While most of you might not recognize the name of tattoo artist Keith McCurdy, the chances that you have not seen his work are slim to none. Thanks to his dedicated clientele of Hollywood A-listers and celeb elites, McCurdy’s body art has made its way down high fashion runways, award-winning movie premiers and sold-out stadiums.
Known to the world by his self-appointed nickname, Bang Bang, McCurdy has earned his reputation as the tattoo artist to the stars. With regulars such as Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Justin Bieber, the New York-based artist has had the honor of creating some of the most iconic tattoos to grace the red carpet. But it was not always glitz and glamour for the famed artist. Take a look at the rags to riches story which helped shaped Bang Bangs’s outstanding career.
Falling in Love with Tattoos
When Keith McCurdy was born, his parents had yet to graduate high school. His mother, at only 17 years old, dropped out in order to work odd jobs and make ends meet. His dad, on the other hand, went off to college and was scarcely in the picture. As a result, McCurdy was forced to grow up fast. After mixing with the wrong crowd and struggling to keep his grades up, McCurdy made the decision to attend boarding school in Connecticut.
It was there that he first fell in love with tattoos and wanted one of his own. He made a deal with his parents that if he could make it on the honor roll, then he could get a tattoo. After keeping up his end of the deal, at 15 years old he got his first tattoo. Unfortunately, soon after, McCurdy was caught cheating on a Spanish test and was kicked out of boarding school.
Picking Himself Back up
Disappointed in himself, McCurdy used the situation as an opportunity to continue pursuing his passion for tattoos. He reenrolled in public school, got himself a part-time job at Red Lobster and dedicated the rest of his time to tattoos. Since he did not have the money to continue getting inked, he figured the only thing he could do was learn how to do it himself.
“When I was eighteen I was still in high school and I bought a tattoo kit online – which is not what you’re supposed to do, by the way, and I just taught myself,” McCurdy recalled in an interview with NPR. “And every day since, it’s with that enthusiasm and love, that I continued to tattoo.” He could have never expected just how far this enthusiasm would bring him.
The High School Dropout
After three months of tattooing himself at home, McCurdy made the decision to quit his job at Red Lobster, drop out of school and fully pursue his passion. It was then that he landed his first gig at his friend’s tattoo shop.
“In hindsight, it was a terrible decision, I mean it worked out, but man, I dropped out of high school to tattoo outside of a trailer park. And I tattooed guns on [my] neck and I had no choice other than to succeed at it,” McCurdy says. It was through these tattoos that he earned his nickname, “Bang Bang.”
Finding a Bigger Canvas
McCurdy knew that if he was going to study his craft and eventually make it big he would have to challenge his skills and move to the city where the industry was thriving. So at 19 years old, he left his home town and moved to New York City. “New York City just has more people. There’s more skin, I’m going to go where the skin is — so if that’s my canvas I’m going to go there.”
It wasn’t easy at first. He had a hard time getting his name out there. “When I moved to NYC I lost that funny little nickname,” he says. “I didn’t tell people my name was Bang Bang, I told people my name was Keith. And the problem is Keith McCurdy isn’t really easy to remember, but nobody forgets Bang Bang. So I started telling people my name was Bang Bang and it was really great for me.” It was all uphill from there for the aspiring artist.
After several months of rejections, McCurdy, now officially known as Bang Bang, finally landed his first New York City job. He began working at what he referred to as a”dingy tattoo shop” on the Lower East Side. He worked for several months, perfecting his skills and quickly became the strongest artist at the shop. Little did he know, he would soon get an unexpected customer that would change his life forever. When Bang Bang first met Rihanna, she was still just an up and coming star.
“All I had heard the first time I tattooed Rihanna was that I was going to be working on a singer,” McCurdy said in an interview with Newsbeat. “So there are these eight tall beautiful black women and I didn’t know who the singer was. So I’m like, ‘Which one of y’all am I tattooing? And then she takes a step forward and says, ‘Me’ in her accent and I was like, ‘Cool, tell me what you want to get.'” And that was the start of a very beautiful friendship.
Just the Start
Rihanna was only 18 at the time when she first met Bang Bang and had him tattoo a Sanskrit design on her hip. But she didn’t come alone. When the singer came into the shop to get her tattoo done, she brought a reporter with her. Naturally, word of mouth worked its magic and pretty soon everyone knew Bang Bang as Rihanna’s go-to tattoo artist.
