Bella Poarch is just getting over a case of COVID-19, but that’s not what’s stressing her out. It’s this interview, actually. Bella, like countless people around the world, has serious social anxiety.

Get the mag

Maybe, in a way, it’s good that she blew up—to the tune of 2 billion Likes and 88 million followers on TikTok (she’s the platform’s third most followed person), perhaps the stickiest debut song to come from that app (“Build a Bitch,” which if you haven’t heard it, yes you have), and now a Warner Records deal—in the middle of a global pandemic. Because so far, she’s rarely had to be in 1:1 social situations. Or even in 1:1 Zoom situations, like the one we’re in right now.

There’s a lot, though, that sets Bella’s story apart from that of the up-and-coming-and-feeling-pretty-anxious pop star. To start, she was born and raised in the Philippines, first by her grandmother, then by adoptive parents. Eventually, the family moved to the U.S., where Bella graduated high school early and quickly joined the Navy. After she finished boot camp, she got her first tattoo, a heart lock and key that has since given way to distinctive ink that covers much of her 5-foot-even frame.

Rochas top and skirt. Casadei heels. Fry Powers necklace (in video). Cornelia James gloves. Patricia Von Musulin bracelet.

Today, Bella is a force who extends well beyond the app where she made her name: Her music video debut, with going on 400 million views, was YouTube’s single biggest debut ever. And this year, the so far online-only megastar is hitting the physical world: Her new EP comes out this spring, with her first live performances to follow. For all her shyness, if the aforementioned video is any indication—what with its cameos from famous TikTok pals, decapitated singing doll heads on a conveyor belt, spooky choreography, and pit of CGI fire—it’s going to be a wild ride.

Image no longer available

What inspired you to start posting on TikTok?

I got out of the military and it was quarantine and everybody was bored. My friends kept sending me TikTok videos. I started falling in love with the app. Like, it’s addictive. The first TikTok I posted was actually of me singing a song by Ariana Grande. It got 100 views in 24 hours.

That’s not bad!

But I was like, Oh, I didn’t go viral. Like, silly me, thinking I was going to go viral on my first video. So I deleted it. I didn’t feel like people liked to hear me sing. Then I realized a lot of people were getting into video games because they were stuck at home. So I started putting out video game content. Once I started being more myself, showing my silly side, that’s when people started liking me more.

Rochas top. Naked Cashmere shorts. GCDS heels. Lauren Perrin gloves.

Your original claim to fame was that Face Zoom1 though.

You know, the last time the app made me cry was from the negative comments on that. People were saying mean, random things—“she looks so stupid”—and it broke my heart because I’m just trying to express myself and have fun. When people ask me, “Do you cringe when you watch your viral TikTok?” I’m like, “No, I’m proud of that because it’s where I started.”

1. TikTok feature that makes the camera zoom in very close to, yes, your face. (Bella uses it to create uncanny lip syncs timed to her movements.)

preview for Behind the Scenes With Bella Poarch At Her Cosmo Cover Shoot | Cosmopolitan

It seems like sometimes when people don’t understand why something is popular, there can be this angry confusion—like, I don’t get it, so it must be bad.

I was like, Why are people sending me death threats? And it took me the whole day to make that one video. I have, like, over 100 drafts. I perfected this! At first, I only focused on the negative part, and that taught me a lot.

cosmo abby silverman
cosmo abby silverman

You’re tough.

Yeah. I’m going to cry about it, but I still got this. People are like, “You don’t look like you can fuck someone up.” I can, actually. When I was in the military, my friends and I decided to go to a bar inside the base. I wasn’t drinking that night. I was sitting by the bar just chilling when a marine came up to me and started making fun of how little I am. Then he picked me up like a child and wouldn’t put me down. So I decided to punch him in his mouth.

Image no longer available


And he fell because I punched him really hard and I kept punching. I almost got in trouble because I guess the guy lost his front teeth. I actually have a scar from it.2 It’s funny because in the military, I didn’t really talk at all. I just listened and did my job. Now I just want to put it all out there. There’s a lot more about myself that I haven’t really told a lot of people. I just need the confidence to speak up.

2. Bella holds up both of her fists to the camera, and sure enough, there is the slight scar.


You have a few alter egos—Baddie Bella, Kawaii Bella, Belinda Marie, right?

I definitely do. Like, right now, I’m in my sweats and I’m just Bella. But when it’s time for me to perform, when I shoot music videos or when I’m in the studio, I’m a completely different person. When I wear badass clothes, I go by Baddie Bella. I love anime; it inspires me. I love Hatsune Miku—I used to watch her all the time. She’s a Vocaloid. I don’t know if you know what that means…she’s basically not real but she’s also a pop star.

