Every great reality show needs a great reality star, and for Netflix’s Bling Empire, that great reality star is Anna Shay. For background, Anna is a Russian-Japanese heiress whose family made billions in “arms” and “weapons” and whose own job appears to be throwing parties, getting massages, and spending enormous amounts of money. The dream. Of all the eccentric rich people Bling Empire introduces us to, Anna manages to steal the show in the same effortless way she took her top off in front of Kevin. From the moment she pops on screen, Anna manages to be fascinating yet authentic. While some characters give you the sense they’re putting it on for the camera (hi, Christine), it’s hard to come away from the show feeling like Anna Shay is any different behind closed doors than she is on the show. Plus her dry Xanax-like delivery gives her one of the most unique voices in reality TV.
So how can we capture some of this magic for ourselves? How can we, mere mortals, be the Russian-Japanese arms heiresses we want to see in the world? After viewing (and re-viewing) season one of Bling Empire (with the help of my trusty pal Vape Pen), I’ve distilled Anna’s essence to five key components we can all incorporate into our daily lives to be more like the iconic Ms. Shay going forward.
1. Be Casually Sexual
How do I know so much about this 60-year-old heiress’ sex life? Seriously. How? Because she didn’t tell us. Anna’s sexual power lies in her discretion. She’s not that girl at the party who is constantly screaming about the polyamorous quad she met at her last dungeon party (no shade to that girl, but this is a child’s birthday party). She’s the girl who just happens to have an enormous penis pump in her shower and a book about anal on her bookshelf—if you want to be so uncouth as to dig your nose in her business and find them. Anna never once offers any information about her sex life on Bling Empire. She has no romantic interests (unless you count her French friend whose job it is to be her French friend). And yet you come away from season one thinking she is the most sexually satisfied of them all. Oh, and if you try to shame her for her kinky ways? Get f*cking ready, because Ms. Shay has no problem telling you not to talk to her, or her penis pump, ever again. You’ve been warned.
2. Keep Your Enemies Close (But Not Too Close)
Some people (my therapist) might say that if you don’t enjoy someone’s company, you should stop spending time with them. Not so. As Anna displays in her competitive frenemy-ship with Christine Chiu, the best way to handle someone you do not like is to invite them to everything and then f*ck with them when they get there. Throughout season one, Anna changes Christine’s seat at her dinner party over a necklace-related argument I still don’t fully understand, surprises Christine with sexy yoga when she thought they were just having lunch, and changes the time on her party invitation so that she shows up when everyone is leaving. Could Anna have just not invited Christine to these events? Of course. But what’s the point of having frenemies if not to mess with them? Just don’t be surprised when they get back at you by announcing to everyone at a party that you love anal.
3. Take Sh*t From No Man
Anna’s most endearing moments of the season come when she is attempting to guide Kelly through her deeply toxic relationship with Drew. Anna hears Drew yelling at Kelly over the phone, and from that moment on she never f*cks with Drew again. In fact, Anna is the driving force behind trying to get Kevin to pursue Kelly, in hopes of distracting her from Drew’s creepy ass. Anna also proves she’s a real b*tch by checking in with Kelly regarding the Andrew situation regularly, making her disapproval known, and circulating it within the friend group that he is bad news. You don’t have four wonderful marriages (and four wonderful divorces) without developing a pretty refined bullsh*t detector, just saying.
4. Smash Sh*t
This one is fairly self-explanatory. When we first meet Anna Shay, she is smashing the walls of her mansion with a hammer, for seemingly no reason, and no real explanation is provided. This is queen sh*t. Take notes and bow down.
5. Be Generous With Your Friends
And now to get real (not that telling you to smash sh*t wasn’t real). One of Anna’s most endearing qualities is how much she loves her friends. Sure, you have to pass her test of being chill while she undresses in front of you and gifts you thousands in designer goods, but once you’re in, you’re in. A trip to Paris for Kelly? No problem. Gucci for Kevin? Take your pick. Spa days, sexy yoga sessions, and five course dinner parties are all par for the course when you roll with Anna Shay. Now go forth and shower your friends with gifts (albeit less expensive ones). The Dollar Store sells face masks, right?
Sure, you might not be able to throw fancy galas like its your job (Is that her job? What is Anna Shay’s job?) but there’s no way we couldn’t all infuse a little more Anna eleganza into our lives. If all else fails, lower your voice a few registers and start acting like you took an Ambien approximately 30 minutes ago. The rest should just all fall into place from there.
Images: Giphy; Netflix (5)
This weekend, Bling Empire, a glitzy, designer clothing-fueled reality TV show, premiered on Netflix. The show follows a group of (my brain: don’t say crazy rich, don’t say crazy rich, don’t say crazy rich) insanely wealthy Asian friends living in Los Angeles. They attend and throw lavish parties, spend more money on jewelry than I make in a year (at least, I assume — they are so rich they don’t even discuss prices), and fly on private jets. While the show actually does have plenty of heart and shows the cast going through difficult moments such as debating surrogacy, locating biological parents, and having children before marriage, Bling Empire’s arguably central conflict revolves around a penis pump, and for that, it deserves an Emmy.
Before analyzing this conflict, I must first explain the cast of characters involved. First is Anna, the older sort of matriarch of the group, and Bling Empire’s own Karen Huger. Though Anna would never be so gauche as to call herself the Grand Dame of Los Angeles, she’s probably thought it a few times and definitely would not object if you called her that. (You can just tell by the way she showers her friends with gifts.) Then there’s Kim, world-famous DJ. Not really central to the conflict but worth mentioning nonetheless is Kevin, the dopey but lovable (and supremely hot) model who is not wealthy and thinks Hermès starts with an E, much to the delight and condescension of his friends. Finally, we have Guy, who is just kind of there to help instigate.
Additionally, I must also explain what a penis pump is, because, based on the conversations I had with my straight female friends, it sounds like something that should be pretty self-explanatory, so it feels embarrassing to not actually know what it does. No shame here, because I had to look it up and then was asked why I was shopping for penis pumps when I opened up my phone to show my friend a meme. (Later on in the episode, cast member and socialite Christine Chiu feigns understanding of the mechanisms of the very same penis pump, so again, don’t be embarrassed.) Anyway, according to the Mayo Clinic, a penis pump is used to help get or maintain an erection. It’s a more temporary fix than, say, taking Viagra, and it cannot enlarge the penis.
So there we go! The drama starts when Anna invites the group over to her house for a spa day. We don’t find out until the massages start that they are not getting regular massages, but face massages — the kind popularized by the likes of Meghan Markle. Très chic.
While half the group are getting face massages, Kim decides that she wants to go sage Anna’s house. This is another subplot of the show: the supernatural. At one point, Cherie (former pop star and current baby mama to a guy who is dragging his feet about marrying her) hires Tyler Henry, the celebrity medium, to contact her mother from beyond the grave. Later on, the group meets with a Shaman over a bonfire. But for now, we start small, with Kim barging into Anna’s house under the guise of saging it, when in reality, she just wants to nose around.
She and Guy make a beeline for the bathroom (because, ya know, that’s where all the ghosts hang out), where Guy immediately notices Anna has a penis pump in her shower. (Guy knows because he has the same penis pump, but specifies he keeps it in his bedside drawer.) They both giggle so loudly that everyone getting massages in the yard can apparently hear. Guy and Kim laugh when they pick up the penis pump, grossed out that it’s wet, even though we just established that the penis pump is, in fact, in the shower.
Kim’s solution is not to do what most of us would, and put it back where it came from and pretend she never saw anything, but as she puts it, “throw it outside, that sh*t’s disgusting.” When Guy points out that throwing someone’s belongings out the window is rude, Kim replies, “that’s not rude, it’s disgusting,” adding, “That sh*t’s illegal.” Owning a penis pump is not, in fact, illegal.
Guy, with his hand wrapped in a paper towel, picks up the penis pump (which is surprisingly big) and chucks it out the window. It lands on the lawn, and everyone immediately knows what it is, a fact that surprises me, since I would not have been able to identify that object under threat of execution.
Just as any of us would be, Anna is not pleased to see the penis pump land on the grass near her feet. She later tells the camera in an interview, “this is not a screw you situation, this is a f*ck you situation,” I guess because “screw you” is slightly less scathing of an insult than its expletive counterpart? In any case, she is pissed with a capital P.
This would all be a weird, likely producer-manufactured one-off event, if Kim would have apologized for doing something so obviously rude. Instead, she refuses to acknowledge that barging into someone’s bathroom and throwing their belongings out the window — even if Anna did later clarify to the LA Times that it was the guest bathroom, not hers — is objectively poor guest behavior, no matter whose house you’re in. She tries to shift the blame onto Guy, telling Anna, “I’m not the one who found that thing,” and insisting she’s not blaming Guy as she, in the same breath, continues to blame Guy.
The drama continues later in the episode at Kelly’s moon festival celebration, where Kim doubles down on her behavior. Kevin asks, “who raised you, wolves?” and Kim throws a drink on his outfit with not a single flicker of emotion crossing her face. She does it almost not as a reaction, but as an automatic response — a pre-planned reflex that she was preparing to activate no matter what Kevin said.
On other TV shows, throwing a drink in someone’s face would immediately spark an all-out brawl (any Bravo program comes to mind). But in Bling Empire, it only results in Kevin standing up from the table, muttering to Kim about sending her the dry cleaning bill (while the rest of them hem and haw over Kevin’s now-ruined outfit, which costs $100,000), and leaving the party.
And somehow, this penis pump plot that could have been quashed with one simple apology manages to pump out (pun intended) enough drama to fuel a significant portion of the show. Kim doesn’t even apologize to Anna until the end of the final episode! It is really the gift that keeps giving.
None of this is to say the show is not worth watching — on the contrary, I think everyone should binge it right now (so we can talk about it). It’s frivolous and fun, yet there is a lot of heaviness in the subplots (such as: Andrew’s displays of emotional abuse, Kevin and Kane’s decision to locate Kim’s biological father without asking her first, etc.). If this were The Real Housewives and there were three fewer cast members and 14 more episodes, I’m sure we would have spent a lot more time diving deep into the darker plot lines. But we don’t; we get as much designer name-dropping and sex toy squabbles as we get discussion of cultural taboos. And I’m cool with that! The show is called Bling Empire, and damn it, we get an empire of bling: attractive, shiny, not overly preoccupied with what’s going on underneath.
Perhaps pumping up the penis pumper was a deliberate choice by the cast, who seem savvy enough about how reality TV show production works, to intentionally avoid substantive conflict with each other. (Personally, if someone robbed me of my moment to find out for myself what happened to my biological parent because they wanted to play detective, I wouldn’t thank them, I’d have a hard time speaking to them again.) Or maybe it’s because without the penis pump disagreement, most of the cast seems to get along just fine, save Anna and Christine, who feud half-heartedly over owning the same necklace. Whatever the reason, the penis pump provided conflict, it provided laughs, and it provided education. And for that, I thank it. It, more than any cast member, deserves a contract renewal for season 2.
Images: Bling Empire Production; Netflix (2)
Netflix’s Bling Empire is the latest new show to whet our ravenous pandemic streaming appetites, and for good reason. The show follows the delightful antics of IRL Crazy Rich Asians Kevin, Kane, Cherie, Kelly, Kim, Christine, and of course, Anna Shay, as they throw parties and solve mysteries like “where are Kevin’s parents?” and “Is Cherie’s baby actually her reincarnated mom?” Everything would be fine if it weren’t for one individual: Andrew Gray, an actor best known for playing the role of Red Power Ranger from 2013-2014. I’m not kidding. In Bling Empire, Andrew plays the role of Kelly’s f*ckboyish boyfriend, but instead of just being kind of a tool we all hope she breaks up with, he displays a number of legitimately alarming behaviors that at times makes the show hard to watch. Watching their relationship unfold, I couldn’t help but think back to emotionally abusive or harmful partners I’ve dated or seen others date in the past. Throughout the season, Drew throws up red flag after red flag, and the internet definitely took notice. Here are just a few of the concerning behaviors Drew displayed throughout the season.
Do I even need to explain this one? I presume we were all as shocked as Anna Shay when we heard Drew screaming at Kelly over the phone in the very first episode. Not only was this behavior shocking, it’s also textbook abuse. Screaming or shouting is a common form of abuse and potential precursor to violent behavior. Sure, we all get heated with our partners from time to time, but we all know the difference between that and full-volume screeching at them over the phone the moment they pick up over a misunderstanding that could have been solved with a slightly salty text. From the moment Andrew came on screen, this dude’s flag was blood red.
Another disturbing Drew moment came when he realized Kelly had discussed his freakout and their subsequent couples counseling session with Anna and Kim (despite the fact that Anna literally heard him screaming at the time). Drew tries to guilt trip Kelly for discussing their relationship with her friends (a very normal behavior that should be allowed in every relationship) in an attempt to keep her quiet about his outbursts in the future. By pushing Kelly to agree to never discuss their relationship with others, he’s protecting himself from anyone finding out about his abusive behavior in the future.
At the apex of his creepiness, Drew accompanies Kelly to a couple’s counseling session in which she finally reveals the relationship has to end. Throughout the session, Drew continually gaslights Kelly about her version of their relationship, instead categorizing it as “perfect” in an attempt to get her to stay. Luckily, the therapist is having none of it and makes Drew confront the disparity between his version of events and Kelly’s. Also, did you notice how that therapist separated him from Kelly so they could make a plan to get her out of the house? My guess is that therapist was a lot more alarmed by Drew’s behavior than she let on.
After making it clear to Kelly he did not want her to discuss their relationship, and after his abuse became more widely known in the group (thank you Anna Shay), the season ends with Kelly and Drew reigniting their relationship secretly because she doesn’t want to “deal with the drama.” Isolation puts Kelly in an even more vulnerable situation, because her friends aren’t even aware that she’s in an abusive relationship to keep an eye out for her.
Drew only just found out that Kelly went on a date with Kevin while they were broken up, but I don’t think it’s the last we’ll be hearing about that issue, especially since it was the first thing Drew wanted to know when they got back together. Sure, none of us want to hear about the people our partners dated when we weren’t together, but extreme jealousy is a form of controlling behavior that I could definitely see becoming an issue with Drew in season two. Unless of course, he doesn’t come back for season two, which I think we’d all be fine with.
As you can probably imagine, Drew’s behavior did not go unnoticed among Bling Empire fans, with people on Twitter calling him a “living breathing red flag.” Social media lit up after the show’s debut with posts from users concerned about Drew and Kelly’s relationship.
Drew from Bling Empire is frightening. If the show is close to an accurate portrayal then Kelly should run and never look back. That level of emotional abuse and manipulation is dangerous. He may want to change and heal but he needs to do that alone.
— theycallmecater (@theycallmecater) January 17, 2021
Personally, I found Andrew’s presence on the show distracting from what was otherwise a very fun watch. Bling Empire simply doesn’t need someone like Andrew in the cast. There’s enough drama and intrigue between Anna, Kim, and Anna’s penis pump to make up for anything the Drew/Kelly storyline is bringing to the table. And more importantly, does Netflix really need to be elevating this kind of abusive behavior? While Drew’s red flags are anything but charming to someone who knows how to recognize them, young women and girls might see that kind of behavior normalized—or worse yet, romanticized—on a show like Bling Empire and go on to tolerate it in their own relationships. I know that when I was younger I tolerated a lot of abusive, toxic behaviors because they reminded me of relationships I’d seen on TV. These relationships seem sexy and fun when you’re watching them, but when you’re in them they are anything but, and no one should be left believing screaming, jealousy, and gaslighting are okay. Here’s hoping Kelly and the rest of the Bling Empire franchise leave Andrew where he belongs next season: in the trash.
If you or someone you know are the victim of abuse, check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline here.
Images: Netflix; Giphy; theycallmecater / Twitter