Bang Bang’s relationship with Rihanna did not end there. Since meeting over a decade ago, the pair have maintained a very close friendship and only have words of love and appreciation towards one another. Rihanna has also collected quite an impressive collection of tattoos from McCurdy Today, Rihanna might be Bang Bang’s favorite client, but she is definitely not the only A-lister demanding his attention.
Not in it for the Money
Keith McCurdy has come a long way since first tattooing Rihanna at the “grimy” basement tattoo shop. After being pictured with the pop queen, stars across entertainment industries began booking appointments to get a tattoo of their own. He is now the proud owner of Bang Bang NYC, which currently has two locations in New York with plans to open a third shop in London.
Thanks to Rihanna’s kind words and recommendations, he is now considered the most in-demand tattoo artists in the entertainment world. The stars can’t seem to get enough of him and he is happy to oblige while maintaining his passion for the craft. “I don’t do this job for money. It’s not like I need to make this couple more hundred bucks. I’m not that guy. I want my work to look good.”
Living the Dream
The recognition and business that Bang Bang gets from these big-name celebrities is not something he takes for granted. When speaking about having the opportunity to tattoo basketball legend, Lebron James, the artist said, “I grew up and basketball was everything I did every day. Michael Jordan was my hero. So just meeting this generation’s greatest athlete and tattooing him and just clicking with him and being cool, that’s just an experience I’ll never forget,”
He goes on to talk about the experience saying, “I tattooed a portrait of his daughter and nobody had even seen what she looked like. His mom told me, ‘LeBron is the greatest at what he does and you’re the greatest at what you do.’ I was like, man, I’ll never forget that that’s a really special thing. I don’t think a lot about my career and these experiences that I’ve had, but the moments I do I’m really appreciative of them, and those are the ones I hold dear.”
The Celebrity Tattoo Collection
Through the years, McCurdy has developed somewhat of a tradition with his celebrity clients. Every time a star gets a tattoo from him, the roles reverse and the celebrities ink him in return. “It’s like my scrapbook,” McCurdy explains, “‘I’m a really needy fan. I ask for a 30-minute autograph.”
This tradition, of course, started way back with Rihanna. Bang Bang asked her to tattoo a small red umbrella on his calf as a nod to all the publicity she had brought him and today that same leg has turned into an impressive gallery of celebrity ink.
Miley Being Miley
McCurdy also helped superstar Miley Cyrus add to her growing collection of quirky tattoos. The ink falls perfectly in line with her rebellious, carefree image and we are all for it. The singer got a provocative word inked in cursive on her left ankle, reminding us all once again that Hannah Montana is long gone.
This was not the first of Miley’s tattoos done by Bang Bang. In addition to her risque ankle ink, McCurdy also tattooed a small moon and script reading ‘Love Yer Brain” on the star’s left elbow. In true Miley fashion, the star made her own rules when it came to tattooing McCurdy. Instead of adding her ink to the collection on his calf, she chose to replicate the moon tattoo design on the artist’s thumb.
Modern-Day Frank Sinatra
Singer, songwriter Adele approached Bang Bang shortly after giving birth to her son in 2013 and ended up getting three tattoos from him the very next day. McCurdy had this to say about the star, “I tattoo so many pop icons and they’re making music for now and they’re great at it — of course, I’m not knocking anybody — but Adele… I just felt like, Oh my gosh I’m tattooing, like, the modern-day Frank Sinatra. It was really cool.”
The three tattoos included her son’s name “Angelo,” on her right hand, the word “paradise” on her left hand and the number five on her ring finger. Adele incorporated to the vision of her tattoo and took the time to sit with Bang Bang in order to get it right. “She knew each tattoo that she wanted, but there was a process in picking font, style, how delicate we’re going to make it, how big, how dark, stuff like that. So we sat at the computer and did all that stuff together.”
The Skys are No Longer the Limit
When asked what his most memorable experience has been through his years tattooing the stars, Bang Bang will not hesitate to answer with the story of him tattooing Justin Bieber on his jet. Bieber invited McCurdy to join him on a private flight from Panama to Canada so that he could get not one, but two tattoos at 40,000 ft above the ground.
“It was really difficult,” Bang Bang said. “The plane was shaking, so it’s like trying to do a tattoo while you’re driving over rocks …so I have to compensate and be so, so accurate. I’ve gotta admit that my adrenaline was through the roof.” Despite the challenge, McCurdy still says that the experience was a dream come true and it seems the sky is not even the limit for this dreamer. “I can’t wait to tattoo in space,” he said in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment.