So, the alter egos help. How has it felt to move to L.A. after growing up in such a different place?

I still don’t really like talking about myself, but I want to let people know how I started, what my story is, because I want them to know that I didn’t just come out of TikTok and start making music.3 This is the first time I’m in a huge place and I got it all myself. I don’t really go out. I do like the weather right now. It’s really gloomy. I love rainy days, not because it’s cold or whatever but because it reminds me of back when I was a kid.

3. Bella doesn’t often speak in detail about her past, but she has said that she suffered long-term abuse.

cosmo abby abigail silverman
Miscreants dress and gloves. Djula earrings (in video).

How so?

I grew up on a farm, and when it was rainy, we would put raincoats on our goats and our cows. Our neighbors used to think we were crazy. I eventually want to get a farm; I want to take care of alpacas.4 I like alpacas better than llamas because llamas are…I don’t know! Alpacas can be by themselves. They’re independent and I see myself in them. In the Philippines, I took care of sheep, goats, cows, chickens, and we had over 20 dogs and cats. It was hard. When I was 14, we moved to America and I went to school in Fresno, California. I graduated when I was 16, but I was scared to go to college. And I wasn’t allowed to really do what I wanted. My parents controlled everything. I didn’t want that for the rest of my life. So I joined the military. My brother was in the Navy, which motivated me. I was really close with him. When I was 7, he heard me singing and was like, “You know you can sing, right?” That’s how I found out. We always worked together too. In the Philippines, there were really no lawn mowers, so we had to cut the grass by hand. We’d do that and talk about life. I feel like that’s what got us closer. He’s still in the military, stationed in San Diego.

4. Bella has a stuffed alpaca named Paca (175,000 Instagram followers) that not only costars in her videos but also had its own merch deal. Her (real) dog Poopoo and cat Peepee have 95,000 Instagram followers.

Versace gown. Cuup briefs. Stuart Weitzman heels. Tiffany & Co. Elsa Peretti earrings and cuff. Vhernier ring. Salvatore Ferragamo bag.

Was being in the Navy what you expected?

A lot of people say the military is like jail. It’s so strict. But honestly, I felt freedom. I went to the mall; I went out on the weekends; I joined the Navy choir. I was singing! And when I was stationed in Japan, there were a lot of karaoke places around our military base. So I would always be there with my friends, singing every weekend.

preview for Can TikTok Queen Bella Poarch Tell Cheap Champagne From Expensive?!  | Expensive Taste Test | Cosmopolitan

What did you sing?

“Listen,” by Beyoncé.

Oh my god. Impressive.

If I really wanted to just wow people, I would sing that. I want to make songs that make women feel powerful and confident. Basically songs that say, “I might be pretty, I might be cute and sweet, but if you fuck with me, you’re going to get fucked up.”

Image no longer available

Speaking of perceptions, when people first saw you online, they thought you were much younger than you are.

Everyone was so confused because back when I was just uploading Face Zoom videos, only my face showed. Then they’d go to my Instagram and I’m wearing a bikini and I have my tattoos out.5 They were like, “This can’t be the same person?” I like that. It makes people think, Who is she?

5. One of Bella’s few controversies (what would social media stardom be without controversy?) involves her tats. Korean fans spotted one on her arm that had similarities to the Japanese war flag, and they called her out. She apologized, had it covered up with a two-headed snake, and tweeted: “Please educate yourselves and learn more about it because it came from a terrible history. It is very offensive to a lot of people. Please learn from my mistake.”

Are there stories behind all your tattoos?

I have scars from my childhood and I wanted to cover them up. I didn’t know anything about scar removal, so I felt like tattoos were the only way. I also wanted to be a rebel because my parents hate tattoos.

Norma Kamali catsuit. Casadei heels. Patricia Von Musulin earrings and ring (right). Lizzie Fortunato cuffs (brown and periwinkle). Dinosaur Designs bangles (black and white) and ring (left).

Which one is the most meaningful to you?

The wings on my back, with a boat in the middle. It’s me in the military. I was an airman. I took care of helicopters on an aircraft carrier. I was the last person to touch the helicopter before the pilots took off. So if it had engine damage or anything, it would be my responsibility. The ship symbolizes me going on deployment. I’m just in the middle of the ocean; at night, everything is so dark, but when you look up at the sky, it’s just beautiful. You see all the stars.

cosmo abby silverman
cosmo abby silverman

Wow. What’s something else true about you that nobody knows yet?

I like pickles. If I could show you right now how many pickles I have in my kitchen…you would not believe it.

Cong Tri gown. GCDS heels. Patricia Von Musulin earrings and bracelets (top and middle). Lizzie Fortunato bracelet (bottom). Gucci sunglasses (in video).

