“This is Team 10, bitch, who the hell are you?” a crowd of 9-year-olds chanted to passersby at 10:30 a.m. Friday morning in New York.
The tweens, along with their parents and hundreds of their peers, had swarmed West 37th Street and waited for hours in the sub-freezing temps to catch a glimpse of their idol, Jake Paul, at his limited edition pop-up shop.
Jake Paul is a 20-year-old former Disney Channel star and social media influencer with more than 30 million followers across social media. He is arguably the most iconic YouTuber working today and he, along with his “squad” of fellow creators known as Team 10, has hijacked YouTube and teen culture—inspiring legions of dedicated followers called “Jake Paulers.” These “Paulers,” mostly children aged 8 to 15, will stop at nothing to serve the whims of their master.
In this case, that meant traveling from as far as California, Chicago, and London to stand in line for hours in the freezing cold and spend, in some cases, upwards of $1,000 at his pop-up shop.
“I would do anything to meet Jake,” said one 10-year-old, who told The Daily Beast that she cried for days before her parents agreed to drive her into the city from New Jersey.
“He’s always positive, he’s funny. He just has a great personality and with all the hate to him, he can just be strong and it’s really good. He is absolutely my role model,” said Alex, a 12-year-old.
“If I could say one thing to Jake, it would be, mmmmmm, call me!” said one pre-teen as her friends giggled.
But while many young girls in the crowd said they wanted to date Jake, just as many kids said they want to be him.
Paul is such an icon to his tween fans that they go through great effort to emulate his every move. They dress like him, speak like him, shout the lyrics to his hit song “It’s Everyday Bro,” and many showed up wearing his signature “yellars” (yellow-tinted sunglasses).
In a world where 75 percent of kids between the ages of 6 and 18 aspire to become YouTubers or vloggers, Jake Paul is the embodiment of success.
“The fact that he vlogs every day of his life and lives in a mansion in L.A., it’s like a dream come true,” said Dalton, aged 10.
“I started vlogging because of Jake Paul,” said Caden, a 12-year-old from Westchester who has formed his own vlog crew with a 9-year-old sidekick and some friends known as Team Kabbage.
“He’s inspiring us to be YouTubers,” said one 10-year-old boy waiting in line with his friend. “We’re actually making a YouTube channel,” his friend added, explaining that they’ve already begun to assemble their own vlog crew. “It’s gonna be called KJEC bros.”
Kids sport the merch of their favorite YouTube stars the way others might wear jerseys emblazoned with the name of their favorite sports team, and they root for Paul and his “squad” with the same level of veracity.
“I have ‘Jake Pauler’ to my Instagram bio,” said one young girl. “She has a Twitter account,” she continued, gesturing to her friend. The friend said she started the Twitter account, which features Jake Paul’s face as the avatar, a year ago and uses it to share news and “defend Jake” on social media.
Teens said they like to wear Paul’s merch because it feels like they’re in a club and other Jake Paulers get jealous when they see someone with a particular limited edition sweatshirt, for instance.
As tweens lined up outside the store early Friday morning, they unzipped their jackets to compare merch. Two young boys refused to wear jackets despite the cold because they wanted to show off their pink and blue “cotton candy” Jake Paul sweatshirts. Their mother fruitlessly tried to drape a coat over one’s shoulder while he rolled his eyes.
As parents entered the pop-up shop most said they were prepared to spend hundreds of dollars. “This is my son’s Christmas present,” one mom said. Others said their children had performed chores or saved up years of birthday money to be able to purchase items from Paul’s line.
“I have $300,” said one young girl. “It’s more money than I’ve ever had in my life… I’m going to spend it all today.”
Though Paul makes the majority of his millions through brand deals, partnership, and monetizing his vlog content, in recent years he has become the undeniable Merch King of YouTube.
In close partnership with e-commerce platform Fanjoy, Paul designs, produces, and promotes hundreds of rotating items ranging from a black nylon “vlogger backpack” to signature iPhone cases to novelty T-shirts.
By the time the doors opened on the first day, the line to enter the pop-up shop snaked around the block, and the energy on the street was tense. Several parents hadn’t realized the first day of the event was ticketed and were terrified that they’d be forced to return home empty-handed.
Paul’s pop-up store in Los Angeles had been forced to relocate before ultimately being shut down due to out-of-control crowds just a few weeks prior.
“If he doesn’t show and I have to take my daughter home crying, I’ll never forgive him for this,” one mom said.
But Paul arrived on Friday and spent the entire weekend shuffling in and out of the crowd signing sweatshirts, iPhone cases, and taking selfies.
Everywhere he went, Paul was surrounded by sobbing young girls and hysterical fans. A 5-year-old shouted “I love you Jake!” at the top of his lungs over and over until he lost his voice.
For those lucky enough to make it inside the shop, Paul and other Team 10 members watched over the balcony as kids and their parents doled out cash for products and took endless selfies with a giant cartoon of his likeness.
Songs off Paul’s newly released Christmas album blared over the loudspeaker.
One song called “Fanjoy to the World” played on loop throughout the day encouraging kids through the chorus to, “buy that merch, buy that merch.” In the song Paul literally sings out the full URL to his online merch store.
