Editor's Note: This story was written, researched, and edited before Team 10, Jake Paul, and Erika Costell's accusations of assault were made public. Refinery29 takes accusations of assault and any violence/harm against women very seriously. Our intention was to focus on the woman at the center of this company, rather than the already well-publicized stories of the men. Refinery29 has reached out to all parties involved and will be updating this piece as more information is reported. We want to thank our readers for responding so passionately, as always.
Generation Z is the 20-and-under crowd of actresses, musicians, artists, and entertainers on the verge of ruling Hollywood. Meet the freshest faces in the industry and get ready to root for them as they rise to the top.
As the eager frontman for Team 10, a social media talent label that houses its members (better known as a crew, squad, or family) in a controversial house in Los Angeles, Jake Paul is proudly at the helm of app-born celebrities. He's a blonde shaggy-haired 20-year-old who drives Lamborghinis and calls his girlfriend — and fellow Team 10 member — Erika Costell, his "wife." He lights mattresses on fire and goes on multi-city tours where he is greeted by thousands of screaming fans. He (ironically) played a reckless YouTube celebrity on the Disney Channel show Bizaardvark, until he announced his separation from the network, which his rep maintains was amicable. He eats, sleeps, breathes content: on YouTube, on Instagram, on Snapchat. He has a book (You Gotta Want It), a movie, Airplane Mode, starring his social media crew, and he’s even written a song about his work ethic and dedication to the grind called “It’s Everyday Bro.” Most recently, he released another track that went viral "YouTube Stars Diss Track" which has 22 million views as of this story's publication.
Paul, along with his crew and first employee, Costell, started Team 10 as a way to recruit a new type of celebrity that can churn out self-made content at rapid speeds, and the whole concept even has millennials scratching their heads. And if you're older than 13? Baffling, to say the least.
Paul is more than just a go-getter, hustling out content: he’s the human embodiment of a fidget spinner (no really, he is). And he profits majorly off of this unfiltered, prankster online persona — a combination between Diplo and Dennis the Menace — “which has investors eager to invest in Team 10 and its parent company Team Dom, a "modern media conglomerate," and fans loyal enough to stick with him through rough patches. And there have been rough patches.
Following a headline-making interview with a local Los Angeles news station regarding Team 10's reckless neighborhood behavior, The New York Times labeled him a “reality villain for the YouTube generation” while Vanity Fair reduced him to a “Famously Obnoxious YouTuber," and the leader of the pack of just as annoying youths. Paul was then labeled a YouTube terror, and his group of collaborators, roommates, and friends shared the same negative label. This group of tech-savvy influencers suddenly became villains, but then they skillfully pivoted and used the media attention to their advantage by attracting even more viewers to their daily video blogs — a formula they will likely continue to use because all press is good press.
"Jake's whole vision behind it was to basically be Dr. Dre of social media," Costell tells me over the phone from the Team 10 house recently. It's loud in the backyard — I can hear the laughs and screams of the teenage boys in the background. "He took all these people on his own label and grow them out, but he's the center of it. That's the easiest way I can put it because this has never been done before. It's a whole new model, a whole new everything." So, perhaps the reason that it's so hard to grasp the scope of Team 10 and its legion of followers is because there is no real precedent for this type of notoriety. How people men have you heard of being a self-made actor, singer, rapper, content creator, prankster, vlogger, author, millionaire — still not old enough to drink? You haven't.
Speaking with Costell, a self-proclaimed "social media savage" and one of the only two girls on the thirteen person talent team that is Team 10, I finally started to grasp what it's really like to be in Team 10 — and how they built this empire. Costell gives Refinery29 all of the scoop about the viral sensation that she calls family, what Paul is like in real life, how they make money, and why people just can't stop talking about them.
We're taking you inside the world of Generation Z fame, because at the end of the day, it's Team 10's world, and we're just living in it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Erika Costell: Is your first question “What is Team 10?”
Refinery 29: Haha, yes.
"Sorry it's so loud out there. They're blowing air horns and stuff. It's basically a social media label. It is a company, but what you see on camera – the characters, the friendships – is very real. The whole point in starting Team 10 was to create social celebrities. It started really small. There were two, three members and I was the only employee. We were just really having fun making content. Jake is a really smart guy. He knew exactly what he was doing. He continued to grow and work and grow. Now, it is what everybody sees on the internet today. The characters go on screen so well because there are real connections there. So, basically, we're just a bunch of social media savages."
Was there a vision you guys were modeling yourselves after?
"Jake's whole vision behind it was to basically be Dr. Dre of social media. He took all these people on his own label and grow them out, but he's the center of it. That's the easiest way I can put it because this has never been done before. It's a whole new model, a whole new everything."
Are you already seeing people copy you guys?
"Honestly, no. That's the beauty of Team 10. [Other] influencers battle against each other. We're all actually rooting for each other. We all want each other to do well. It's not anything I've ever seen anybody else even come close to doing."
You all have characters. Are they just exaggerated versions of your own personality?