Little Brother Bieber
When speaking about his relationship with Justin Bieber, Bang Bang describes the pop star as a little brother; “He’s such a clown, he’s so fun to be around, it’s always a good time. Early in his career, he got quite a bad rep, but when I met him I didn’t have any bad experiences with him. He kind of seems like your little brother you want to beat up all the time because he’s so incredibly talented and funny and cool. He’s just a really cool kid.”
The pair definitely share a love of tattoos. Bieber has at least 60 known tattoos over his body, many of which were done, or at least designed by Bang Bang. As his contribution to the tattoo artists leg of celebrity signage, Bieber tattoed a muscular mouse along with the word “swaggy.” After seeing the ink, we are glad Bieber decided to stick to singing.
Friends in High Places
When supermodel and actress, Cara Delevinge approached Bang Bang, she originally asked him to write the word “lion” on her finger to pay tribute to her Leo zodiac sign. When hearing this request, McCurdy knew that he could do her one better Delevinge could not have been happier with the results.
Instead of just writing “lion” on her finger, the artist went above and beyond and drew a life-like lion there instead. “I didn’t know who she was when I made this recommendation, I just knew what’s going to look great,” he said. Now Cara’s tattoo, according to Bang Bang has become “the most iconic tattoo in the history of tattooing.”
Changing the Name of the Game
The artist enthusiastically explains how Cara’s body art has stood out among the rest; “I’ve never seen a tattoo in a Tag Heuer ad, I’ve never seen a tattoo on the side of Harrods in England or a Burberry advertisement. You see her on the cover of magazines and she’s showing her tattoo. In the Tag Heuer ad she’s not wearing a watch, she’s just holding up her tattoo. She’s selling watches and she doesn’t have a watch on her wrist!”
He goes on to say, “It’s pretty amazing to think about it, here’s this incredibly famous model and this tattoo is … I think it’s more iconic than any tattoo I could ever name on any person ever and that’s hard to believe that that happened, but I’m grateful.” The lion head is only one of many tattoos that Bang Bang has done for the star, and judging by her pride for his work, she probably has no intention of cutting ties anytime soon.
Rita Ora in Her Comfort Zone
On the list of celebrity clients is English singer, songwriter Rita Ora. It seems the star wanted to feel as relaxed as possible when getting inked as she poses in her rose petal bath as Bang Bang works his magic. Here he is tattooing a realistic feather on the outside of her right hand in both black and white ink.
Ora also has a tattoo of a flying dove that spans from the back of her neck to her right shoulder blade. After receiving this ink from McCurdy, she then added to his collection by inking a similar dove with her name written on its wing.
Can’t Get Enough
Rita revealed her tattoo as well as Bang Bang’s in a side by side image with the caption, “His and hers! HA look at the difference…It’s the once in a lifetime Rita Ora tattoo HA!” In addition to the dove and the feather, Bang Bang also tattoed an impressive ten-inch tattoo of a 50s style Alberto Vargas pin-up girl on her ribcage.
Rita was accompanied by her close friend Cara Delevigne, who also got some ink of her own during their visit. In order to keep the singer distracted from the pain, Cara chose to dress up in a hamburger costume. Bang Bang spoke about this surprise saying, “She just pulled it out of her purse, put it on, and was like, “just me and my hamburger, what, what!” She’s hilarious. She’s genuinely fun, one of my favorite people.”
Going on Tour With Perry
Bang Bang’s tattooing talents are not limited to accepting clients in his studio or to spontaneous jet plane rides with his good friend, Justin Bieber. The body artist to the stars is known for going above and beyond for all his celebrity clients. And the stars are fighting for his attention.
Popstar, Katy Perry has been known to book McCurdy for weeks at a time. He has on two occasions joined Perry on tour where he was employed to tattoo her and her back up dancers between shows. But don’t worry, the songstress foots all his expenses.
Commemorating the Super Bowl
In 2014, after Perry performed at the Super Bown half-time show, she again had her friend and esteemed tattoo artist, Bang Bang McCurdy waiting for her backstage. It seems the singer wanted a permanent reminder of this once in a lifetime opportunity.
So what did she decide to ink on her body to commemorate the performance? No, it was not a portrait of the enthusiastic left shark back up dancer as you might have hoped. Surprisingly, the eccentric star kept it simple that night with a small “XLIX” on the inside of her ring finger.
