With the release of his memoir, the internet star is writing a new chapter as the person behind the persona – we chat to him about growing up online, DMing SZA, not raising ‘basic’ chickens, his love for his ‘witch’ grandma, and more
Bretman Rock would like to reintroduce himself. Beyond the name given to him by his wrestling fan father – a fusion of Bret “The Hitman” Hart and The Rock – his debut book You’re That Bitch & Other Cute Lessons About Being Unapologetically Yourself, is a new chapter for the internet star, writing this time as the person behind the persona: Bretman Sacayanan. “For a really long time, I never really put my last name out there,” he says of his latest move, “I think it’s interesting [for people] to see me in a different light.” Across Vine, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and even an MTV reality series, the spotlight has shone brightly on Bretman Rock for more than half a decade through comedy skits and make-up tutorials consumed by an audience of millions. With one characteristic “Bitch!” his infectious energy and confidence continues to draw people in, but there’s a vulnerability that underpins the virality of his success. Curled up with me on a sofa in a Los Angeles hotel room, he offers up answers to my questions with the ease and openness of someone well-versed in sharing with strangers on the internet, but this is a softer version of Bretman Rock’s pure Leo online presence. “It’s like a rebrand, but he’s been there the whole time,” he assures me, describing his initial doubt in having much to say worth printing at just 24 years old. “When I was first offered it I just wanted to do photoshoots and have a coffee table book like Rihanna and Kim [Kardashian],” he admits.
24 may seem young to publish a reflection on your life, but Bretman Sacayanan has lived many lives already, not even counting the reincarnations a healer he visited told him about. According to her, a cycle of lives and a finally unblocked throat chakra later, Bretman Sacayanan came into the world this time destined to use his voice. A belief he’s followed from childhood across multiple platforms, the initial interview stages of the co-writing process became a therapeutic release for vocalising unexplored family dramas, navigating his queerness, gender identity, growing up on the internet and more. Formatted with pages of pointers for the reader throughout, the book intentionally imitates the reciprocal relationship Rock has had with his audience throughout this journey in a way that makes You’re That Bitch part-memoir, part-self-help book. Delivered in the tone of your best, no-bullshit friend, he hopes his readers will see “small pieces of themselves” that resonate even though the story is specific to his experience.
He is, after all, a product of seeing himself represented in media, as he acknowledged in his TikTok viral acceptance speech for Digital Influencer at the Character Media awards. “Everyone deserves to go to a Character Media Unforgettable Gala once in their life,” he gushes about the personal significance of this moment, standing in a room with Sandra Oh, Simu Liu, Stephanie Hsu, APL.DE.AP and more. “Being awarded in front of people who look like you, who you look up to in the industry, people you saw yourself in, people that changed the channel – whether TV or YouTube channel – it wasn’t even like an ‘I made it,’ it was like a ‘We made it happen,’ moment.” More fuel for his promise to stay unapologetically “gay as hell, Filipino as hell”, we discuss the wins we’ve had in Asian representation since the days of being fed a YouTube algorithm of OG beauty gurus like Michelle Phan and bubzbeauty. The same excitement at finding another fellow Asian occupying space in fashion when we first crossed paths at a Jacquemus show in the salt plains of Camargue last year bubbles up again as we rehash our love for Dolly De Leon in Triangle Of Sadness, similar sob stories from watching Everything Everywhere All At Once, and the half-joking observation that You’re That Bitch is part of a pattern of how Asians especially seem to be making media as a form of therapy for generational trauma.
“That is a conversation I would probably never have,” he says when we come to the central mother-daughter conflict between Evelyn and Joy in Everything Everywhere. “That was such an Asian kid conversation that we all yearn for,” he continues, “this movie is so important not just to our generation breaking these generational curses, but the older generations too, to see themselves in that movie,” because they “never had access to therapy.” As with everything, it’s complicated and culturally nuanced, but as Asians getting our emotional education from SZA albums (or, in his case, directly in DMs with her) we are all too familiar with the contrast between the openness of her expression and the inverse of our experiences with our own Evelyns. Bretman Sacayanan is nothing if not an “optimistic bitch” though, maintaining his fun, carefree voice throughout session-worthy anecdotes ranging from losing his virginity at Disneyland and stories of the role of strong matriarchal figures who shaped him.
“Being awarded in front of people who look like you, who you look up to in the industry, people you saw yourself in... it wasn’t even like an ‘I made it,’ it was like a ‘We made it happen,’ moment” – Bretman Rock
At the heart of this is his beloved late “witch” grandma Lilang, who predicted his trajectory and whose spirit continues to root Sacayanan to this day. “My grandma is my superpower,” he professes, describing how he became her “shadow” when his mum first moved to Hawaii, leaving him behind in the Philippines. “She was like my safety blanket growing up. I don’t think I would have the confidence that I have today if my grandma wasn’t there.” Crediting her with making him the “nonbinary goddess” he is today by recognising him as “handsome and pretty” from an early age, as well as encouraging fluid gender expression through make-up, this playfulness factors into the way he experiments with fashion now. With the high camp of archive Thierry Mugler and Vivienne Westwood shows always on his mind, he comfortably incorporates Jacquemus, Ottolinger, Chopova Lowena, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Peter Do, and “art pieces” made by Robert Wun into his looks these days. When the former headed to his home to Hawaii for his AW22 collection, the worlds of Bretman Rock and Bretman Sacayanan collided, bringing stars like SZA, BLACKPINK’s Jennie, and Janelle Monae together with surfers and locals. “They were very respectful of the āina,” he notes, his ever present pride in calling Hawaii home shining through.
Where he always returns to recalibrate, the Hawaiian spirit of aloha that nurtured a seven-year-old Bretman Pebble (his nickname for his younger self) fresh from the Philippines never fails to recentre his adult self despite this circus of celebrity. Mostly at home with his animals – including five dogs and a whole roost of, crucially, not “basic” chickens – he avoids the usual negative pitfalls of spending so much time online. Describing the stay-at-home mandate during the pandemic as surprisingly one of the most creatively freeing times in his career so far, his surroundings have always given him a sense of perspective that makes him grateful for every moment. When he isn’t physically there, the voice of Hawaii, Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” always brings him back, even if it’s just in his mind’s eye. A joy that can be felt through each clip shared online, his is a corner of the internet that feels refreshingly positive, especially against the chaos of real life. Humour and brightness is Bretman Sacayanan’s second nature; Bretman Rock, the larger-than-life manifestation of these characteristics online. Through it all is an unwavering desire to try new things (lately, weights), and continue to grow with the community I have to remind him he raised just as much as the creators he namechecked alongside his ancestors in his Character Media speech. “I was figuring myself out when people found me so I don’t see myself raising them because I wasn’t even sure of myself at the time,” he says, adding that the process is still ongoing behind the scenes of being “da baddest” online. “I’m gonna be a mess in my 30s, you know?”
Watch Bretman Rock’s dA-Zed guide above. You’re That Bitch & Other Cute Lessons About Being Unapologetically Yourself is out now.