For millennia, a set of unknowable mysteries has animated human art and philosophy—the questions that creep into your head as you stare at the ceiling on sleepless nights, the enigmas that bring your brain ever closer to the void. Like: Does God exist? Is free will an illusion? And, more recently: Who is Zack Bia?
It’s a question that has been Googled countless times, nestled in the search engine’s predictive algorithm right between “Who is Zeus?” and “Who is Zendaya dating?” It is the subject of dozens of threads on Twitter and hypebeast message boards, and has apparently inspired a forthcoming investigative podcast. It’s a question spawned not by Bia’s reclusiveness or will for privacy but his sudden ubiquity in the intertwined and online worlds of fashion and music.
Because even at a time when 15 minutes no longer denotes the amount of time we’ll all be famous but how long it takes to become famous, Zack Bia’s emergence into a fully formed It Boy felt especially swift. He went from anonymous L.A. student one day to Drake confidante the next, from novice club kid to Kylie Jenner’s maybe-boyfriend in a flash. (That last rumor made it to TMZ before being shot down by sources all around.)
With rosy cheeks, scruffy facial hair, and a slightly wan, masklike expression, along with a collection of luxury streetwear that makes him look like he knows where to get very good ketamine, the 23-year-old Bia would be tough to pick out at a USC frat party. But that look stands out in the circles he runs in: DJing with his glamorous pal Luka Sabbat, sitting courtside at a Lakers game with Odell Beckham Jr., dating Instagram starlets like Madison Beer and Sarah Snyder. His unexpected, inexplicable presence in places like Drake’s Instagram feed has a way of worming its way into your mind. And as his online notoriety has grown, Bia has inched from friend-of-celebrity to minor celebrity himself, a Food God for the streetwear set. He is a club promoter whose true talent may be promoting himself.
But the mystery Bia has cultivated around who he is and what exactly he does isn’t manufactured. Like his blossoming into a bona fide influencer who gets every pair of rare Nikes before they drop, it just…happened. “It was never about the shine,” he told me about his reticence to publicize his own story. “It’s the best kept secret because all my friends are in on what I’m doing, but they don’t care to talk about it because it’s like…for what?”
I first became fascinated by Bia after he and I met on the floor of Tyler, the Creator’s sold-out Madison Square Garden show in September. Bia had an all access pass around his neck, and watched from the back with Kaia Gerber. This was a few weeks after he had been given primo front row seats for both of Virgil Abloh’s Paris Fashion Week shows, spots traditionally reserved for the Louis Vuitton designer’s most loyal friends and supporters. I knew Bia had been a promoter in L.A.’s nightlife scene, but I couldn’t fully make sense of his place in the company of thirty or so of the most culturally influential people in fashion—the Tylers and Kendalls and Kaias and Drakes and Weeknds and Kylies and Jadens of the world. My scammer scanner wasn’t going off, but perhaps, I thought, a year heavy with sensational grifts had thrown its calibration off.
The mystery surrounding Bia has almost perpetuated his reputation as much as his proximity to celebrity. In some circles, he is all but a late-millennial cult hero. The day Bia and I spoke for this story, a fashion publicist friend confessed that she had an Instagram account dedicated to fangirling over Bia. “I’m fascinated by him! He’s so cute!” she said. “What does he do?” she added. I didn’t know. No one else seemed to, either. So I asked him.
A little after midnight, Zack Bia checked his phone. He was at Socialista, the Havana-themed club above Cipriani Downtown, where he had just finished a late dinner with Diplo. The party was about to kick into a higher gear: the room was packed with dozens of tuxedo- and gown-clad amfAR Gala attendees who had been drinking since 7:00 p.m., and a few of them were beginning to test the logic of dancing on the velvet couches. But someone from Nike had thrown up the bat signal. They needed Bia to DJ a secret party at a club in the East Village. “I gotta be on at Little Sister in 10 minutes,” he said, ordering an Uber XL.
This was just another Wednesday for Zack Bia, who goes out every single night—he has stayed in, he estimates, only “five or six” times in the past four years. Partying is pretty close to his official job. “I feel like I’m working at every party I’ve ever been to,” he told me. At 23, Bia has become a nightlife impresario of sorts in L.A., where one of his many jobs is creative direction for H.Wood Group, the hospitality outfit behind A-list haunts like Delilah and The Nice Guy.
