The Big Business of Becoming Bhad Bhabie (Published 2018) (2024)

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How a troubled Florida teenager went from the “Dr. Phil” show to signing a major-label record deal as a rapper.

Danielle Bregoli, a.k.a. Bhad Bhabie.Credit...Emily Shur for The New York Times

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By Jamie Lauren Keiles

Adam Kluger had a plan to save music. It was 2008: Piracy was up, streaming hadn’t taken off and the physical album had long been eclipsed by the digital single. On top of that, it was the middle of the recession; industry people were looking for ways to make up their losses. Kluger was a fast-talking 22-year-old in Los Angeles with a dream of a product he called “brand dropping.” Rappers were constantly name-checking products — why not get the brands to pay for placement in a verse?

He peddled the concept to record executives, presenting his plan as a source of easy money. They turned him away, citing artistic integrity. He got in touch with Interscope’s vice chairman, Steve Berman, a name he knew from skits between songs on Eminem records. Berman wasn’t into brand dropping, but he did need a novel revenue stream to cover the costs of video production. He gave Kluger a list of the label’s new artists; perhaps he could make some suitable arrangements.

Kluger focused his efforts on younger artists, making the case that taking the cash was not creatively bankrupt but could in fact further their vision. By the end of that summer, he had his first win — a deal between a clothing brand called Vixen’s Visions and a new pop act named Lady Gaga. Over the course of the next several years, Kluger became a kind of sponsored-content hustler, making arrangements between artists and brands: Christina Aguilera and the Oranum psychic hotline, Flo Rida and the p*rn site Live Jasmin, Jason Derulo and the singles site Plenty of Fish. As Kluger saw it, he was just a middleman, taking a cut of the pay in exchange for providing a matchmaking service. By the fall of 2016, he was working on one of his biggest deals yet, between Britney Spears and the dating app Bumble.

“It was almost a million dollars,” Kluger recalls. “I was on a flight to L.A. in November, for the video shoot, and the brand Bumble tried to go around me and go directly through Britney’s lawyers, which doesn’t happen. They tried to beat the middleman.” Spears saw things differently. TMZ reported that Spears’s camp believed that Kluger had been fraudulently acting as her representative and that he pocketed more than 40 percent of the $800,000 sponsorship fee. Her lawyers sent a letter threatening to sue. (Bumble declined to comment on the record.)

“I was so pissed off at the way that I was treated publicly from it that I decided to quit the music business,” Kluger says. He took a vacation to blow off some steam — New York, Costa Rica. By the time he got back, it was 2017, and he was still pissed off — especially at Bumble. “I was like, ‘I built this company. I helped make this [expletive] popular.’ Then I was like, ‘I can make anything popular.’ ” Kluger hatched another plan, this time to save his own reputation. “I’m going to find something that’s just so obscure, and I’m going to make it popular,” he decided. “I’m going to pull every trick I’ve ever pulled with brands and make someone into a walking, talking brand to prove my worth.”

As Kluger’s deal was hitting the fan, the web was caught up in a drama of its own over an absurd clip from daytime TV featuring a Florida teenager. Danielle Bregoli, of Boynton Beach, was a guest on a September 2016 episode of “Dr. Phil” titled “I Want to Give Up My Car-Stealing, Knife-Wielding, Twerking 13-Year-Old Daughter Who Tried to Frame Me for a Crime!” Bregoli had done all that and more, leading her desperate mother, Barbara Ann, to contact the television shrink for assistance. In the segment, mother and daughter sit facing a live studio audience. Barbara Ann begs Dr. Phil for his help, while Bregoli seems to revel in the spectacle of conflict. When the audience laughs at Bregoli’s affectation — part Florida, part Brooklyn, part misconceived Black Vernacular English — she calls them all “hoes,” then invites them to fight: “Cash me outside, howbowdah?”

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