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(image source: Hollywood Reporter)
There’s a good chance that Jake Paul has been dominating your phone screen over the last week – but it’s not his latest prank video that’s gone viral.
Digital megastar Jake Paul has found himself in some hot water. Actually, in multiple pots of hot water.
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It all started last week when 20-year-old Paul (who is also the creator of social media company, Team 10) angered his neighbors near his West Hollywood home. Paul’s neighbors have had enough – and are now reportedly considering filing a lawsuit against him.
Paul’s response? Not exactly apologetic. When a news crew turned up at Paul’s home and suggested that his stunts were turning the neighborhood into a circus, Paul responded: “But people like going to circuses, right?” Um… not when you’re trying to sleep at night.
But it looks like this dispute is affecting more than Paul’s home life.
Paul stars on the Disney Channel show, “Bizaardvark,” but on Monday, he announced that he will be leaving the show. Paul and Disney claim that the decision is mutual. Just hours later, Paul shared his side of the story in his favorite way – by vlogging, of course.
Paul explained that with his YouTube Channel and social media company to run, working at Disney is too much for him. “Being on set with Disney was a full time job, plus I was doing everything on top of that… I wasn’t sleeping, it was almost unhealthy. It caused problems for me. It caused problems for Disney.”
But exhaustion wasn’t the only reason Paul wanted to leave the network. Disney’s younger audience was also a factor.
“It wasn’t always fun playing the kid role all the time,” Paul continued. He stated that if he stayed with Disney for another two years, he would be a twenty-two-year-old playing like a sixteen-year-old character. “I feel like [I have] matured as a person and my brand is evolving. I want to play more adult roles,” Paul added.
He isn’t the only star to feel conflicted about portraying someone younger for the Disney Channel. Joe Jonas, who starred on Disney’s series, “Jonas,” opened up about similar difficulties back in 2013. “I had to shave every day because they wanted me to pretend I was 16 when I was 20,” Jonas explained. He also added that the show’s writing was “some weird slapstick humor that only a 10-year-old would laugh at.”
This is hardly news. Teen Disney stars have often confessed that it’s hard to shake off the Disney brand even after leaving the network. Just look at Bella Thorne, who revealed she had trouble booking roles after appearing on “Shake It Up” because she was typecast as a “Disney actress.”
Selena Gomez, who starred on “Wizards of Waverly Place”, recalls that being a Disney star later contributed to her desire to break out of the mold (à la the raunchy film “Spring Breakers”). Gomez explained: “Disney is a machine, and I’m grateful for it, but I feel like being part of that environment made me crave the reactions from other projects even more.”
Gomez’s “Spring Breakers” costar – and former Disney star in her own right – Vanessa Hudgens agreed. “I want people to look at me not as that girl from ‘High School Musical,’ but as an actress they admire,” Hudgens said. “With ‘Spring Breakers,’ I’m looking for a reaction. I want to shock people.”
While Paul’s stated reasons for parting ways with Disney are completely valid, it’s still important to note the timing of his departure.
As a YouTuber known for stunts and pranks, Paul was never really branded as a “squeaky clean” personality to begin with. But did all the press this week change his reputation from “silly” to “reckless?”
And if there is any company that’s known for going to great lengths to maintain its clean image – it’s Disney.
As explained by Joe Jonas, Disney does not take scandal lightly. Take the Vanessa Hudgens nude-photo scandal, for example. “We heard that she had to be in the Disney offices for a whole day because they were trying to figure out how to keep her on lockdown,” Jonas recalls.
“We’d hear execs talking about it, and they would tell us that they were so proud of us for not making the same mistakes – which made us feel like we couldn’t ever mess up,” Jonas continued.
The pressures that come with fame can be challenging for anyone, of any age, and Disney has since tried to address head-on with their young talent.
In 2009, Disney reportedly began “Talent 101” courses to help its stars adjust to fame, as well as increased social media pressure. One life skills lesson focused on how posting on social media can affect your reputation.
However, because Jake Paul is not a traditional screen actor, the rules of the game are different.
With teens’ attention turned to computer screens more than television screens, it’s been difficult for traditional media to keep up. According to Variety, “young viewers watch 2.5 times more internet video than television.”
Which is why networks like Disney have started working with digital stars – who often bring with them an established fan base (typically in the millions). As of today, Paul’s video, “Why I’m no longer apart of Disney,” has 8.5 million views and was, at one point, the number one trending video on YouTube.
But stars’ having their social platforms as a megaphone can come at a cost for studios. Digital talent has a large amount of freedom with what they post to their social channels – and it’s unclear how much control studios have over their stars’ personal platforms. In February, Disney cut ties with YouTube star PewDiePei after he posted videos that contained anti-semetic content.
In an age where digital stars are famous for their outspokenness and filter-free lives, how do traditional media companies stay relevant while still protecting their brands?
Just as Paul has created an empire in which a single YouTube video can garner millions of views in a day, Disney will have to figure out its own formula.