(日本語版記事はこちら

This is a translated version of the Japanese article. Text & translated by Matsutani Soichiro.

Bella Poarch is a new star from TikTok, strongly influenced by Japanese anime. And I analyze her by a Japanese perspective. Please share a lot!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

“I’m filled with flaws and attitude”

A popular TikTok influencer made his debut as a singer and suddenly became a huge hit all over the world - a very interesting situation.

24 year old Bella Poarch is a popular Filipino-American TikTokker. She currently ranks third in the world in terms of TikTok followers with over 71 million. On May 14, she made her debut as a singer with "Build a Bitch" and quickly became a star.

"Build a Bitch" was viewed 75 million times on YouTube in its first week, the most ever for a debut song, and reached about 140 million in less than three weeks (as of June 2). On Billboard's main Hot 100 chart, the song ranked 58th for the first time despite being a newcomer (as of May 29).

"Build a Bitch" is the song about a woman who embraces her appearance complex. The lyrics, "This ain't Build-A-Bitch, you don't get to pick and choose" depict a woman fighting against the sexual gaze of men.

It is a motif peculiar to the age of social networking, where everyone is forced to be self-conscious. However, it does not have the darkness of Billy Irish, and its theme is the empowerment of women.

With many tattoos on her body and her hair in twin tails, she sings.

“I'm filled with flaws and attitude. So if you need perfect, I'm not built for you.”

The song is very modern and her stance is what made it a big hit.

She became a "referent” on TikTok

Bella Poarch first came to attention in August of last year on her TikTok video of Millie B's "M to the B". The content of the video, a schtik involving funny faces, was praised as "hypnotic" and became a viral hit. As a result, it became a huge breakthrough, becoming the most popular video on TikTok in 2020 (TikTok "The Year on TikTok: Top 100", December 2, 2020).

Video of Bella Poarch's
Video of Bella Poarch's "M to the B," her big TikTok breakthrough(August 18, 2020).

Less than a year later, Poarch made his debut as a singer last month, and now he is an musician with a big breakthrough. It's an amazing success story.

It's true that TikTok has become a hit in the music industry in the past few years. In the U.S., a prime example is Lil' Naz X's country rap song "Old Town Road" from two years ago. The song spent 19 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100.

A pathway has been established through which the schtiking communication of TikTok users can turn a song into a huge hit.

However, those cases and Bella Poarch are different. She was originally just a TikTok user who played around with existing songs. In other words, she went from being a "player" to being a "referent" star on TikTok.

Strong influence from Japanese anime

Born in 1997, she immigrated from the Philippines to Texas, USA at the age of 13, and later joined the US Army. During her time in the Navy, she was stationed at a base in Japan.

When I watched on her TikTok, I noticed something. There are a few posts about Japanese anime and music on her TikTok.

For example, you can see videos with the song (remix) from the anime "Non Non Biyori(のんのんびより)", LiSA's "Gurenge" (instrumental) from "Demon Slayer(鬼滅の刃)", and the opening song "Love Circulation" by Kana Hanazawa from "Bakemonogatari(化物語)". There is also "PONPONPON" by Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and "Nippon Egao Hyakkei(ニッポン笑顔百景)" by Momoiro Clover Z (the ending song of the anime "Joshirak[じょしらく]") .

The clothes she wears and the carpet in her room are covered with Japanese anime goods. She seems to be particularly fond of "Naruto".In her videos, she often changes from normal clothes to cosplay-like outfits, which is one of the reasons why she has become a popular tiktoker.

In fact, in the early days of TikTok, she was just an Otaku who enjoyed playing games and listening to anime songs (even the upturned faces she makes in her videos were born out of Japanese otaku culture). The cover image of her debut song "Build a Bitch" is also an image of a Japanese anime picture.

Bella Poarch does various cosplays on TikTok (from Bella Poarch's TikTok).
Bella Poarch does various cosplays on TikTok (from Bella Poarch's TikTok).

The Latest in Kawaii Style

Bella Poarch has said in several interviews that she was influenced by Japanese anime and video games during her childhood in the Philippines and when she was stationed in Japan in the Navy. In fashion, she talks about practicing a distinctly "Kawaii" style ("Interview Magazine," June 1, 2021).

The Harajuku Kawaii style had a strong influence on Gwen Stefani in the 00's (the back dancers were "Harajuku Girls"), and led to the global hit of Kyary Pamyu Pamyu in the early 10's. Bella Poarch is the latest incarnation of Harajuku Kawaii with a touch of otaku culture, although it is currently on the decline due to the K-Pop style centered in Shin-Okubo.

And most importantly, we cannot overlook the musical influences she talks about. As mentioned above, she loves Japanese anime songs, and even talks about "would love to make music together one day" (VOGUE, May 23, 2021), which is "Hatsune Miku", a vocaloid.

The biggest inspiration for me is the vocaloid Hatsune Miku. I’ve been listening to her songs since I was a kid and I just love everything about her. She’s the reason I first wanted to go to Japan and first started getting into different kinds of anime.

”Interview Magazine” June 1, 2021

Although there is no influence of Hatsune Miku in this debut song, we will probably see a collaboration between Bella Poarch and Hatsune Miku in the not-too-distant future.

Cover Illustration of Bella Poarch
Cover Illustration of Bella Poarch "Build a Bitch"(2021).

Embodying the "Global Dream"

Bella Poarch has become one of the hottest stars in the world today, and it's a 21st century presence. Living in the Philippines, the U.S., and Japan, she has ingested global culture, and as a digital native of Generation Z, she has become a star through TikTok. They seem to be the embodiment of the "global dream" rather than the American dream.

In addition, the fact that they are Asians, who have been overshadowed in global entertainment, is also important. In music, Far East Movement and PSY in the first half of the decade, and the breakthrough of BTS and BLACKPINK in the second half of the decade, have brought Asian musicians to prominence in the last decade (the same goes for movies). She, along with Olivia Rodrigo, who is also of Filipino descent, is likely to follow suit.

 On the other hand, there are many hate crimes against Asians in the United States today. There is an absurdity that the stress of the Covid19 disaster is being directed at Asians.

She herself was teased at school for smelling like Filipino food when she was a teenager immigrating to the US, and was called "Ling Ling" because of her appearance. She says she was also attacked and assaulted and has PTSD from it ("Vogue UK," April 14, 2021).

She is heartbroken by the continued attacks on Asians, but also says.

But I’ll tell you one thing: if I ever see someone getting attacked, I will use everything I ever learned in the military to dismantle them.

"Vogue" May 23, 2021

In her transformative cosplay videos on TikTok, she has naturally coexisted with multiple identities. She is both "Kawaii Bella" and "Baddie Bella" ("Interview Magazine" June 1, 2021), and loves hip-hop, K-pop, and Japanese anime songs in equal measure. I am flawed and opinionated. Her lyrics, "I’m filled with flaws and attitude" are not a one-dimensional statement of her mind. Rather, she seems to be actively trying to enjoy the complex and global mature society by manipulating her own diverse faces.

In light of the above, what I am looking forward to is the next song. If her debut song was "Baddie Bella" image, next song might be "Kawaii Bella". Or maybe they will come up with a concept where "Baddie Bella" transforms into "Kawaii Bella".

It will be interesting to see how their debut song will be a hit and how their future performances will affect the music scene. We may be witnessing the birth of a new trend.