When I asked him how 1,500 late nights haven’t killed him, he said he’s never been much of a drinker. But after following him through three parties over the course of four hours, I realized that clubbing is akin to a sport: the more you practice, the better you perform. Around 2:30 a.m., when my legs felt like Jell-O, Bia was still making the rounds through a packed dance floor with shocking speed and agility. “I move through the club like LeBron on the court, like Messi on the pitch,” he said as I struggled to keep pace.
If you have to go to a club in 2020, it pays to roll with the Messi of clubbing. Waiting in line for anything—cronuts, a Supreme hoodie—is annoying, but waiting in line to get into a club fifteen years since clubbing has been cool or interesting (in New York, anyway) is a profoundly demoralizing experience. But in certain spots, “I’m with Zack Bia” is the secret handshake that gets you the right-this-way treatment, ushers you right into the second elevator, makes the experience of going to a bottle service club not just bearable but actually, secretly, kind of enthralling. When I arrived at Cipriani to meet Bia, I was standing outside in the rain feeling like an idiot when, through the window, I saw Bia pass a message to the maitre’d, who fished me out of line ahead of two art collector-looking guys wearing Louis Vuitton tuxedos. Later, a legion of women in stilettos and Florida tans watched in the pouring rain outside of a Drake party as me and Bia, the two guys wearing jeans, got whisked right in.
Back at Little Sister, a guy in Virgil Abloh’s crew was in the process of getting bounced for lack of ID when Bia worked his magic. “I’ll handle it,” Bia said, before handling it by performing some sort of Jedi mind trick on the bruiser at the door. Abloh and co followed Bia inside. 30 seconds later, Bia was queuing up Pop Smoke for a few hundred ecstatic scene kids, skaters, and hypebeasts. These were the same kids that, five years ago, might have queued around the block to get into a party thrown by Been Trill, the streetwear DJ collective started by Abloh, Alyx designer Matthew Williams, and Heron Preston. But that night, all three former Been Trill members were standing behind Bia, watching him spin the room into a frenzy.
Zack Bia wasn’t born with access to the second elevator. But the subject of a meme never gets to control the narrative. Depending on who you ask, you’ll learn that Bia’s father runs Dior, or that he comes from some less glamorous but similarly extensive pool of inherited wealth. That he’s mob-connected, or that he’s an industry-plant entourage member. Or, simply, that he is famous because he dated Beer.
Bia documents his day-to-day extensively online, and he’s been plenty covered by the gossip sites. But he’s never told his life story publicly until now. In town for fashion week, he agreed to meet me for lunch to finally settle an online debate that he felt had gotten out of control. In a dark grey windbreaker, jeans that looked like they had been put through a thresher, black Air Force 1s, and a pair of mint Louis Vuitton-by-Virgil Abloh shades that never left the bridge of his nose, I could see how Bia might be mistaken for a trust fund kid who just blew a bag at Kith. But his bearing was decidedly more relaxed, with none of the petulance or ego that one might expect of someone with a half-dozen fan accounts on Instagram. The only time he checked his phone was when his mom called. An eager talker, he barely touched his food over the course of an hour and a half. I had to cut our meeting short, but I got the sense he would have been down to hang out all day.
We had barely sat down when Bia addressed the meme that is his fame. “It’s almost been funny for me to dig into the who-is-Zack-Bia narrative,” he said. Almost. “When people see people that are successful, they want to justify why it’s not them, how someone else got in this position, and they make up all these stories.”
So here’s who Zack Bia is: Zack Bialabos was born in New York 23 years ago, in June, the astrological significance of which would, hilariously and completely randomly, change his life exactly 19 years later. His upbringing was not out of the ordinary for a child of the late-’90s: divorced parents, a younger brother, a couple of moves that put him in a new city—Los Angeles—for high school. He went to Beverly Hills High School on an out-of-district permit, and then did a year at community college before transferring to USC as a 19-year-old sophomore. He credits his single mother with his omnivorous cultural curiosity: she took them on trips to her native Paris, and taught Zack about Big Daddy Kane and Tupac. (“My mom’s still super rock-and-roll,” he said.) But he made sure to mention that they were by no means loaded: Bia was on financial aid at USC, and, like so many others, is still paying off his student loans. After some hesitation, he revealed that in high school he had to take a job at an Abercrombie store to help his family out financially.
