Building Bella Poarch

Building Bella Poarch

GEN V

Building Bella Poarch

This ain't build a bitch. On the brink of her debut EP, Dolls, the biggest southeast Asian pop star in the making is charting her own path, one captivating melody at a time.

This ain't build a bitch. On the brink of her debut EP, Dolls, the biggest southeast Asian pop star in the making is charting her own path, one captivating melody at a time.

Photography: Domen & Van De Velde

Styling: Nicola Formichetti

Text: Kala Herh

This story appears in the pages of V137, The "Gen V" Issue: available to order now!

Bella sits on the factory conveyor belt, waiting to be assembled. Abruptly, a robot hand plucks her head and locks it onto a pair of stiff, futuristically-armed shoulders. Here, the 25-year-old singer appears in her explosive “Build a Bitch” music video, where she is reimagined as a picture-perfect doll who is explicitly created as a product for one’s consumption. As is true with the rest of the singer’s oeuvre, this song speaks to Bella’s own lived experience, calling out the unattainable standards placed on women. As the music video continues, Bella is deemed “defective” and is discarded in the trash. But in true Bella fashion, she emerges. She manages to not only escape the factory but also break out her female counterparts. And as if the music video was a reflection of reality, IRL Bella is building herself up–despite the obstacles. 

Bella shares with V that her upbringing wasn’t easy, but when things got tough, music was one thing that helped her through it. “Music is therapy to me,” she says from her home in East Los Angeles, where she lives with her cat, PeePee, and French bulldog, PooPoo. “I have really bad anxiety and I’m very anxious around people, but singing calms me down.” When she was growing up in the Philippines, she used singing competitions as her creative outlet. And a few years later, when she joined the military, she spent her downtime rehearsing with the troop choir. Now, her years of quietly honing her craft are paying off. Paving the way for other Southeast Asian musicians looking to break into music, Bella is quickly becoming one of the biggest pop stars in the industry. Just 24 hours into the release of “Build a Bitch,”, the song had racked up 10 million views on YouTube–a seemingly insurmountable feat for anyone just starting to release music. Like many of her TikTok counterparts, the app was like a rocket ship to fame, but also a ceiling too, defining what they could be. But unlike many, Bella has successfully made the transition from TikTok to music, leveraging her fan base and solidifying herself as a bonafide musician. By breaking through the industry barriers, Bella has proven she’s more than just TikTok–and you don’t have to take our word for it. Within the first week of its release, the single went Certified Platinum and was included on the New York Times’ “Best Songs of 2021” list. But that doesn’t mean she’s abandoning her TikTok roots, quite the contrary, actually: “I love TikTok because I get to be myself and share a side of me where I don’t really show in music or my Instagram.”

Bella wears coat Saint Laurent / necklace Messika

In many ways, “Build a Bitch” is Bella’s pièce de résistance; it distills the artist’s ethos into an infectious blend of melodies, harmonies and rhythm. And it is this message of empowerment that the creative expands on in her latest EP, Dolls. “In society, we’re like dolls,” she explains. “We’re continuously trying to please other people and the song explores being okay with not being perfect.” Featuring powerhouse vocals and the singer’s trademark dark pop beats, the song imbues listeners with a sense of power and freedom. And while the song is an extension of her previous work, it is by no means a carbon copy. Today, Bella is diving deeper into her artistry and experimenting with new themes and structures to produce work she’s really proud of. This EP is just the first chapter of Bella’s story, one that she will likely keep building with more pages and chapters in the coming years. After all, it’s Bella’s world–and we’re just living in it. 

Bella wears coat Prada coat/ jewelry Messika

For more on Bella, read our interview below: 

V MAGAZINE: Congrats on your new project that’s about to come out-Dolls, the single and the EP. I was listening to it this week and it’s amazing. What were the influences behind it?

BELLA POARCH: Thank you. Dolls is fun, dark pop music that has strong messages about self-empowerment and being true to yourself. I want listeners to feel confident when they listen to my songs.

V: Very cool! How did the phrase “Dolls Kill” come to be?

BP: For my first song, "Build a Bitch," the lyrics are fun and I wanted to incorporate some fun lyrics on the Dolls release as well. “Build a Bitch” and Dolls relate to each other. "Dolls" is the continuation of "Build a Bitch." If you ever saw the music video for “Build A Bitch”, you know it ended with the explosion of the Match Made factory, which I came out from and saved the other dolls. "Dolls" starts off from there and follows my journey to find the CEO who created the factory of dolls. You can expect a lot of insane scenes–I have a fighting scene with someone and I have a few of my friends that are in the video. Grimes is in it.

V: No way! Grimes is in it? What else can we expect? 

BP: I love world-building and for this project, I created this concept of a doll factory in my head. I told my director about it and how I wanted to bring to life this world. A lot of the inspiration behind my music videos comes from anime because I’m such a huge fan of anime. I love Naruto, Detective, and One-Punch Man.

Bella wears coat / Harry Halim / jacket Heurueh / tights Saint Laurent

V: And what drew you to the metaphor of dolls? 

