At the start of June, not for the first time in his life, Logan Paul went viral.
His comments on the Black Lives Matter movement have clocked up 15 million views and counting. Speaking on his podcast Impaulsive, the 25-year-old multi-millionaire vlogger and entrepreneur began by confessing his shame.
“Listen closely. One of my biggest learnings from all of this, and I’m embarrassed that it’s taken me 25 years to realise this: it is not enough to be not racist. You have to be anti-racist. Condemn those who feign superiority because of the colour of their skin.”
He then acknowledged his own white privilege: “I can count on zero hands how many times I’ve feared for my life at a routine traffic stop. That has never happened. Half of the reason I’m able to get away with some of my hooligan shit I do in my vlogs is because I’m a white kid.”
The clip circulated social media – again, nothing new for Paul: his career, his brand, his sense of self was built on making clips that circulate social media – but for once the accompanying chorus was not of condemnation but of praise, albeit somewhat shocked praise. How had the man once branded the most hated on the internet somehow got it right?
At Square Mile, we were less surprised than most. You see, we had interviewed Paul three weeks earlier, ostensibly to promote his film Valley Girl, primarily to discuss the surreal experience of being Logan Paul, and the man on the other end of the Zoom chat was intelligent, entertaining, and unexpectedly self-reflective; far removed from the jockish, often crude persona through which Paul made his name. (A persona he has frequently embraced: in Valley Girl he plays a jockish, often crude tennis player and love rival to the sensitive lead.)
I think my big dumb jock days are over. I don't wanna do that anymore
He spoke about legacy – namely his, and what he hopes it to be. “How do you leave actual, meaningful impact? That’s the golden question. Cos it’s not through just video content. I don’t know what it is yet but I will figure it out.”
Paul has figured out a lot of things over the past decade: Vine, YouTube, Hollywood, and, most challengingly, himself. The last one is still an ongoing process, as it is for everyone – regardless of your age, profile, and number of YouTube subscribers (21.4m and only going up). In 2018, Paul attracted a global backlash for filming the body of a suicide victim in Japan’s Aokigahara forest. It proved a turning point: his subsequent apology was not a case of brand control but a moment of genuine contrition.
After his first fight with fellow YouTuber KSI, Paul told the hostile London crowd that, “I was not going to ask for forgiveness but earn a chance to be forgiven. Have I earned that? Not yet. Not yet. But it is the start of a new Logan Paul. Every fucking day, I craft a better version of myself.”
Paul recently launched fashion line Maverick Clothing, and continues to vlog on a daily basis. Presumably he sleeps as well, occasionally.
One day, somebody (most likely Paul) will make a film about the video-obsessed kid from Ohio who built a global brand using his life as the prime commodity, learnt his lessons beneath the harsh and unflinching spotlights of early 21st-century social media – so bright they occasionally blinded him – and emerged into adulthood as... what? We'll have to wait until he figures it out.
Valley Girl, your Baywatch cameo – there's a certain type of character you seem to be cast as...
Yeah, except I don't want to do that anymore. It's so funny: you hear about being typecast when you come to Hollywood, and I'm definitely typecast! Probably because I play that kind of character so easy: big, dumb jock. But I think my big dumb jock days are over. I don't wanna do that anymore.
When you moved to LA, becoming a film star was your initial plan, right?
Yeah, I wanted to be an actor and I went hard for three, four years on it. I got to experience the world pretty in-depth, and not being able to control the stuff you're making was a bit of a hurdle for me to mentally conquer. Because with the internet stuff, I can do anything: I can put it out when I want, I can hold it, I can do whatever with it.
With Hollywood, there are so many people to trust, you know? I have trust issues. And Daddy issues. And Mommy issues. I've got all kinds of issues! [Laughs.] I'm kidding, my parents love me.
I watched your Maverick documentary – don't take this the wrong way, but I wasn't prepared for how good it would be...
No, bro, I get it! I really appreciate you recognising that because I think that's definitely one of the more defining pieces of work on our page.
With vlogs, you shoot a couple of dumb things, you put it into a four-to-six minute video, you move on.
That documentary was an eight-month shooting process, a four or five month editing process, and in it all sorts of emotional trials and tribulations, and physical ones too, with the boxing.
That attempt to bounce back after Tokyo was fucking hard, man. It was very trying.
