Ten minutes before showtime, Jake Paul’s official warm-up DJ made the first merch plug of the night: Don’t forget to buy a T-shirt, he said. The line to buy the YouTube star’s apparel was already wrapped around the sound booth of the Fillmore in Silver Spring, trailing through the back of the house so that fans hoping to snag a $30 T-shirt or a $60 hoodie wouldn’t have to miss a minute of the show.
Armies have uniforms, and the “Jake Paulers” know that the merch is theirs. Nearly every day, Paul tells his 15 million subscribers that they are part of a movement just by watching his daily video blogs, where the 21-year-old documents his life as a viral vlogger. And on Thursday night, the Jake Paulers had come to make that movement visible.
Emma, 11, said she loved Jake Paul because he is funny and “very kind.” He went to Houston, she said, to help after Hurricane Harvey. Emma started watching Paul two years ago on the micro-video site Vine, where he rose to fame, and followed him to YouTube last year. She hoped Paul would sing her favorite song, “Ohio Fried Chicken.” Emma owns seven pieces of merch.
Jacob and Skyler, 10 and 13, were there with their dad from Frederick, Md. The tickets were an Easter present: He set up a scavenger hunt for his boys, leading them to the prize. Their dad was skipping Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals featuring the Washington Capitals — although he’d heard a rumor that the Fillmore’s downstairs bar might have it on.
Jacob loved the “funny stuff” Paul did in his vlogs. Skyler said Paul “makes me laugh every day.” When I asked the boys what they’d say to their idol’s haters, Jacob said he’d tell people to give Paul a chance.
“Watch one or two of his videos,” he said.
Jacob and Skyler own four pieces of merch each.
The Jake Paulers are young — mostly teens, tweens, or younger. “If this is your first time going to a concert,” the warm-up DJ instructed at one point, “hands up!” A wave of hands from the young crowd went up into the air.
Their parents stood in a half circle toward the back as they checked their phones and sipped drinks from the bar.
Anyone who’s not a Jake Pauler probably knows the YouTuber by his reputation. He’s not the one who vlogged a dead body in a Japanese forest — that’s his older brother, Logan. Jake’s the one who runs a rowdy Los Angeles house of up-and-coming vloggers called Team 10. Their behavior made life hell for their neighbors, and the ensuing controversy cost him his role on a Disney Channel show.Two days before coming to Maryland, Paul was in the news again, this time for taking a joyride on a mobility scooter through a theme park. The park says security asked him to leave, and Paul says he left on his own, after being mobbed by fans. He’s also feuding with a Vine star on Twitter. Paul always seems to be feuding with someone. Feuds are good for views.
Nearly every day, Paul’s vlogs show him hanging with his (slightly less) famous vlogging friends and showing off the things that all that vlogging money means he can buy. His rap song “It’s Everyday Bro” is a 3-minute-40-second extended brag about his subscribers (“5 mil on YouTube in six months, never done befo’ “), his merch (“selling like a God Church”), and his daily vlogging schedule (“It’s every day bro”). The music video is a year old, and nearing 200 million views on YouTube.
Paul’s tour stop had the feeling of a tent revival, where the Jake Paulers came to worship his viral power. When Paul’s crew came out to film a bunch of screaming fans for the vlog during the opening-act set by 14-year-old singer Sunny Malouf, the whole crowd at the Fillmore shifted toward the camera like iron filings to a magnet.
Eighteen minutes into that opening act was the second merch plug of the night. Maloof’s backup dancers grabbed piles of rolled-up T-shirts and tossed them into the screaming crowd.
A growing number of tweens filtered back into the crowd from the merch booth, wearing identical, sky blue hoodies. On the front, they read: “Team 10 Jake Paul Tour.”
The tweens chanted, “Jake Paul! Jake Paul” as the stage crew carried out a bed onto the stage. The Jake Paulers already knew that Jake was in the bed; they’d seen it in fan vlogs of the show on YouTube.
The show, a combination of comedy sketches and songs, has a plot, which, as far as I can tell, begins as follows: Jake Paul wakes up in a bed in Ohio, and decides to become a famous vlogger, which he does, which leads into a performance of “It’s Everyday Bro.” The song, featuring verses from Jake Paul’s crew, has grown shorter since its original release, thanks to the recent departure of some of Team 10’s members over questions about how the business is managed.
Chad, a remaining Team 10 member, needs help getting a date, so Jake and his girlfriend, Erika, or “Jerika” as the couple is called, help him pick a date. This leads into a song about Malibu, because Chad owns a house in Malibu and he matched with a girl there on Tinder.
The Jake Paulers were having the time of their lives as Team 10 rapped along with backing tracks to their YouTube hits. Some of the excited tweens didn’t know what to do with their bodies, so they jumped and grabbed their friends’ hands. They screamed praise at the YouTubers like glossolalia.
“I do this in every city, where I see which city is the most lit,” Jake Paul told the Jake Paulers. “So far it’s Atlanta.” Paul told everyone to get their camera light out, and “get loud.” They did, so loud that I could feel the power of the Jake Paulers vibrating in my bones. Jake didn’t say whether Maryland was more lit than Atlanta.
In another sketch, Jake and his crew take on school. One of the Team 10 members plays the teacher, dressed like a huge nerd. Teacher is mad because Jake Paul didn’t do his homework. “I don’t know anything about the Revolutionary War,” Jake Paul replies. “But I do know Instagram.”
The Jake Paulers cheered, and kept cheering as their idol mimed pushing the teacher out of the classroom and down the stairs. He landed safely, Paul assured them, in a garbage can.
“Teachers though, am I right?” Paul said with a “Who, me?” look. The kids screamed. Paul added: “Sorry, parents.”
The secret to understanding the Jake Paulers is this: They’re not always the cool kids at their school. But at a Jake Paul concert, they’re the only kids that matter. Paul might be human clickbait, but his fans have found inspiration and morality in him. A couple of the Jake Paulers said that his vlogs helped them cope with bullying at school. Kathryn, 21, said that Paul’s videos stopped her from killing herself.
“They created this life that they wanted for themselves and that’s something that I can do for myself,” she said. “I just didn’t believe that I could do [it] before.”
Paul knows that he has this power. The moral inspiration becomes part of his content. Kathryn slipped Paul a note during a meet-and-greet before the concert telling him how much he meant to her. Paul later posted a picture of the note to his Instagram story, with the caption, “Love you.”
The concert was nearly over, and Paul was at the part of the show where he is kind. “I want you all to thank your parents for bringing you,” he said as his crew prepared to launch into an encore of “It’s Everyday Bro.”
“If you guys are going through a rough time . . . I want you to keep on smiling.” It’s a message Paul gives every day in his vlogs.
As the encore finished — this time Paul covers for his missing team members by doing a “remix” — Paul told the Jake Paulers that he loved them.
“I’ll see you all at the merch booth,” he said, before leaving the stage, knowing exactly what would happen next. The merch line swelled.