The wave of new Hollywood YouTube stars has challenged the way old Hollywood corporate titans approach fame and star management. The much publicized dispute between now former Disney star Jake Paul and his neighbors in Los Angeles, California illustrates this divide. The star’s antics are what has gained him his fame and helped him secure his position on Disney’s Bizaardvarks but it is these selfsame pranks and stunts that backfired against him as Disney has now said the two have mutually agreed to part ways. If you’re not familiar with Jake Paul, or his older brother Logan Paul, then you’re probably not a teen or former Vine user.
The Paul brothers began with Logan Paul, the older of the two, who dropped out of Ohio University in 2014 to pursue a social media career after his YouTube channel began to gain traction. He moved to Los Angeles that year to share a house with other Vine stars to develop his following – in much the same vein as his younger brother’s Team 10 venture. Logan Paul’s videos mainly consisted of him doing stunts and scripted acts for comedic effect. Jake Paul came to prominence in his own right through his Vine account, the now-defunct short video clip service offered by corporate parent Twitter. Paul began broadcasting from his Vine account beginning in September 2013 and had 5.3 million followers when the service shut down. Jake Paul’s 5.3 million followers were mostly young teenagers, a marketing demographic much coveted by corporate advertisers. In 2015 Paul announced his deal with Disney to star as Dirk in the Bizaardvarks, a deal that was dissolved on July 22, 2017 because of Paul’s problems with his neighbors. US Magazine reports that a Disney Channel spokesperson told the publication, ““We’ve mutually agreed that Jake Paul will leave his role…On behalf of the production company, the cast and crew, we thank Jake for his good work on the TV series for the past 18 months and extend our best wishes to him.”
Paul responded that he planned on focusing on more adult roles in the future as well as honing in on expanding his personal brand, saying “Being part of the Disney family for the past two years was incredible and a dream come true,” the YouTuber wrote. “I love my cast mates and will continue to support Disney but I have outgrown the channel and feel it’s time to move forward in my career.” Paul’s career demonstrates the powerful ability of new media to make its stars wealthy and influential, but also how different that environment is from the traditional Hollywood style. Paul is famous because of his antics, not in spite of them, and he has built a business empire around these short-form social media websites that have not only landed him on the guest list of the White House in a January 5, 2017 social media stars dinner, but also has expanded his influence with the formation of Team 10, a business to promote influencer marketing and a creative agency aimed at the teenage market.
The company is funded by influential and well-known venture capital firms and demonstrates a business savvy beyond Jake Paul’s antics in front of the camera and its targets are sound from a business standpoint and potentially very lucrative from a financial perspective as well. The most recent controversy Jake Paul finds himself in began when he shared his personal address with his 8 million YouTube followers, causing what his neighbors call chaos in their West Hollywood neighborhood, a posh but overwhelmingly residential area not accustomed to the glitz of the main thoroughfares of stardom that exist in the Los Angeles, California area.
Variety’s JD Knapp draws a similarity between Disney’s treatment of Jake Paul with that of Disney’s treament earlier this year of Swedish YouTube superstar Felix Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie, who was cut from his contract over Nazi symbolism in some of his videos. Those who are familiar with PewDiePie and his “brand” know that it is off-center at best and grossly politically incorrect at worst but apparently the offending material was too much for Disney and they parted ways with the YouTuber in a very public split that has not damaged PewDiePie’s brand but has hampered corporate attempts to get a grip on social media stardom. Like PewDiePie, it seems that old Hollywood is having a hard time getting a grasp on the new wave of stars services like YouTube and Instagram are creating – self-made superstars with massive influence but somewhat uncontrollable (or unconventional) approaches to the fame game.
Old Hollywood always seeks relevance, and believes it can find that by tapping into this creative energy platforms like YouTube create, but they are upset they cannot control that energy. By injecting these self-made social media superstars into its shows, movies, and tailored content, corporate titans of old media want to infuse their brands with the same vitality and dynamism that the youth sees embodied in stars like Jake Paul. You may not like Jake Paul, but you have to admire his ability to turn unappealing behavior into an immensely profitable business that generates enough income for him to expand upon his brand and grow unlike stars of the past who relied upon contracts or market relevance to maintain an income. Unlike the over-produced, factory-production methods of the past, YouTube relies on a faux sense of reality that the star creates on their channel – whether that be through public pranks, inspirational vlogging, or comedy and commentary like h3h3 Productions – and because of this the star has immense power over their own personal brand, very much more so than stars of the past.
The controversy with Paul’s neighbors in West Hollywood area also involves members of his Team 10 business, a group of people who film daily vlogs for their respective YouTube channels and are growing their following in much the same way that Jake Paul’s older brother Logan Paul grew his Vine and YouTube channel after he left Ohio University in 2014 to live with other Vine stars. Much of the condemnation of the twenty-year-old star’s behavior comes from a recent July 17 KTLA Los Angeles television broadcast in which he tells the reporter, ““It’s terrible, it’s a bad situation and I feel bad for [my neighbors], but there’s nothing we can do…Jake Paulers are the strongest army out there.” Jake Paul then got on top of the news van and mocked the reporter’s shoes for some inexplicable reason. Although Disney has not commented on whether the KTLA broadcast impacted their decision, it seems likely that the video was not ignored. This demonstration of nonchalance to the complaints of his neighbors who are angered by his behavior coupled with an inane stunt and a mocking of a reporter during a newscast could either be part of the Jake Paul act or a folly of youth (he is only twenty years old, after all), the audience will never really know and, again, as Disney discovered, the new wave of YouTube stars really do not owe an explanation for their fame as much of it is inexplicable. It’s not just the traffic from his fans that upset his neighbors, however, but also what some view as the increasingly daring nature of the stunts the nascent YouTube stars are pulling at the Team 10 residence. Inside Edition reported that the residence was the subject of a local fire truck visit but was not itself on fire at the time. It is believed to be a prank call. Jake Paul was not present at the house at the time.
Does this make Jake Paul responsible for the actions of his fans, or for his own in disclosing his personal address in a residential community? Apparently Disney felt this was irresponsible enough to part ways with the star, but, when viewed through a less skeptical lens, is not Jake Paul’s invitation an extension of his vlogging into the real world, an open invite to come see him yourself instead of just through a screen? The new YouTube/Vine/Instagram superstars have risen on the fuel of perceived closeness with their fanbase and this perception has to be preserved at all costs in order for their business model to work.
Perhaps Disney is struggling with fitting in YouTube stars into its corporate structure because such an environment by its nature demands some degree of conformity, levels that may be impossible for YouTubers to meet (especially those with more “edgy” pasts on the outlet). Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes in “Disney’s Split With Jake Paul Spotlights Challenge for Social Media Sensations”: “The split highlights the hurdles that can arise for actors who cultivate consumer bases via activity on social media and the more traditional media companies who seek to harness their talents. Media outlets of many stripes have sought to employ social media celebrities for several years. Consider Grace Helbig, who parlayed success on YouTube into a limited-run talk show on NBCUniversal’s E!, as well as ad campaigns for Marriott and Lowe’s. CNN recently announced plans to launch a daily streaming-video effort by vlogging sensation Casey Neistat.” What works for YouTube may not translate as well into “mainstream” media, Steinberg notes, complicating the social media star’s relationship with his or her corporate partner.