We were able to shove it into a sixty-minute mini-doc for YouTube and I liked the way it came out, and I'm glad you did, too.
Obviously you had that video background with Vines – can you remember your first one?
My first Vine ever... It was dumb, man! OK, so on Vine you could do effects, like you push into the phone and then it loops. So I set my phone up, pushed into it and then it looped. It was dumb, man.
I wasn't, like, built for Vine. I didn't randomly get good at Vine. I just did a LOT of them, and eventually some of them started to work. I tried everything, and then I found a formula and a model, and started to copy it.
What was the formula?
You gotta be able to tell a story in six seconds. A story is three parts: A, B, and C. Vine is the B. But what happened before and what happened after, to give it the context, that will make the clip funny. Add that with my physical comedy, and what I thought were funny little skits, and you've got yourself a famous Viner.
There's a YouTube compilation of your best Vines. Obviously there's a lot of goofing around, but it's very creative goofing around...
That's my secret. I intentionally make content and come off as a dude who is a little superficial and whose brain tends to be shallow.
Not necessarily to other people, but when you see someone on screen, whether it's a piece of their content or an interview or on a podcast or whatever, you don't know anything about them: humans are very complex, dynamic creatures.
So when you see my six-second Vines, although they may appear knee-slappers or just a kid on Vine, there's a lot of thought behind all of them.
That's transferred to YouTube and Facebook and Instagram – I've just been able to trick people into thinking I'm dumb! [Laughs.]
When really, I like to consider myself to be perceptively intelligent. I feel like I just trick people. [Laughs.]
There's a real joy to them. You seemed like a kid who really loved what he was doing...
Well, that was it. That's why this has worked for me, because I've never done it for money or to get paid: I really just like making videos, basically.
It's a conversation I'm forced to have with everyone who gets involved in my life – I'm like, hey, I love making videos. 'That's great, man, that's cool!'
I'm like, no, you don't understand: I don't do this because it makes me money or gets me clout. I've been making videos since I was nine. You will end up on camera. You've just got to tell me what you're cool with and what you're not.
I did start off pretty innocent, you know? Fun and jovial. And while I still definitely am, I grew up! I grew up online, on the internet, for all to see!
You see my success, you see my failures, and throughout the years, if you continue to like what I'm doing, hope on the train, man! We're going to some great places so join the club!
Where does that love of video come from?
I don't know. I have no idea. I was eight years old and I found out what a video camera was. I was like, 'Mum, I need one!' She barely knows what it was – you can be your bottom dollar that my mum and dad didn't have a camera video. So I snowblowed driveways for an entire winter, and finally I was able to afford my first video camera at, like, nine years old, and just started doing some dumb shit.
Some people are just born performers...
There's something so magical about living in the moment, which I do try to do, often, but I often wonder what's more magical: living in the moment, truly embracing this current, specific, fleeting moment of presence – or being able to capture that moment, and watch it, think about it, ponder it, enjoy it for the rest of time? And I think I like the latter better. It's why I'm so willing, apt and enthusiastic about putting my life on camera.
Do you rewatch many of your vlogs?
Hell no! [Laughs.] Hell no! Especially not the ones from 2017, 2018. Maybe when I'm older. Or maybe not, I might delete all of them. I don't know.
There aren't many people who'd enjoy watching themselves as a teenager...
It's weird, man. So much of my growth online is true growth: I'm going from a young child, who has no idea how to navigate the world. When I was making Vines, I didn't know that you had to pay taxes.
I remember I got my first brand deal, my mum was like, 'oh you made $2,000? That's great! Just be prepared to give $1,000 to the government.' I was like, 'what are you talking about, why would I give $1,000 to the government? This is my money.' I was 18 years old, I didn't know what taxes were! No-one taught me this!
A lot of my growth, you can see: I go from young man-child to grown man-child. Still a man-child. But yeah, there's a path.
What made you a successful vlogger, as opposed to millions of other people who do it?
I think it's a combination of a couple of things. I think the fact that I'm blessed inherently with whatever physical attributes I have that allow me to do physical comedy: backflips, boxing, whatever. That, combined with my storytelling ability – like you saw in the Maverick documentary.
When people are watching a vlog, they have no idea, they have no idea the amount of intricate, complex, detailed storytelling beats that me and my editor aim to hit.
