Keith McCurdy has left his indelible mark on a lot of A-listers – Miley Cyrus, Cara Delevingne, Justin Bieber, and Katy Perry are just a few. But the tattoo artist known as Bang Bang – a nickname he owes to a pair of revolvers on his neck – first inked his way into fame with Rihanna, when he was just 19. McCurdy, whose tattoo parlor is based in New York’s Lower East Side, chats candidly about life behind the needle.
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How did you start working with Rihanna?
I started tattooing Rihanna when she was 18. I was 19 at the time – it was quite a long time ago. I asked her about it recently and her story is different to mine, but the way that I remember it was she had to come in to my tattoo shop to get a nipple piercing. She had asked a piercer friend of mine – his name is Joe Snake – who was the best tattoo artist around, and he told her it was me. I met her, we clicked really well, and I tattooed her the next day. I also tattooed her best friend Melissa [Forde] the same day. I’ve really never stopped tattooing them – we are tight.
Which one of her tattoos is the most special to you?
I think it’s the first one – the Sanskrit prayer I did on her hip. It’s special because I met one of the most influential people in my life when I did that. Doing that tattoo on her, becoming her friend, continuing to tattoo her over the years… it really changed my life.
What do you guys talk about when you tattoo her?
You know, we are friends so we talk about a lot of things, none of which are what the paparazzi or the news talk about – we never talk about anything like that. It’s more like where are we gonna go clubbing!
Have you made Rihanna scream in pain?
She is a thug! I have put Rihanna through extreme pain. I’ve even made her cry before – but she never quitted; she never passed out. Tattoos hurt, you know!
Have you ever been asked to copy one of Rihanna’s tattoos?
Yes, I get asked to copy her tattoos all the time, but I won’t do it. I’ll happily do something with a similar style, but I won’t do the exact same one. I don’t work at McDonald’s; I’m not making burgers. I’m making tattoos for people, so I’d rather design your own tattoo for you.
Would you tattoo a Rihanna face if you were asked to?
Yeah! I think I’m going to do it at some point. I thought about doing one for free for, like, her biggest fan.
Can you tell us something about Rihanna that the general public doesn’t already know?
She is very observant. Even if she is drinking, goofing off, laughing or partying, she pays close attention to people. She is very selective with the people she lets into her life.