On his 19th birthday, like so many non-famous 19-year-olds do, Zack Bia went to the club for the very first time. It got off to a bad start: Bia and his boys rolled up to a joint called Hooray Henry’s at 10:30 p.m. “They’re still in pre-shift meetings. The club’s not even open. They’re looking at us crazy, like, ‘Who are these kids in suit jackets?’” he recalled. But the club employees thought it was hilarious, so they let them in and told them to buy a bottle. Enter the man who would, indirectly, change Bia’s life forever: Fetty Wap. Yes! Post-“Trap Queen”-era Fetty Wap, at the height of his powers. Fetty Wap, a Gemini, caught wind that there was another Gemini birthday in the house and extended an invite. It quickly became the best night of Bia’s life: “I’m at a table, drinking with Fetty,” he says. “For me, it’s so surreal at the time.”
Before Bia left, a promoter at the club came over to get his number, apparently thinking that Bia was the Fetty Wap plug—that he was the kid in Fetty’s crew who could get him to come back. Bia immediately sensed the first of many openings he would seize in the L.A. scene. “This is all during summer, so for the next month or so, a couple times a week, this kid was hitting me up, ‘What are you guys doing tonight?’ So me and my friends would go, and this kid’s under the illusion that we’re going as Fetty Wap’s friends.” The crew of L.A. and USC kids Bia brought made an impression on another promoter, who offered Bia $100 to promote the club one night a week. “I’m like, ‘This is sick. I have no money. I get to get into the club that we couldn’t get into, and I’m making 100 bucks?’” Bia recalled. He quickly realized it could be more than just a way to impress his new college buddies: “I thought of it as an avenue, as a way for me to start my first hustle.”
One night turned into three. “I’m sort of just building up my crowd, meeting people, bringing them out, and just taking it super seriously,” he said. As a low-level club promoter, he was basically a glorified waiter, getting people drinks, helping man the door, making sure everyone is having a good time, texting potential club guests constantly. (In my experience, the average amount of time it takes for Bia to reply to a text is .8 seconds.) But he was starting to figure out the scene—and, crucially, how to market himself.
“It’s so funny because I never really advertised that I worked for the club,” Bia said. “And at the same time that I was doing that, I was sort of accidentally building up my Instagram. I was just posting outfits and stuff, and people would be like, ‘Oh yeah, I fuck with that kid.’” Instagram became the central node of his network. “So you make that connection on Instagram, you go out, you sort of tie all these different ends together.”
As Bia expanded his network, he caught the attention of H.Wood Group founder and owner John Terzian, who let Bia take over an underperforming night—Wednesdays—at a karaoke club called Blind Dragon. “Zack has a wide range of genuine interests and knowledge, and then he has a core moral compass, which is hard,” Terzian told me. “A lot of people get into this business for girls or drugs. None of that is in him. He’s in it for the work.” Which presumably means: networking and making money. Bia quickly became Terzian’s trusted right-hand man, and started figuring out how to throw parties. He approached his own events like the outsider he was—he didn’t know how to make a bottle service nightclub successful, so he didn’t try to. “We saw nightlife differently than people that were in the industry, because we didn’t come from it,” Bia says. “So we were always like, ‘How do we throw an after party for this skater’s shoe release?’”
Bia was a few minutes early for our lunch reservation at the Bowery Hotel, and had taken a seat with his back to the restaurant door. I quickly realized why: it gave him a prime vantage point to track who was coming and going from the lobby. As we spoke, his gaze flitted to and from the sidewalk, and he occasionally identified passersby he recognized. He told me several times that he didn’t want to name drop, but eventually the Zack Bia story becomes impossible to tell without profuse name-dropping.
At Blind Dragon, he explained, “We were bringing these parties back where it was like the actors, the skaters, the models, the college kids, they’re all in the same party together. That wasn’t how clubs in L.A. were being run. We were just doing it because we thought it was cool, we thought it was fun.” One night, Rihanna showed up. Then, Bia says, “everyone started showing up.” Here’s Bia’s description of the types of parties he then became known for throwing: “Kacey Musgraves and Kendall and Kourtney and Kylie are in a booth, while me and Luka [Sabbat] are on the mic and DJing. And Baby Keem and Dominic Fike are at the bar. It’s like, everyone’s there.” Oh, and: “Drake’s walking in the back.”
If the club thing doesn’t work out, Bia could write a self-help business book for Gen-Z kids with influencer aspirations. Ironically, principle one is: don’t clout chase. Drake was a regular H.Wood client, and when Bia was still at USC (he dropped out his junior year), Terzian entrusted him with occasionally working the intimate 30-person dinners and parties Drake would hold at Delilah. “I’m not going up to anyone, ‘Hey, I’m Zack. Hey, can I get a photo?’ I’m keeping my head down and just making myself useful,” Bia said. “You have to be not annoying and not aggressive,” Terzian added. Check. Principle two: have an interest in art, music, culture, and people. “You have to be a pretty multifaceted type of person, and genuine about it,” Terzian told me. Principle three: whether you’re a college kid or the Migos, there’s no better supercharged shortcut to success than a Drake co-sign.