Maintaining Clients for Decades
Actress, singer, and producer, Ashley Tisdale is another star who decided to make a late-night pit stop at Bang Bang’s studio in Manhattan. Tisdale, who was 26 years old at the time, decided to get the words “jamais seule” on her foot which is french for “never alone.”
More recently, the now 34-year-old repaid a visit to Bang Bang for yet another tattoo. This time the star wanted to pay tribute to her late dog Maui who passed away the week previous. She inked the pup’s name on her forearm and shared the meaningful body art on her social media pages with the caption, “Now Maui is always with us.”
Keeping Friends Close
Tisdale was not alone when she got her ink back in 2011. She was accompanied by her High School Musical costar and real-life best friend, Vanessa Hudgins. The two were in New York for fashion week when they decided to stop by Bang Bang’s studio. Hudgens was not just there for moral support either.
The star got some ink of her own; the symbol “Om” on the back of her hands. For those non-yogi readers, “Om” is a sacred mantra in Hinduism as well as other Dharmic religions. When asked about the tattoo choice, Hudgens said she got the symbol to center herself and “spread positive energy.”
Quality Time With the Stars
Another of McCurdy’s regular clients is NFL superstar, Odell Beckham Jr. The famed wide receiver who currently plays for the Cleveland Browns has visited McCurdy on numerous occasions to add to his elaborate collection of body art. One impressive addition was the full-back tattoo that he had made in 2016 as a nod to the film, Planet of the Apes.
“4 days with my man and I couldn’t have had a better time!” McCurdy wrote when revealing the piece on Instagram. We imagine the artist will be seeing more of Beckham Jr in the future. In 2015 the athlete proudly declared his plan to have his whole body covered in tattoos, with one exception; “I’m stopping at the wrists, so if I have a suit on, you won’t be able to tell I have any.”
In 2015 Bang Bang was given the honor to give model, businesswoman and socialite Kylie Jenner her first-ever tattoo. When revealing the tattoo of the word “sanity” written in phonetics on her right hip, Jenner said it helps fight her anxiety while in the public eye. “My first tattoo was ‘sanity’ to remind myself every day to keep it,” Jenner said.
To return the favor, Kylie added to McCurdy’s collection with a K adorning a crown. “She did such a good job,” Bang Bang told Cosmopolitan. “Her hand was so steady. I was beyond impressed. She really was on par with the best people, the steadiest hands I’ve had tattoo me. I would hire her.” Today Jenner has a growing collection of nine tattoos and counting.
In Spidey We Trust
Actor Tom Holland recently revealed some new ink while doing press rounds for Spider-Man: Homecoming. And who do you think this friendly neighborhood superstar turned to for his body art? You guessed it! Rolland only had words of kindness when talking about his time with McCurdy; “It was an amazing experience. I got it done here in New York by an amazing artist at a studio called Bang Bang Studio, and he’s one of the nicest guys.
The star did not just get any tattoo, but one to commemorate his breakthrough role in the Marvel universe. “I always wanted to get that Spider-Man symbol on the bottom of my foot but I never thought I would ever get it done. The opportunity came about, and he (Bang Bang) was like, ‘Yeah, we can do that,’ and I had it done.”
Impressing Tattoo Connoisseurs
Bang Bang has done it again! Never one to shy from showing off her extensive tattoo collection, Ruby Rose was happy to reveal this 2011 addition, tweeting “Can you believe it is possible to tattoo like this?”And we can’t blame her for the excitement. The work is done in a far more realistic style than most others in her collection.
The impressive tattoo is a drawing of the British comic book character, “Tank Girl.” In an interview with US Weekly, the actress revealed that she got her first tattoo way back when she was only 16 years old. “It was a trade-off by my mum to get rid of my tongue ring that she hated,” Rose admitted.
High Fashion Looks
Bang Bang stepped out of his norm in 2015 when Cara Delivgine invited the artist to lend his talents to her Met Gala look. Delivigne walked the red carpet, not only adorning designer fashion but also showing off a beautiful arrangement of red blossoms, vines, and birds painted across her chest, arms and neck. The theme for that year’s Gala was “Chinese Whispers: Through the Looking Glass.”
“It was actually Cara’s idea to create a custom tattoo for the Met Gala,” Bang Bang told Style.com. “My motto is to always say yes. I created stencils that were applied to Cara’s body until they were about 95 percent dry for guidelines, then filled the rest in freehand with markers. It took about 11 hours in total.”