You are being told a full story. Not in every vlog, some are just a bunch of shenanigans, but we know exactly what we're doing when we assemble a piece in a certain way.
And should we expand to longer content, we can do it.
That, combined with the resources I have now, it's just a combo that's hard to recreate, and it really helps me and Team Maverick standout.
It must blur that line between reality and fiction, living so much on camera?
It's the worst. That's the hardest part about this job: trying to figure out what is appropriate to share and what's not.
When you're stuck in this cycle, which I'm not yet, but 2017 Logan Paul was, and every other fucking vlogger who has done videos on YouTube, you're literally getting paid to exploit your life – but some things you can't exploit.
Yet your audience wants you to, and you get caught in this cycle of trying to appease people who you don't even know in real life and trying to stay true to yourself.
Then you get caught up and you get screwed.
I think relying on the people around you to pull you back to reality and go 'this isn't cool, you can't be doing this stuff', and at the same time encourage you to do the good parts of it, is real important.
It must be tricky being the first of your kind – you're the roadmap...
Yeah, it's tricky. There was no blueprint: I was the blueprint. Specifically with mistakes, because there were vloggers before me but they didn't push the envelop like I did or my brother did.
We fucking sent it! We sent it! We become the roadmap for what was right and what was wrong, what was appropriate and what wasn't.
And now we're in a really good spot, where we have a really awesome team around us and there's no room for error anymore. I'm grown, the people around me are grown, we got a really solid organisation.
You sound like you're in a good place, which is good...
Yeah. Yeah that is good. [Laughs.]
I can't imagine what it's like having so many people you've never met invested in your life...
It's cool and it's frustrating. I need to acknowledge my privilege where I'm in a blessed position, I have the ability to do this now, but also yeah, speaking candidly about it, the entire internet becomes your parents.
What made you do the boxing?
Why did I do that? Man, I'm always up for a challenge. When I moved to Hollywood, my goal was to be the biggest entertainer in the world, and everybody was like, 'how are you going to do that and more importantly what does that mean?' And I'm like, I just want to conquer each vertical and do whatever to the highest degree.
So with YouTube it was like, OK what do I need to do to be the biggest YouTuber in the world? I just got challenged to a boxing match, this is interesting, but also it's a vertical of sport that I've not yet done. And I'd like to consider myself an athlete, so I did it.
KSI challenged me, I accepted it, screw it, let's try something new, and it became one of the best decisions of my life.
I really love boxing now, and I'm going to have more fights in the future. Probably even some MMA fights to be honest. I think it's a cool lane.
There's a stigma that comes with being a YouTuber but there's no stigma that comes with being a boxer. Boxers are badass. The energy's different when I walk into a room now versus when I was just a vlogger. Now I'm a vlogger-boxer! Watch out.
What do you mean by a stigma? People not taking you seriously?
Not people. We live in LA, so it's a bit of a bubble, and traditional Hollywood don't respect vlogging like they do their traditional talent. Unless you're top tier, cream of the crop, making some really meaningful content, I don't know, you don't get the respect that we all like.
Is that changing?
Nah. It's not. It's changing on the surface level. We're getting opportunities that we used to not. We're getting calls that we used to not. But look at results. Look at actual stats, and the reality of the situation. How many YouTubers are going on late night talk shows? How many YouTubers have been on late night talk shows? How many YouTubers are starring in movies, how many YouTubers are platinum recording artists? The answer for all of these is little to none.
The worlds are still very divided. There's digital media, and there's traditional media. And the crossover has not happened yet. There're a few people who are doing it, but we're not there yet.
Would you count yourself among those people? Or on the way to being one of them?
I would. But also, I don't know. I don't care anymore. I used to care so much about being respected by traditional Hollywood and traditional media. And why? Why do I give a fuck? I'm doing what I love, every single day, I know I bring a massive value and appeal to whatever project that I choose to sink my teeth into. If my synergy matches up with a project in Hollywood and it's perfect, I'm gung-ho, man, I'm enthusiastic, but I'm no longer seeking validation from it.
It could be maturity as much as anything...
That too, man! Everything I say could be attributed to maturity. Humans grow! So yeah, when I was younger I was like, 'yeah, I want to be the best actor ever!'. And now I'm like, I don't know, man. I'mma let the actors be actors.