Despite a life seemingly played out like a trite teleserye or ripped off from the pages of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, Bella Poarch emerges from the inferno, eager to tell you her story in song.
“Miss Third Ward, your first question: What is your aspiration in life?” asks the booming male voice in the awning of the haunting, but ultimately, empowering Beyoncé track, Pretty Hurts. “Oh, my aspiration in life would be to be happy.” To the senses of someone obscenely disenchanted and pummeled by the harsh realities of life, this may sound like an oversimplification, especially with what commands and compels our attention these days. However, where eyes would usually roll way back in contempt and an exasperated exhale of breath precedes a sensible, but clichéd context, Beyoncé convinces one otherwise in the course of the soaring ballad, turning a stubborn skeptic into a believer. It stands as no coincidence that when asked what her go-to karaoke song is, Bella Poarch lights up and promptly replies the aforementioned release of Miss Knowles before erupting in a fit of child-like giggles.
Despite swimming in the comforts of an oversized beige hoodie, her nonchalantly tied up hair reveals the sheer joy of this revelation. Collecting herself in a surprisingly prim posture, she furthers, “It has a very good message and also, I love how I can make my voice strong.” In the thick of her transition from TikTok phenomenon to burgeoning pop star, the proudly Filipino Bella Poarch already anticipates the furrowed brows that follows her choices, which includes another gut-wrenching, diaphragm-challenging song, Hanggang Ngayon by Regine Velasquez and Ogie Alcasid.
Yes, these are emotionally-charged heavy hitters in the karaoke song list, one that is only attempted by the bold and the brave, but little do most people know that the Filipino-American digital darling is not just another cog in the machinations of substandard pop ditties churned out by social media stars, Bella Poarch has been singing all her life. “Of course, in my next few songs, I will be vocally expressing,” she teases.
A LOVE LETTER
“It’s very personal,” she says of her exploration and expression in music. “So, you put out how you feel with songwriting, like you put how you feel on a piece of paper. It’s basically like a love letter when you try and express to someone when you’re in love with them [for example.] You know, that’s basically the same thing. So, I feel like that’s what makes it special.”
As pure as this sounds, music was more than just an opportunity to perform Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up onstage for a first place finish or evoke a sense of self that was more confident that who she really was, it was what would ultimately become her form of escape in many harrowing chapters of her life. “Music has always been a huge part of my life. It calms me like it when I’m anxious. It helps me a lot and now that I’m making music, it helps me express myself,” she says. “And yeah, I feel happy that I get to share that to my audience. And sharing music, I feel like it’s the best way to share a message.”
You see, unlike many of her contemporaries on TikTok, she didn’t live the charmed life she is experiencing right now. In fact, as if standing in the crossfire of fate’s cruel misfire of misfortunes, Bella Poarch seemed to unsuspectingly be at the very center of her very own A Series Of Unfortunate Events.
DUST YOURSELF OFF AND TRY AGAIN
While she isn’t one to shy away from her traumatic past, opening up about anxiety, abuse, and depression when and where necessary, she understandably operates mostly on a need-to-know basis, or if simply asked about it. “I have bad anxiety because of my past trauma, and I frequently visit a therapist, which helps me. I feel like it’s so hard for me to open up to other people, but now I’m slowly learning to do that,” Bella Poarch details, quickly dispelling what others may dismiss as reticence. “And that’s why I always remind people that it’s important to always express yourself and tell someone when you need help and to bring like bring mental awareness to people, like mental health problems and stuff like that.”
You have to understand, in what seems to be brutal incarnations in one cycle of life, Bella Poarch has steeled herself so that nothing and no one else can hurt her the way she has been by people she considered family no less. Having gone through the wringer and back, life was different for her. “I cleaned up a lot of shit,” she says of her crushing circumstances as a child. And no, this isn’t a metaphor. After being adopted by a US army veteran and his Filipino wife, she was subjected to conditions no child is meant to experience.
Imagine having to wake up at four, sometimes even three in the morning to sweep and scoop dog, cat, goat, and chicken shit in the farm she grew up in before school, and if it wasn’t up to her stepfather’s standards, that meant no breakfast for her. Sometimes, she and her brother were tasked to cut grass by hand, which was often taller than they were and ran the risk of coming face-to-face with snakes. At one point, baths were regulated, allowing it to be done only at night. It didn’t stop there, because over the years, she was slapped, bullied, and called a stupid b*tch by her own family. “I was scared to reach out to people. I still had that mindset,” she recalls in an interview with H3 Podcast. “You basically just learn to deal with it. That’s how you get the opportunity to leave. So yeah, I was just waiting.”
HAPPIER THAN EVER
It may sound like something straight out of a hackneyed Filipino soap opera or a dramatic Oscar-baiting film that needs a serious decompression after, but her life was nothing short of unforgiving. So, what kept her tethered until her eventual escape upon enlisting for the military? “Well, hope. I had a lot of hope. And really that’s all you need,” she says with no hint of irony to her voice. Propping herself straighter on her steady perch onscreen, she asserts, “Telling yourself, you know, your experiences make you stronger, that you’ve been through a lot, and that if you went through that, you can always make it…one day.” That and music, which is where she actually fell in love with it.