The story of how Bia and Drake became close is a point of major debate online. Ever since Drake posted a photo on Instagram of the two of them at the end of 2017, Bia has been a recurring character in the OVO multiverse. He has cameoed in a Drake music video, gotten name dropped in Drake’s verse on French Montana’s “No Stylist,” and generally driven Drake fans crazy due to their idol’s inexplicable fascination with and loyalty to a random 23-year-old. (“In Delilah, word to Zack, I need action, that’s a fact.” Bars!)
Drake has been Bia’s favorite artist since high school, but now, if Bia gets nervous around him, he doesn’t show it. After his DJ set—Diplo’s review: “For someone who’s just getting started, he’s good! It’s got that rawness, and look, he’s got a crowd of kids in front of him”—Bia and I ducked into an Uber and sped to Chelsea, where Drake had rented out a hotel bar for a casual evening with 300 of his closest friends. When we glided into the small cordoned-off VIP section next to the bar, Drake and Bia didn’t do the exaggerated, performative dap-and-hug I had witnessed between man-friends so many times that night. Instead, like a boss and his most trusted consigliere, they shared a conversation that appeared tender, intimate, and of deep importance. Perhaps they were discussing their hang the night before at Jacob & Co., where they sipped Dom P and picked out Drake’s newest novelty watch, one with a functioning roulette wheel.
Bia acknowledges the many times he got lucky over the past four years, but he earned his Drake co-sign. After six months of working Drake’s dinners, proving that he was useful and trustworthy and not in it for the photo op, Bia got the call to pull up to Drake’s hotel. They talked about life, music, movies, and fashion for nine hours, and a friendship was sealed. “He’s sort of like…” Bia paused. “I consider him a big brother,” he said, like it was the most casual thing in the world. But Bia still has a bit of that high-schooler-listening-to-“Started From The Bottom” incredulity about him. Now we’re here: “My favorite artist!” he said, marveling for just a moment.
Beauty fades. Coolness and clout are as ephemeral as they’ve ever been. There’s a new wave of scary Gen-Z-ers coming of age who might recalibrate the entire celebrity-industrial complex. And as the great Glenn O’Brien used to say, quoting Andy Warhol, “Parties are hard work.” Zack Bia might not have 1,500 more nights out in him. He knows this, so he’s preparing to turn his clout into cold hard cash.
In December, I visited the office in West Hollywood where Bia is establishing his next few hustles. He toured me around an airy space filled with the sounds of nail guns and sawing, pointing out where workmen were busy installing doors on the office that will belong to Drake’s manager Future the Prince, near where the recording studio would be put in. I was in the new HQ of Field Trip, Bia’s nascent record label. He introduced me to a young woman wearing Golf Wang Converse sneakers who was helping work on his other project, the secretive streetwear brand Psych World. At a long table coated in a fine film of construction dust, he explained that he and the artist Takashi Murakami were thinking of introducing an additional merch line as an inside joke, previewed a DJ tour he was planning with Luka Sabbat, and showed me photos taken over the last few years at Delilah and The Nice Guy (think Drake and Diddy clinking champagne flutes) that he is hoping to turn into a book with Rizzoli.
A few years ago, Bia recognized the potential value of his platform. Not social media, he explained, so much as the whole club scene itself—through his parties and influential friends, he could promote just about any side project imaginable. “I don’t ever post, ‘I have a brand. I have a record label. I do this, I do that.’ That’s not what I’m doing it for. The best thing about having your own platform is being able to empower things you believe in,” he told me. Field Trip had just released the debut single by its first artist, the muse-y former Fenty model Mallory Merk. Why would a young artist sign with Bia instead of a major? Because he might understand how to manipulate the levers of social influence better than anyone else: “We sort of have these unfair hacks, access to people and to parties, and to this and that. It’s sort of just a matter of how do you plug and play correctly, and launch something in an organic way,” he said.
Bia brings up 19-year-old rapper Baby Keem as an example. You can trace a short line between Bia discovering Keem online and dropping his music in his DJ sets, and Kendall Jenner playing a Baby Keem track at the top of her Beats 1 radio