"Yeah. For example, my newest character in my vlogs is my cousin, Lauren. I make her extremely bad. I kind of put a mixture between me and her shyness into that character. Since we're so comfortable with each other we just play on it and it just escalates from there, if that makes sense. It's like glorified personalities."
What is your inspiration for your character, other than your real life?
"For my vlogging, honestly, my inspiration now is the fans. At first, everyone was like 'You're only doing this because you know Jake. That's why you have your viewers.' And I was like 'Okay, let's see if that's true. Let me test that.' In the videos I started doing [on my own], I started reading comments like 'We wanna see you. We love Jerika, but we wanna see you.' So, I did a few videos back-to-back without him and they are some of my highest viewed videos. So, I was like 'Okay, screw the haters. These people are loving what I'm doing.' So, my inspiration is, honestly, the people who are watching me. I'm trying to be innovative and impress the people [who] are watching me on a day-to-day basis."
What is the process for someone becoming part of Team 10?
"In the beginning, I used to scout for people. I would look on Instagram, see people and be like 'Maybe they can be a member.' We'd have a meeting with them, have them come hang out. We have had members who we thought were gonna work, and we would fly out to hang out and it just didn't. Now, it's not like that. We're not looking for people. It's more of a chemistry thing. If you come in the house and you vibe, then you join. Right now, I honestly think that we are such a strong powerhouse, yes, of course, we're always looking for something, but we're not actively searching [right now]. Whoever comes along and fits, type of deal."
What were you looking for when you were scouting out people?
"Honestly, I just looked for people who had a certain look or were funny on Instagram. I looked for people who were catching my eye. From there, I was speaking in person, trying to get a feel for their personality. One of the biggest learning lessons through all of this was you can't want something for someone. It gets so frustrating having to make people want to make content. We want people who wake up and love it. They wanna do it, wanna run around, wanna be crazy and add an official part to our team."
Yeah, it requires so much energy.
"Energy, effort, work ethic, patience. It's a lot more than just the videos that people see going up online."
You put up a video maybe twice or three times a week on average. When you're not doing that, are you guys being approached to do bigger things separately?
"Yes. We are a label. We're not an agency. You can still have your acting agency, or whatever. Most people just enjoy making the content here at the house and through that people are seeing what you're doing. Acting roles come, then photo shoots come. Opportunity is coming mostly through what they're seeing going on here with the team, at the house, or whatever we're doing that day."
Did you go to college?
"Yes, I did go to college. I studied business."
In order to help build Team 10 from the ground up, you had to have more than just intuition.
"Honestly, the only reason I went to college is because that's what you did. I'm from Michigan. If you didn't have plans or you weren't married, then you went to school. I was like 'Okay, I'll go to school, but I need to move out of here first.' The only thing that I took from college over to Team 10 was my work ethic and my consistency. No business course taught me anything that I was doing here. Most people here didn't go to school. Some people dropped out of high school. They're still some of the smartest people I've ever worked with."
I guess because you guys are in uncharted territory.
"It's a whole new ballpark."
So, why do you think your viewers and your Team 10 fans love you guys so much? What makes them relate to your content?
"I think they just love the entertainment. I think it's really easy to see that what we have here is, like I said, a family. People like to see that chemistry online. People like to be entertained. You can have more than one favorite character here because we're not going to be mad at you, or battling against you if you go with someone else. We're all for each other here. We're all family. We're all a team. People can really relate to that."
I do think of you guys as similar to a reality show. Youhave vlogs but, like you were saying with the characters, you guys build on storylines that you have made for each other.
"Right, that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to do things that have never been done before. I think reality would be awesome. If we could create a reality show through our vlogs, that would be the funniest and greatest thing ever."
I feel like you guys are already there.
"'Keeping Up With Team 10.' That would be insane. We're open to anything. We just like entertaining the viewers. We love our fans. We appreciate the loyalty. We just wanna keep pumping out as much as we can to continue making people happy."
When I didn't know if I was going to be able to get a hold of you [because of the Team 10 house drama], I was talking to some of the people who run Team 10 fan accounts, asking, "Can you just tell me why you love them?" The fans would say, "We just love that they do what they want and they're really positive about it." But for a minute, you guys had intensely negative press.
"There's always gonna be negative press around everything that anyone does. We just try to ignore it and learn from it and become better, but what people fail to care to realize is that there's two sides to every story. We're not terrors. We're not these evil people out to con anyone. We're literally just trying to do our job and sometimes things get in the way. That's exactly what's going on. We're doing what we can."
That's a valuable lesson for people to learn. Do you think that Team 10 is misunderstood by older people who don't totally get it?
"Yes and no. Obviously our neighbors are a little bit on that side, but also I've had fans who are moms outside like 'Erika, I love you,' or 'Say hello to Jake and tell him how much I love his content,' or 'My kids love you. We watch your videos together.' It just depends on the person and what their view on social media is. Most people realize, yes, this is us on camera, but we're also real humans. We're normal — mostly normal."
