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Bhad Bhabie and Noah Cyrus, Invented From the Ground Up

Category: Art & Culture,Arts

The concerted effort to Make Noah Cyrus Happen began in earnest a year ago with the release of “Again,” an ill-advised and limp collaboration with the controversial rapper XXXTentacion. Like her sister Miley before her, Ms. Cyrus was aligning herself with hip-hop, though unlike Miley, she did not appear to be having any fun. That alliance was just one of several Ms. Cyrus struck — an incomplete list of collaborators includes dance music producers (Marshmello and Matoma), pop singers (MØ), rappers (Lil Xan) and R&B singers (Gallant, Labrinth) — with Ms. Cyrus adjusting as needed to the circumstance.

Around the same time Ms. Cyrus released “Again,” the teenage rapper Bhad Bhabie — then better known as the pottymouthed viral star Danielle Bregoli — released her debut single, “These Heaux.” Unlike Ms. Cyrus, Bhad Bhabie did not come from musical royalty, but she was, it turned out, extremely adaptable. Her claim to fame was a bad, snappish attitude, and molding that into the form of rap verses turned out not to be that much of a leap.

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And so the Bhad Bhabie on “15,” her debut full-length release, and the Ms. Cyrus of “Good Cry,” her debut EP, are both inventions of a sort. But what’s most notable is how relatively natural and at ease Bhad Bhabie, the nonprofessional of the pair, sounds as compared with Ms. Cyrus. Both are bolstered by oodles of professionals, but only Bhad Bhabie remains distinct.

Via her XXXTentacion collaboration and her short-run relationship with Lil Xan (with whom she also released a song, “Live or Die”), Ms. Cyrus has flirted with the outlaw vigor of SoundCloud rap. But the fixtures of that scene have somewhat naturally gravitated to Bhad Bhabie, who in a short period of time has become a fact of contemporary hip-hop, like face tattoos and mopey AutoTuned melody.

On the entertaining if erratic “15,” Bhad Bhabie raps like someone who is learning to rap in real time, which to be fair, she is. Her default mode is taunt, and she’s effective at it on songs like the coolly menacing “Thot Opps (Clout Drop)” (“Want these problems? Let’s get active”), the chipper sneer “Hi Bich” and the rowdy “Affiliated.”

At its best, “15” is appealing both as straight-ahead hip-hop and also novelty — a rap album made by a rap fan given all the resources of an actual rapper. That she is a young white girl — 15 is also her age — literalizes outsider participation in hip-hop, and shrinks the distance between participant and observer.

Her songs are short, most around two minutes: enough to pique interest, but not enough to exhaust it. And she is surrounded by plenty of fully credible rappers: Lil Yachty, YG, Asian Doll, Lil Baby, City Girls. That they rap far more fluently than she does (and sometimes in arrestingly bawdy fashion, given that their collaborator is underage) is only a mild inconvenience — Bhad Bhabie has the conviction of a true brat.

Even though she deviates from her trash-talk flow on a couple of occasions — the faux-Young Thug melodies of “Trust Me” and “No More Love” — Bhad Bhabie otherwise has a honed sense of self-presentation. By comparison, Ms. Cyrus is pinballing among styles, looking for a home.

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“Good Cry” is wide-ranging but hollow. She attempts Lana Del Rey goth-pop with collaborators of the Weeknd on “Where Have You Been?” and a Mumford & Sons rousing vocal swell on “Punches,” neither convincingly. On “Mad at You,” she sounds as if she’s singing at the end of an exhausting sprint, coughing out the syllables, bolstered by a gospelesque choir that serves only to spotlight the blankness of her voice. (For what it’s worth, none of these songs are more compelling than “Live or Die,” her collaboration with her ex-flame Lil Xan.)

For two artists so visibly constructed in the public sphere, it’s notable that both conclude their releases with songs meant to strip away the varnish. For Ms. Cyrus, it’s “Topanga (Voice Memo),” on which she laments an old lover in a lightly husky voice with heavily youthful concerns: “I can’t wash with that soap anymore/because it smells just like you.” It recalls Miley’s country-pop, and it’s deliberately no-fi; there’s a persistent, needling chirp in the background. It is the least ambitious song here, and also the most potent one.

Bhad Bhabie’s reveal takes on a different shape. “Bhad Bhabie Story (Outro)” is a long, semi-rapped-semi-talked monologue in which she details her path from bad kid to Bhad Bhabie. She tells the story with the kind of nonchalance that only a teenager can — she was disruptive, she went on TV, she became a meme, and the rest just happened.

Noah Cyrus
“Good Cry”
(RECORDS/Columbia)

Bhad Bhabie
“15”
(B.H.A.D. Music)


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