Admittedly, Bella Poarch says that she didn’t quite realize the amount of abuse she’s been through at that point. “To me it was normal,” she shares, which in no way makes it excusable, of course. With the liberty and lessons she learned along the way, especially during her four-year tenure with the US Navy, Bella Poarch slowly, surely, and steadily reclaimed her power and consequentially, her peace. “Yeah, because if you don’t stand up for yourself, some people are just gonna keep stepping on you,” she says matter-of-factly.“The Navy taught me a lot of things,” she relates, this time considerably more animated. “You can be the tiniest person in the room, and you can still carry the biggest f*cking machine guns. They used to make fun of me, because half of the things I would carry was my size…But I still [did] it, and I’m like, yeah, I f*cking got this.” And she did.
While it was far from perfect, as evidenced by the PTSD incurred from her time of service, Bella Poarch grew and found herself even more in this chapter of her life. Much like anything worth having and discovering, she would lean in to her music even more, signing up for the division choir, performing as a soprano for boot camp ceremonies and such. “It was just a whole day of me singing…I was really, really happy,” she echoes to H3 Podcast. “I feel more at peace with myself like and I’m just the happiest right now. I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever had like in my entire life. And also knowing that a lot of people support me and a lot of people relate to my story, it makes me feel happy that I also help other people.”
It might sound a little odd at this point, considering how much she has risen to fame and not only occupying, but domination our For You Pages, which is by most standards, monumental, to imagine our timelines without the presence of Bella Poarch. With a staggering 84.6 million eyes focused on her every record-breaking move and life-changing facial expressions on TikTok alone, add to that roughly 14.2 million followers on Instagram, 804.1K followers on Twitter, and 5.63 subscribers on YouTube, cultivating a culture of calm might seem out of reach, but she doesn’t let the pressure of perfection get to her, a perception she is bent on dismantling.
“I don’t really care about perfection,” the Build A B*tch and Inferno singer boldly declares. “When I put out music or when I post a picture, I just want it to be me. If I’m myself, that’s so much better than trying to be perfect, because we can’t please everybody. And what is even perfect, you know? Someone could see you as a different person.” Besides, she argues, “Growing up my parents already told me the worst things. So, the comments now are nothing compared to what I had to listen to when I was very young.”
At one point, however, the superstar we know of today almost quit altogether. Mind you, this was no mere archiving or deleting of posts or deactivating only to resurface when the coast was clear, but an actual going off the grid because of the bullying on the internet. “There’s just a lot of like internet trolls and people that just… they’re full of hate. So, that’s what made me want to quit. But my fans are also fighting back for me like they’re on the comments section. You know, they’re like, ‘Leave Bella alone,’ and they always remind me that they’re always there for me. That’s what kept me going,” she says, mindfully navigating the digital plane where vitriol is a strange currency to what has become a toxic system littered with the asinine and anonymous.
“Well, social media could be like heaven on earth, but it can also be hell. There are a lot of mean people on the internet and I’ve learned a lot of things through that. It’s just like I just want to focus more on myself. And I think that’s what’s most important,” Bella Poarch clarifies of what she considers a long-term breakthrough for her on social media, in her music, and with life moving forward.
These days, it has become increasingly difficult to sift through what is real or not. A photo on Instagram is never just a photo, as is the median of mostly 15 to 30-seconders on TikTok isn’t the casual and cool it presents itself to be, but a lot of hard work and effort behind something so fleeting. While Bella Poarch is the first to admit this, especially at the beginning of her career where she would film hundreds of drafts over a span of hours to get a dance challenge, a viral trend, or her music just right, she has allowed herself to just be, letting go of her inhibitions and fighting off her insecurities to be able to show her ever-so supportive audience something worth watching.
“I’m just happy that I can help people and to know that there are people who struggle with the same things that I struggled with also helps me feel like I’m not alone. It makes me feel good to know that there are others out there like me,” she says. “It makes me happy knowing that people genuinely love my music and they listen to it. I’m just happy that people can relate to like the message in my music and this is just the beginning. I’m making more music and hopefully, they will love the new music that I’m putting out soon.
If anything, Bella Poarch isn’t one to give up easily. Sure, she’ll honor her sentiments and the validity of her feelings, but that is soon replaced with the resolve to just keep creating, especially with music. Looking back, while she did persist at her pursuit of building something better, she would want to remind her younger self, and everyone at the precipice of possibilities to never give up. Sure, one can whine and dispute that is easier said than done, but knowing what she has gone through, if she can do it, one should at least try. “It makes me feel happy that I have young audiences and they can look up to me. I want to be a good example, and yeah, that’s why I open up a lot when it comes to mental health and that kind of stuff. And that’s why I put out important messages through my music, so that they could realize that, you know, this ain’t build a b*tch.”
This time she is not only taking the crown without falling down, down, down, down, Bella Poarch wants you to listen—which happens to be another Beyoncé classic she would perform when she was out to win in singing competitions back in the Philippines, or you know, in karaoke. And this, she says, is something special to her. “I’ve sung my whole life, joining talent shows, and it makes me feel better. Even if I didn’t win, I’m still happy that I got up the stage and I sang to a bunch of people,” she recalls. So, with more wins to her name now, what else is Bella Poarch most proud of so far?
“That I’m still alive.”
Creative direction and cover story ANGELO RAMIREZ DE CARTAGENA
Photography RAEN BADUA
Assisted by JULIAN NIETO
Fashion and beauty direction, Illustrations LYN ALUMNO
Styling NIKKO PANTI
Assisted by ADRIANNE CHAN
Makeup FAITH NACHOR
Hair DONNY DOMINGO-PA
Original music 7640
Florist PRIMOSÉ LOS ANGELES
Sr. Multimedia Artist KENNETH DIMAANO
Brand Associate ELYSE ILAGAN
Special thanks to WARNER MUSIC and WARNER MUSIC PHILIPPINES