ponytail-whipped her way through her entire discography, as well as a cover of a Paul Wall song. Asian Doll reemerged out to join the young star for a “Hi Bich” remix that made the teens swarm the front of the stage. Between songs, Bregoli effortlessly delivered her own version of onstage banter, calling out broke bitches and sharing that, after a childhood of listening to her grandmother’s choices in country music, the first CD she ever got for herself was Flo Rida’s Mail on Sunday, a record released when Bregoli was only five years old. For an artist on her first tour, Bhad Bhabie performed as though she’s been perfecting her live show for years. By the end of her first song, I was convinced she was born to perform.
Meanwhile, under Bregoli’s long-lashed gaze, a girl no older than 8-years-old sat on her father’s shoulders, waving her hands along to “These Heaux.” The group of too-cool 30-somethings broke their facade of superiority to completely lose their minds dancing the moment “Hi Bich” came on. (At that moment, I looked to the bored, plaid shorts dad to see if he was enchanted. He remained motionless with his arms crossed, but I found his dedication to being there presumably for his kid nevertheless inspiring.) This was what I’d come here for, to be among people swept up in the sheer fun and pleasure of an undeniably good beat. I screamed “White Jays, white shorts” along with the other children and newly reborn adults gathered at the half-full venue.
After 30 minutes performing, Bhad Bhabie and her entourage filtered off stage. The lights came up. The doorman who had given us our drinks wristbands spotted us on our way out and wished us a good night, albeit with a laugh. Outside, the teens got on their cell phones and called for their rides, while the tweens excitedly gathered around their parents, buzzing with the charging energy Bregoli brought to her performance. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was what I looked like when, 20 years ago, I went to see my first concert. ('NSYNC, in Hartford, CT.) This, I thought, is what it’s all about.
Meanwhile, down the block, the boy who had received what was probably his first lap dance was greeted by a group of his friends chanting “Randy! Randy! Randy!” As they walked past, I asked Randy how old he was. “He’s a freshman in high school!” his friend shouted, putting his arm around Randy. “He got a lap dance on stage!”
“I motorboated Asian Doll!” Randy shouted, so elated he was barely able to stand. My friend and I decided it was time to get out of there.