Several kids FaceTimed other friends from the store to share in the experience.
“I could die right here now,” one girl said in front of her mom.
Paul’s millions of fans love him so blindly and unconditionally that it’s easy to laugh at—teen fandom always seems irrational to adults. But Paul in particular seems to inspire a certain level of disdain.
In the minds of his “haters” and many Olds, Paul is the embodiment of everything that’s “wrong” with social media and youth culture today.
To them, he’s a young, white, privileged male who bucks authority and spends his days in a $7 million house where he pranks (some would say bullies) his friends and innocent people to rack up views on his YouTube channel. Paul has also been called arrogant by those who have spent time around him.
But you don’t reach Paul’s level of fame or success by being modest, and Paul, like many young stars, has been forced to learn from his mistakes under the spotlight. And he recognizes that there have been times where he’s taken his pranks too far.
“I definitely toyed on the line of what is too far with the prank and I think I’ve really learned my lesson there,” Paul said. “Moving forward it’s just about pulling it back a little bit. I still do want to be myself... and I don’t want to lose that authenticity, but at the same time I do know now that there’s a line.”
“Overall, I do think he sets a good example,” said one mom. “I don’t hear him cursing or doing anything illegal. I wish he went to college.”
“I’m fine with it,” said a dad who had driven four kids in from New Jersey. “I don’t really get it, but my parents never understood what I liked back in the day.”
Would it be nice if most teens looked up to a boring, modest, rule-following, straight-A student who wants to go to Harvard and never picks a fight? Sure, but a kid like that wouldn’t get 10 followers on YouTube.
“When she gets home from school she just sits there and watches him for hours,” said Millie Richards of her 10-year-old daughter Chloe. “I do think he’s a good influence. He does a lot. I think he’s funny, he’s got a great personality.”
“Look, it’s nuts, I don’t understand it,” said Joe, a father from Long Island who had brought his two daughters, aged 11 and 8, to see Paul. “The vloggers, online, I don’t know what they’re doing… but they follow them on their computers night and day,” he said referring to his girls.
“He makes my daughter happy and that’s all I care about,” said one dad.
The online snark and backlash to Paul is beginning to feel stale as he continues to succeed and legitimize himself in the business world.
While clueless millennials pretend to not know who he is on Twitter, Paul is busy building a multimillion-dollar empire, speaking at places like Google and Instagram, hobnobbing with A-list celebs, and transforming what it means to be a social media influencer today.
In the past few years alone Paul has raised a $10 million VC fund called TGZ capital with friend and fellow social media influencer Cameron Dallas, formed his own talent and creative management agency called TeamDom, founded an online education platform Edfluence that offers courses on how to become an influencer, and maintains a punishing work schedule that includes producing content for his vlog every day.
When asked how he plans to reach his dream of becoming the first social media billionaire, Paul said he’s inspired by people like Dr. Dre for the way they’ve successfully launched consumer products.
“I think it’s about being really smart about hitting the right consumer product spaces at the right time.” Paul said. “I think it’s going to take really good timing on the things that we’re dropping and compounding the money I’m making into investments in other things, not social media but things like real estate.”
Paul also makes an effort to help those in need, yet his charity work is frequently maligned or goes unnoticed by the mainstream press, something that clearly frustrates the young star. In a diss track titled “That Ain’t On the News” which he released over the summer Paul raps:
Pressure hard, they all watching now
Make a mistake, world on me now
It ain’t easy, just a kid from a small town
To every news publication tryna take me down
I’m sorry for my actions, man, I’m asking for forgiveness, man
I’m asking you to witness my growth in this business
My growth as kid, shit I know you can’t admit it
His New York pop-up shop itself doubled as a toy drive for the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association, and it’s Paul’s charity work that many young fans said was a reason why they admired him.
Chloe, a 10-year-old girl who missed school to stand outside and wait for Paul said, “I’m a Jake Pauler because he’s nice and he does a lot for other people. In one of his videos, he gave food to the poor. He gives a lot to charity, for example the water incident,” she said referring to the Houston flood, “he made a charity and raised a lot of money, now he’s raising money for the fires in California.”
“I think he’s more than just drama,” said Kara, a 17-year-old. “He gives back to everything, like today he asked people to bring toys for the toy drives. He takes money out of his own pocket to sell merch to give money for the forest fires.”
As the pop-up shop wound down, parents and kids who waited for hours in the snow said they ultimately had no regrets.
“I’m shaking. I’m so happy,” one girl said with her friend as they exited the store on Saturday night. “We’re so happy.”
“I would tell Jake, if I could tell him something,” said her friend, “to just keep doing what he’s doing, he’s making millions of people happy every day.”
“Jake is just so inspirational,” said Regan, age 14. “He’s helped me with anxiety. When I have anxiety or am upset I just feel so down in the dumps and mad and sad, but then I watch his videos and he just puts a smile on my face immediately with his pranks and when he does stupid things.”
“He’s amazing. He’s so funny,” added her friend Isabella, age 13. “He makes me happy and I laugh every day because of him. I wish people understood that.”