Uh, can you show me?

[Bella turns the camera to face a truly unbelievable amount of jarred pickles on the counter—dill, sweet, sour, gherkins, maybe also kosher.] And then I have more in the fridge, of course.

That’s just for you?

It’s just for me. People ask why I have so many pickles and I’m like, “I don’t know. Why can’t I have so many pickles?” I like to keep myself healthy, so I try not to eat more than one jar a day.

What other hobbies do you have?

I love art. I don’t paint, but I do oil pastels. I do karaoke. I also love to game. I still have friends who live in Japan because they’re stationed there, and gaming is the only time for me to hang out with them. I have some really great friends. I have Grimes.

Image no longer available

Like, the Grimes?

She’s one of my closest friends. I met her through Benny Blanco.6 They were in his studio and I decided to go. We might have a song together. She always recommends books to me. She was like, “You should read this book. It’s called Life 3.0.”7 I would’ve never thought I would read about AI, but I did.

6. He’s part of a crew of TikTok-obsessed pop stars and producers you may already know, including Doja Cat, Lizzo, Jason Derulo, Meghan Trainor, and the Jonas Brothers.

7. Life 3.0: Being Human in the Age of Artificial Intelligence is exactly the kind of book you’d think Grimes would recommend.

Well, Grimes told you to read it. You have to read it.

She’s the coolest. One day she’s just like, you know what, let’s go jousting. Or you know what, we should go take a falconry class. And then next thing you know, we’re doing an NFT.8

8. TikTok planned to do a “first drop” of NFTs with a few artists, including Bella and Grimes. But the rollout was bungled and the drop never happened.

Monosuit one-piece. Elissa Poppy bra and pants. Patricia Von Musulin earrings. Alexis Bittar black bangle. Dinosaur Designs black-and-white bangle.

Who else inspires you?

I haven’t met her yet, but Doja Cat. And Melanie Martinez. Also Lea Salonga, who is a Filipino singer. She was the voice on “Reflection,” a song I grew up with that inspired me to sing. I want to tell her, “I’m literally your song.” The thing about Filipinos is if they find out that you are Filipino, they will support you because you’re representing the country. When I found out that Olivia Rodrigo was Filipino, I was so proud.

When was the last time you were in the Philippines?

Almost 10 years ago. I really want to go home. I wouldn’t specifically go back to my childhood house, but the Philippines is truly my home. I didn’t have the opportunity to travel and learn about the country when I was growing up. I think the beach was three miles away from our house, but I wasn’t ever allowed to go. I think I’m going to be really emotional when I go.

Image no longer available

You’re already manifesting it. Because you believe in manifestation, right?

I learned about it on TikTok. The first video on my FYP9 was basically a person saying, “You should start manifesting today. You should put down three things on a piece of paper.” So I put three things on a piece of paper. And that’s where I started! One of those things was that I wanted to go viral on TikTok.

9. Currently on Bella’s For You Page: “a lot of cat videos,” because she loves cats, “and a lot of food videos,” because she just got an air fryer and the algorithm knows it.

Do you still manifest today?

Yeah, every day. And I realize now, even when I was younger, I was actually already manifesting. When I was doing chores around the farm, like picking up cow shit, I would always imagine myself in American classrooms. It works. You just have to believe that it’s going to happen.

Image no longer available

preview for Cosmopolitan Cover Star Bella Poarch Cries Seeing Her Cover! | Cosmopolitan

Stylist: Cassie Anderson. Hair: Donovan Domingo-Pa. Makeup: Jose Corella using Dior Forever Skin Glow Foundation. Manicure: Yoko Sakakura for A-Frame Agency. Fashion assistant: Pierrette Abegg. Props: Bette Adams for MHS Artists. Executive producer: Abbey Adkison. Senior producer: Liesl Lar. Associate producer: Ericka Papparella. Producer: Dani Abraham. Director of photography: Jean Deneager. Camera operator: Kurran Brown. Production assistant/camera assistant: Martin Gradek. Editor: Desi Sulca. Motion graphics: Kelsey Fink. Postproduction supervisor: Heather Weyrick. Production: Crawford & Co Productions.

On Bella on the cover: Tiffany & Co. Elsa Peretti earrings and necklace. Sermoneta Gloves Opera gloves. Fabio Novembre for Casamania “Her” chair. Bella in opener: Halpern jumpsuit. Oscar de la Renta necklace (in hair). Rebecca de Ravenel earrings. Manokhi gloves.

Headshot of Lindsey Weber
Lindsey Weber

Lindsey Weber is a writer, editor, and co-host of the pop culture podcast, Who Weekly.