Do you and Jake ever get worried that some of your fans who are a little bit younger don't understand that you guys are playing characters, and that you guys really are not married?
"What you see on camera is real. So, yes, we throw some exaggerated stuff in there, but it's very obvious what is real and what is not. You can only fake so much. I don't think that they would be mad because they can see that there actually is a real connection there, and there's something real basically going on. I don't think they'd be like 'Oh my God, they're lying to us.' I think it's 'Oh my God, they're entertaining us. It's hilarious and we love them together.' And, of course, there's going to be people who don't like me because they watch Jake, or people who don't like Jake because they like me. Then, there's people who love us both, and they're like "Oh my God, out of all the people, I'm so happy that they're together.'"
What's Jake Paul like in real life?
"What is our relationship like in real life?"
Yes, but also, just him. Both?
"Real-life Jake. Honestly, he's great. What you see on camera, that is Jake. Obviously, everyone is a little bit exaggerated, but he's very independent, very hardworking, very, very smart. So, that's the real Jake Paul. Yes, he's funny, he's goofy on camera, but he's honestly one of the hardest, if not, the hardest working person that I know. Relationship-wise. I'm just gonna say what you see on camera. You can only say so much. What you guys are seeing is what you guys are seeing. I'm just gonna leave it at that, for now."
Then, do you guys get annoyed when people call the videos that you guys do clickbait?
"I honestly don't even pay attention to any of the negativity because, to me, it's like 'Okay, you may be negative and commenting, but you're still commenting. So, you're still contributing to my views. So, like, hey, go for it.' The clickbait is fun. That's one of the most fun parts about making the videos. Like 'Oh, what can we put out there that's so crazy that everyone's gonna watch this thing.' So, as long as we're happy with it and content with our content, I'd say the majority of us don't really care that much. I do know what the viewers are talking about sometimes when they click on the video and it's something they're expecting it to be and it's completely the other way. Nine times out of ten, they're still really, really entertained by the video, so they're okay with it."
Do you ever get overwhelmed by how many people do watch your videos?
"Honestly, it has not hit me yet that I have this much of a reach and this much of an audience. Most people have a couple thousand subscribers starting out. In the first 48 hours, I had a million people. Still, to this day, it hasn't hit me that there's almost 3 million people watching what I'm doing on a day-to-day basis. It still doesn't feel real when someone is like 'Erika, can we take a picture?'. I'm like 'Oh, my God. This is so cool. What's happening?' It still hasn't hit me."
I was actually going ask if you get recognized in L.A.
"Honestly, every single night.'"
That's wild. For your videos, you were saying that you were kind of nervous when first posting them. Is there an approval process for them to go up?
"No, it's me. It's all me."
"I do have help with some editing, but as far as content goes, I direct my content. I know which angles I want. I know, basically, everything beforehand and then I'm still learning."
Going off of that, you guys primarily post clean content. You guys don't even say curse words do you?
"No. Everyone here is clean. Sometimes there's a little slip here and there, like, funny, but it's not vulgar. It's like 'Oh, shit' or 'Damn it.' I bleep out all the cussing in my content. But I do a little bit of dirty humor here and there because I know there are older fans watching."
Are you afraid that you're gonna get burnt out?
"No, I'm not because my personality is very spontaneous. There's never a time, even before I was vlogging, when I wasn't doing something. Even when I have downtime, I don't like it. Obviously, creativity is a little bit harder when you're doing it every single day. But as far as putting it out there and staying motivated, I won't get burnt out. I really want do a whole new route of the vlogs."
Have your parents ever come to the house?
"Yes, my mom [has]. My mom and Jake's mom are actually friends. Pam, Jake's mom is involved in all the vlogs. She has her own vlog channel. It's the cutest thing ever. Her family name is called 'Pamily.' Check it out. She's honestly the cutest human alive. She's great. My mom was used to seeing me as a model and as a business person. So, when she came out here as I transitioned, she was like 'Oh, my God. You were not kidding. You do not sleep. It's 1 a.m.!' and I'm like 'Mom, it doesn't matter. We're vlogging.'
How did you describe it to her at first?
"It was a little bit easier for me because I've been with Team 10 since basically before it was even a real launched company. So, she's seen everything. The other parents, who we used to speak to, definitely have a lot of questions. A lot of times, they would speak to Jake's parents because they're like 'What the heck? These kids are so young. How did he do it? How are you okay with it?' Basically, just worried. Alex Lange was 14 years old when he joined. He's now 16. His parents were like, 'That's not a normal setting for a 14-year-old.'"
I can't even tell you what it was like when I accidentally discovered you guys like a year ago and now — what's that thing where you hear the word for the first time and then you hear it everyday? That's you guys. [Note: It's the "Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon"]
"I know exactly what you're talking about. My littlest sister is 9 or 10, now. And she was like, 'Everybody at school watches your vlogs. Everyone watches Jake vlogs.' That is insane to me."
How many things are you working on today?
"I have to finish the vlog. I have a couple other interviews, as well. Then, I’m designing new merch with the team. So, that’s today."
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