BP: It's really a lot of different things. We're in a society where we always have to look perfect and people would judge us when we don't look our best. So in that way, we're like dolls. We're continuously just trying to please other people. Dolls explores being okay, with not being perfect. 

V: I love that. And how does this song “Dolls” and then the new EP coming out fit into your larger artist statement as a whole? What do you want to make music about? 

BP: I want my listeners to feel confident. I want them to feel empowered and to feel good about themselves. Especially my very first song, "Build a Bitch," a lot of people related to it so much because they know what it's like to be judged and look perfect every day. It's hard so I want people to feel accepted, and I want them to feel like themselves. I want them to feel happy with themselves. 

V: For sure. Can you take it back a bit and tell us about when you first fell in love with music? 

BP: I grew up joining a lot of song competitions in the Philippines. Singing competitions were really huge. They're one of the main things in school–singing competitions. And so I would join every single time and I would bring home a gold medal. But I would be so scared to show my parents because they were really strict and they only wanted me to go to school for academics. So I hid it from my parents because they were against it. I started singing when I was seven. That was when my brother told me that I could sing. But at that time, I was too young and didn't know anything. But also when I was in the Navy, I was also part of the Navy choir. So when I wasn't at work, I was singing for retirement ceremonies and all the Navy events that we had. 

Bella wears all clothing Miu Miu.

V: Did you have any favorite songs you liked to sing when you were younger? 

BP: Yeah, I really liked “Reflections” from Disney’s Mulan

V: What other early songs influenced your sound today? 

BP: I listened to a lot of dark pop growing up. When I was 14, I was listening to Melanie Martinez. At that time, dark pop wasn't really huge. I really loved the style of her music, but I also listened to Sub Urban–I was obsessed with "Cradles." And for the aesthetic of my music videos, I've always been in love with Sucker Punch. When I was growing up, I didn't really have Asian superheroes to look up to. It was just Jackie Chan and Mulan. So I didn't really have any other people to look up to. So I would always imagine myself as a superhero and then when I saw the movie, Sucker Punch, I was like, "I want to be that girl in pigtails." Yeah, so that's what inspired me.

V: When did you start writing your own music and performing it? 

BP: In the Navy, I was deployed a couple of times. And I would be deployed in the middle of the ocean in an aircraft carrier and it would be so lonely for me. And, you know, sometimes people when they're deployed in aircraft carriers they become depressed. For me, what makes me feel less depressed is when I pour my emotions into music. I would be deployed in the middle of the ocean in an aircraft carrier and it’d be so lonely, so [singing and] making music would help me get through it.

Bella wears coat and bracelets Saint Laurent / necklace Messika // On eyes: YSL Beauty Lash Clash Extreme Volume Mascara / On face: YSL Beauty All Hours Foundation / On lips: YSL Beauty The Slim Matte Lipstick in Rouge Mirage.

V: Up to now, what role has music played in your life?

BP: Music is therapy to me. I have really bad anxiety and I'm very anxious around people. Like when I'm meeting new people for the first time, I get really anxious. But something about being on stage and performing, because I grew up performing and singing, makes me less anxious. It's different from talking to people because singing to me, just calms me down. And every time I'm anxious, I'm always singing in my head or alone.

V: What’s your relationship with TikTok now? Has it stayed the same or changed a little? 

BP: Yeah, I stopped doing face zoom videos, but I still incorporate my facial expressions. I love Tik Tok because I get to just be myself and share the side of me that I don't really show in music or Instagram. So Tik Tok is another way for me to express my silly goofy side. 

Bella wears dress Serpenti / necklace Pono / gloves Harry Halim

V: What’s the highlight of your career so far? 

BP: My highlight would definitely be "Build a Bitch" going Platinum. Because at first when my manager told me that "Build a Bitch" went platinum, I was like, "Oh, wow. That's cool." But I didn't really understand what Platinum was until they explained it to me, because I guess they were expecting me to be more excited [laughs]. That would be the best thing that's ever happened now I know what hitting platinum means. 

V: What are you looking to do in the next five, or ten years? 

BP: In 10 years, I see myself touring a lot. A world tour would be cool. I also see myself getting into acting, hopefully, to be a superhero. I also haven't been in my home country for like 10 years. So hopefully, in the next few years or this year, I can visit and explore the Philippines because I didn't really get the chance to. I was always at home and I wasn't allowed to go out. And more pets for sure. I want to get a few cats and a few dogs along the way.

Bella wears coat Harry Halim // On face: Colourpop Pressed Powder Shadow / on eyes Nars High-Pigment Longwear Eyeliner in Gran Via.

Watch Bella Poarch's latest music video for "Dolls" below:

Credits:
Styled by Davey Sutton
Assisted by Hunter Clem
Makeup Liselotte Van Saarloos (The Wall Group)
Hair Joeri Rouffa (The Wall Group)
Manicure Britney Tokyo
Executive Producer Johnny Pascucci (Photobomb Production)
Makeup assistant Mila Kwan
Producer Sara Bielecki
Production Coordinator Vicente Luna
Key Production Omar Quiroga
Location Dust Studios

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