Bella Poarch took over TikTok and now it’s time to take over pop charts: We will never forget 2020. Our lives have turned upside down, and many of us have been inspired to pursue new hobbies in our free time, including Bella Poarch, who joined TikTok in April. Unlike most people who just chose a hobby or mastered a new recipe, Poarch is now the third most subscribed and has the most popular video on the entire platform. “I still feel like I’m the same person,” Poarch says. “Sometimes I forget that I’m famous because of Covid-19, and I don’t go out as much. I’m sure it will be interesting when the world opens up again.”
Although she has racked up more than a billion likes on TikTok, Poarch wasn’t always a popular girl. She grew up in the Philippines for her first years and then, as a teenager, moved to Texas with her family, where she had trouble fitting in with her peers. “People made fun of me for the way I looked and the Filipino food my mother made me for lunch,” Poarch says. “The kids even called me ‘Ling-Ling.’ It wasn’t the easiest time.”
After having trouble adjusting in high school, Poarch wanted to get as far away from home as possible after graduation. She enlisted in the U.S. Navy, a decision that not only took her far away from Texas, but also gave her independence, a trait she would keep for the rest of her life. “My first year in the Navy, I was serving in Pensacola, Florida, and I went to a bar to hang out with a few people I knew,” Poarch says. “I remember standing at the bar and this huge Marine started staring at me. He was obviously drunk, took both my hands and yelled: “You’re so small!” I told him to let me go and put me down, but he wouldn’t listen.
“Then I punched him and knocked out his two front teeth,” Poarch continues. “I was so scared and kept throwing punches until I was eventually taken out. I still have scars on my arms from that. I found out the next morning that he had permanently lost his front teeth, but luckily I wasn’t in trouble because he was drunk and I was acting in self-defense. I have many good and hard memories of serving in the Navy; it taught me to be brave.”
While in the Navy, Poarch became her own person, and part of that process was getting rid of her family’s opinions. She grew up in a strict and traditional Filipino family, so getting a tattoo was a big rebellion. “I got my first tattoo my first year in the military,” Poarch says. “It’s a heart and a key. Honestly, there’s no story behind it, except that I just wanted to try to get a tattoo. But I was afraid of what my family would think.”
The heart and key tattoo discovered a passion in Poarch, and soon she began collecting bigger and more meaningful tattoos. “My favorite tattoo is on my back – it’s a ship with wings,” Poarch says. “It basically symbolizes my service in the Navy. The wings are because I worked in aviation and was a pilot. And the ship because I served in Japan for two and a half years while I was deployed.”
In the time she has been collecting tattoos, Poarch has learned a lot. She has learned to appreciate quality art, and her collection reflects her evolution as a tattoo enthusiast. One of the most valuable lessons she has learned is to do her research before visiting a salon. “The only thing I regret is getting a tattoo that resembles a Japanese military flag,” Poarch says. “I served at a military base in Atsugi, Japan, and the image of my tattoo was painted on our helicopters and the officers had it on their patches. I knew nothing else but that, and it was my fault for not doing my research. I snaked it as soon as I found out it looked like something a lot of people had been hurt by.”
Poarch learned about the subtext of this tattoo through her growing online platform, which she is still getting used to. Like many who came to TikTok in 2020, she didn’t plan on becoming a viral star or having millions of eyes follow her every move. Adapting to her newfound fame has been a process she sees as one day at a time. “I started my TikTok when I had just gotten out of the Navy and was quarantined and bored,” Poarch says. “The first video I posted was about me singing, and I deleted it because it got about 100 views. After that, I just started trying different creative ideas and eventually started gaining popularity.”
One of the biggest pushes in her rise to fame on TikTok was her video for the song “M to the B.” This song by Millie B. trended on the app in mid-2020, and Poarch’s performance became the most popular video in TikTok history. “Honestly, I was really surprised,” Poarch says. “I didn’t expect my video to blow up like that, and I’m still in shock. I’m proud that I was able to just be myself in the video, and people appreciated that.”
TicToc Poarch continues to grow by the day, and she now has the third most subscribers on the platform. She has also become the biggest Asian-American influencer on the planet. So where do we go from here? Let’s go back to the roots she demonstrated in the first video she eventually deleted – to music.
Poarch has been secretly making music for the past few months, and now she’s ready to show the world the results of her labor. She probably never would have pursued a music career had it not been for the support she received online. “Ever since I was a little girl, I always sang around the house. But as soon as my stepfather would catch me, he would tell me to shut up,” Poarch says. “When I was growing up, I was expected to be a doctor or a lawyer. Because of Asian cultural norms, parents don’t support their children pursuing careers in entertainment, and it is perceived as a failure. I was punished every time I stayed after school to participate in drawing or singing competitions. But I won 36 medals, so the pain was worth it.”
As she grew older, Poarch continued to hide her love of music from her family. But that passion never went away. “Every time I had a depressing episode, I would sing with my ukulele,” she says. “Music helped me express myself, and that’s the part of music I really fell in love with.”
Although it hasn’t been easy to open up, especially to her millions of online subscribers, Poarch looks forward to sharing a more intimate side of herself. Music is her way of being vulnerable, and there’s a lot she can’t show in a thirty-second video. “I have a clinical diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and anxiety,” Poarch says. “There are things I find very difficult to talk about, even with my psychiatrist and therapist. But music allows me to share those messages and stories in a way that I normally can’t.”
Poarch has been preparing for her musical debut for months and has spent hours in the recording studio with producers and writers. Along the way, she perfected her sound and created her debut single, “Build a Bitch,” which will officially introduce her to the world as a musician. “This song is about not letting guys or other people or society tell you what you should look like,” Poarch says. “There are so many standards set for women these days – it’s crazy. So ‘Build a Bitch’ is about self-acceptance and independence.”
International fame is a mark Poarch has already set, thanks to TikTok, so music is a way for her to express herself creatively and extend her time in the spotlight. She also hopes her music will have an impact on the culture. “I’ve never had a female Asian-American musician to look up to,” Poarch says. “I want to fill that void for the next generation. I really care about my culture and my community. I have my own personal experience of what’s happening in the Asian-American community right now, and it’s an emotional but very important topic of discussion for me. It’s been amazing to see the community coming together to address these issues, but we still have a lot of work to do.”
Poarch has a lot on her plate, from being a role model for a pop star she didn’t have as a child to plans to go on tour once the world opens up again. But if anyone can do it, it’s Bella Poarch. She’s already done the unthinkable when it comes to breaking boundaries on social media, now it’s time to take her career to the next level.
Bella Poarch on social media: