Everything Wrong With Keith McCurdy + Bang Bang Tattoo – Littered With Garbage

Having a Google alert set up for tattoo-related content gives us a daily dose of the weird, wacky, and sometimes heart-warming stories being shared in the media. A recent New York Times article peaked our interest – an interview with tattoo to the stars, Keith “Bang Bang” McCurdy.

If this piece was meant to paint McCurdy and his tattoo shop in a positive light, it has failed miserably. We gain some insight into the mind of Rihanna and Justin Bieber’s tattoo artist of choice… and it’s not pretty.

People the likes of McCurdy are everything wrong with the tattoo industry and celebrity culture. Don’t believe us? Let’s break down some interesting and infuriating revelations from Keith McCurdy’s interview with the New York Times.


McCurdy doesn’t shy away from the fact that he started out tattooing his cousin from home, with a cheap machine purchased online. This is not a practice which should be promoted or encouraged; in fact, when this topic is broached in any publication, all tattoo artists have a responsibility to denounce this behaviour.

McCurdy’s bio on the Bang Bang website even brags about who he has tattooed and where. This sums McCurdy up in a nutshell – it’s not about skill or artistry, but the chance to name drop.

‘Rihanna in the tropics, Lebron James in his basement, Cara Delevingne on a roof, Katy Perry in Stockholm’s Abba Museum, and Justin Bieber on a plane at 30,000 feet.’ One key point here is that none of these places are tattoo studios – the one and only place tattoos should be created.

Neither McCurdy nor the journalist say anything about how unsafe and unhygienic tattooing outside a tattoo shop is and that’s likely because McCurdy doesn’t share this sentiment and the journalist doesn’t know any better.

Further proof can be found in the Instagram feed of Justin Bieber, and as reported by People.com, where McCurdy is tattooing the singer in his backyard. Once a backyard tattooer, always a backyard tattooer, it seems.


Following his days of irresponsibly wielding a tattoo machine, McCurdy eventually moved out of the house and into New York City tattoo parlours.

The relationship between McCurdy and Rihanna began as a chance encounter 11 years ago when the singer made a stop at the tattoo shop where he was working. Originally, she had only planned a nipple piercing but ended up walking out with several lines of (apparently misspelled) Sanskrit inked on her hip by McCurdy. Not only did Rihanna go back for more tattoos from McCurdy, but she also suggested him to fellow celebrities like Katy Perry.

McCurdy had no idea who Rihanna was but he saw the opportunity to use her name to make a name for himself. Can you blame someone for wanting to be successful? No, but it’s the manner in which McCurdy has wielded his new-found fame and celebrity status that is rather questionable.


McCurdy has a massive ego and even openly admits that he is ‘public enemy No. 1’ – a title that is not without cause. 

McCurdy burned bridges early on in his career. Once he had that first taste of media attenion, he set his sights on opening his own shop. The issue was that, in the process, he attempted to screw over the likes of Paul Booth and the owner of East Side Ink by poaching their staff. 

McCurdy doesn’t think of it as stepping on people, just pushing them out of the way so that he can hog the spotlight; he firmly holds onto the belief that everyone would do the same in his situation.

Even all these years on, after amassing millions of followers and earning millions of dollars, McCurdy still finds pleasure in gloating about kicking the butts of those at his former employer, East Side Ink.

When will enough be enough? Would it take East Side Ink going out of business for McCurdy to find joy or contentment in his life?

Despite what he believes, being a tattoo artist or tattoo shop owner is not a competition and he has “won” nothing. East Side Ink and dozens of other shops are still open in NYC and successfully doing business, providing their clients with tattoos that will last a lifetime – a point which we will further discuss later.


The name of this very website, Littered With Garbage, was inspired by a GQ interview with Ink Master judges, Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck, where the pair discuss celebrity tattoos.

Both give frank and honest feedback, and explain the good and bad elements of the tattoos they’re shown. For the most part, the tattoos featured are quite dreadful, but just who did Peck say was “littered with garbage”? Justin Bieber.

In the past few years, Bieber has shelled out $60,000 on McCurdy’s services, including flying the tattooer out to his home or getting tattooed by him on a private jet. A fool and his money are soon parted… 

Would you be happy if Justin’s tattoos were your own? Leave your comments down below.


Remember when Cara Delevingne unveiled that lion finger tattoo? Everyone just about lost their minds. They were blown away by how much detail was packed into such a small finger tattoo – this sentiment was not shared by all.

Keep that in mind as you read this absolute gem from the New York Times article: ‘The hyper-detailed lion Mr. McCurdy inked on her index finger that night earned jeers from “serious” tattoo people, who regard micro-tattoos with disdain. But who cares? Technically it was perfect.’

This journalist speaks as an expert when he isn’t one. Tattoo artists and tattoo collectors have the knowledge and insight to understand what makes a good tattoo. In saying that, it is justified for these people to view this style of tattooing with such disdain. The negative comments made are not due to jealousy – they are backed up with cold, hard facts.

And guess what? It’s not at all surprising to reveal that Cara’s lion tattoo doesn’t look ‘technically perfect’ anymore.

When freshly done, black and grey tattoos appear darker but actually lighten up slightly as they heal and settle into the skin. As you can see with Cara’s lion, the white details have disappeared completely, the tattoo has darkened as the ink is spreading – it’s blurry and no longer crisp. Her tattoo hardly looks like a lion anymore, but apparently we’re just haters to make that observation. 

I guess all those ‘”serious” tattoo people’ were right after all.

Do you want some expert insight? Oliver Peck, an artist with decades of experience, was none too impressed by Cara’s lion from McCurdy. He goes on to explain that he and his peers have spent 25 years refusing these very same tattoo requests. 

On a side note, that bacon tattoo on the sole of Cara’s foot will also fade, but at least when it does no one is going to notice.


It’s crazy to think that tattooing was only again made legal in NYC in 1997 and McCurdy has just spent $1 million on renovations of Bang Bang’s second New York City location.

How can McCurdy afford such ambitious projects? By charging his legion of fans outrageous prices for their tattoos, of course.

Any outsider can see that Bang Bang are preying on the public’s obsession with celebrity. No longer do people have to live vicariously through celebrities, they too can get tattooed by the same artist as their favourite star The big issue is that it comes at an exorbinant cost – they’re being charged as if they have the bank balance of a celebrity.

In the FAQ section of the Bang Bang website it states that ‘all tattoos start at $500’, however this price may increase due to the size and detail of the design or the choice of artist – yes, some charge more than the $500 minimum.

You see all those tiny tattoos on the Bang Bang Instagram account? They ALL cost at least $500, and it’s a very real possibility that they cost far more.

One Bang Bang client spent US$20,000 on his black and grey sleeve which was completed over six or seven sessions. You might assume that at that price his artist must have been McCurdy. You would be wrong. McCurdy’s hourly rate is kept secret, and that’s probably because your eyes will water when you find out.

How does Bang Bang Tattoo justify their pricing? They don’t have to.

If you refuse to part with that amount of money, there are hundreds (thousands, even) who will. It’s these blindly devoted followers who are funding the tattoo artists’ extravagant purchases of $16,000 watches and Gucci spending sprees.

Are you someone who can’t afford a tattoo from Bang Bang? Balazs Bercsenyi, the Hungarian artist that tattooed the New York Times journalist, feels your pain: ‘there are great people who can’t afford to get tattooed by us.’ That doesn’t come across as pretentious at all, does it?

In the end, McCurdy is the big winner here because he’s getting a cut of it all.


As mentioned earlier, and backed up by Oliver Peck, fine line and micro tattoos are not forever. In addition, Treacle Tatts explains the issues with these styles of tattoos best in her YouTube video.

Many artists at Bang Bang specialise in single needle and micro work, and that raises some (big) red flags.

It doesn’t matter how talented and skilled a tattooer claims to be, there’s a reason why these pieces just do not last and why no artist with any integrity does them. Paying a premium for something that won’t last (or look the same) forever, let alone a few years, seems pointless.

To avoid the pitfalls of a micro or single needle piece you should go big and go bold with your choice of tattoo.

The phrase ‘good tattoos aren’t cheap, and cheap tattoos aren’t good’ is accurate for the most part, but perhaps it’s time for a second one: ‘a large Instagram following does not a good artist make’. This doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but the sentiment rings true.

Give us the name of any tattoo artist at Bang Bang and we’ll list you 20 more tattooers we’d trust to tattoo us.


McCurdy feels as though he has conquered New York City and wants to expand his empire to the US West Coast; he claims that ‘New York is so boring.’

McCurdy wants to open a Bang Bang Tattoo in Los Angeles. Why Los Angeles? Given his hunger for fame and status, LA is celebrity central, which means a huge increase in famous clientele, more media attention, and even more fat stacks of cash for McCurdy. 

While we can’t speak for the shop owners and tattoo artists in NYC, we’re sure many of them wouldn’t mind if McCurdy left for good.


Los Angeles already has their own micro tattoo/single needle “celebrity” tattoo artist: former Best Ink contestant and YouTuber, Romeo Lacoste. We can’t imagine he would be too pleased to discover McCurdy’s plans to expand his tattoo empire.

Watch out, Romeo Lacoste, Keith McCurdy and Bang Bang Tattoo are coming for you and your self-professed title of Line God!*

* In case you’re unaware of Lacoste, Treacle Tatts has a compiled everything wrong with him and his tattoos in this informative video. 


We here at Littered With Garbage urge you to think long and hard before you get inked.

Please remember that while two extremes exist – basement/scratcher tattoos and celebrity tattoo artists – there is a middle ground where thousands of tattoo artists work hard day-in and day-out to produce quality and long-lasting tattoos, all for a reasonable price.

Support the artists with integrity, who live and breathe tattooing – they deserve your service.

While we’ve focused on the points made in this New York Times piece, YouTuber, Treacle Tatts goes into more detail about Bang Bang Tattoo in this video.

Original article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/19/style/bang-bang-tattoo-parlor.html