Brow Beat

The Inexplicable Saga of Internet Provocateur Trisha Paytas, Explained

Featuring antisemitism, identifying as a chicken nugget, and a whole ouroboros of YouTuber drama.

A curvy woman in long blonde hair, heavy makeup, and a pink dress, smiling extremely wide. Arround her, illustrations of a blue check mark and a thumbs down emoji.
Photo illustration by Slate. John Phillips/Getty Images.

The name of YouTuber, podcaster, and all-around internet celebrity Trisha Paytas trended on Twitter earlier this week after they announced that they were leaving their podcast Frenemies. On Saturday’s episode of ICYMI, Slate’s podcast about internet culture, co-hosts Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher explained how Paytas got so popular in the first place, how they’re connected to David Dobrik’s Vlog Squad, and what all of this has to do with the latest turmoil. The following transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Rachelle Hampton: Let’s start breaking this down by answering a very simple question: Who is Trisha Paytas?

Madison Malone Kircher: To give you a little sense of scope, Trisha Paytas has 6 million subscribers across her two YouTube channels, almost 5 million TikTok followers, shy of a million on Twitter, and a couple of hundred thousand on Instagram. They’re big on a ton of platforms. They’re a YouTuber, self-described troll, provocateur, former stripper, podcast host. Here’s just a little taste of what we’re talking about:

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Kircher: So, rewinding a little, Trish Paytas joins YouTube as a potential career move after some time working as a stripper and an escort in California. They’ve talked pretty candidly about this time in their life being really hard. At this point, they develop some substance abuse issues. They also had a side hustle as an extra in music videos. Like with Eminem, Amy Winehouse, All-American Rejects.

In 2007, they post their first YouTube video and their account name is Blndsundoll4mj (which is a combination of their blonde hair color, a love of tanning, and a passion for Michael Jackson). It’s a video of them rapping to “Ice Ice Baby”:

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Kircher: It’s not until a few years later, though, in 2012, that Trish Paytas has their first viral hit. And I think this is where you can see the light bulb go off over their head, thinking, “Oh, making people mad is how I’m going to become famous.” It was a video called, “Why I’m Voting for Mitt Romney.”

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Kircher: For context, Trisha Paytas is now 33 years old, but this sets off a career’s worth of––I think it’s fair to say––intentionally trolly, purposefully controversial content. Trisha used to cosplay as a racist Japanese pop star character known as Trishii. They were known for dropping the N-word when they would rap in videos, and actions like this become their thing.

Hampton: And equal opportunity racist. I don’t want to say we love to see it, but I just feel like whenever anyone has this broad a selection of offensive things, it is clearly for money. It’s provocation for provocation’s sake. I feel like most people are generally specific in their racism. Maybe that’s just me trying to be hopeful about America.

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Kircher: A couple of years later, they expand their equal opportunity-isms into some really crass videos using transness. In 2016, they claimed that they identified as a chicken nugget.

Hampton: Are we back on the Tumblr episode? Is this otherkin? A chicken nugget?

Kircher: Right, right. In that trash bag video we played a clip of, that’s actually a video of Trisha announcing that they’re no longer a person at all. A couple of years after that, they would announce that they are a trans gay man. And then this year, Trish Paytas announced that they are non-binary. All of which are valid things except perhaps the chicken nugget, but it’s the fact that we go from chicken nugget to “I am non-binary and use they, them pronouns” that makes it all a little bit murky.

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Hampton: Yeah. Murky seems a very generous descriptor of what’s going on here. It just makes it extremely hard to tell what exactly is for provocation’s sake and what exactly is real.

Kircher: Throughout these years, Trish Paytas’ relationships also become a central part of their identity and internet content. We’re going to talk about one specifically, with someone who they dated and broke up with and dated and broke up with. A guy named Jason Nash, who you might remember from our very first episode where we talked about David Dobrik. Jason Nash is the old guy in the Vlog Squad. He’s 48. And for comparison’s sake, David Dobrik is 24.

Hampton: Yes. And the people David is hanging out with are usually late teens, early twenties.

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Kircher: The first time they broke up, Trish Paytas said it was because Jason Nash made a joke about their weight. Trisha Paytas is a very curvaceous, Anna Nicole Smith-esque body type. That’s part of their brand, being this bombshell-esque figure. But that was and remains fodder for mockery for many of the people whom Trish works with.

Hampton: This keeps getting worse, and we’re not even in 2021 yet. We’re still somewhere around what? 2018, 2019?

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Kircher: We’re really nearly there, I promise. Trish has talked about the years where they were close with the Vlog Squad as being sort of mentally taxing because of being the butt of jokes and constantly being “pranked,” in the way that those YouTuber types do. And let’s be clear, Trisha also engages in this. You can at once perpetrate this and also suffer from it. But Trisha Paytas has sort of separated from this group at this point. David Dobrik once allegedly encouraged them to have a threesome with Tana Mongeau, who was a teenager, 19 at the time, and Jason Nash. It’s all just very gross. And it seems very easy to believe a person when they say, “This was a bad period for me.”

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Hampton: Yeah. And I mean, we’ve seen enough of what’s come out of the Vlog Squad too, that makes a lot of this seem quite credible.

Kircher: Honestly, I’m just going to rapid-fire through some other things you need to know to catch us up to this week. Trisha Paytas has a history of being anti-Semitic online, as recently as their TikTok era, performing “Springtime for Hitler,” which is a satirical song from The Producers. Trish does the Nazi salute, it’s very bad. They’ve said that they only learned about the Holocaust after seeing Schindler’s List.

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Hampton: What year was this?

Kircher: So this was a more recent comment. But then of course the sentient being that is the internet dug up a 2013 video from Paytas called, “My Thoughts on Hitler.” There’s more things like this, but we will––

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Hampton: There’s always more.

Kircher: There’s always more. Last year they had a beef with Charli D’Amelio. Say what you will about TikTok’s most famous star, but first and foremost, she’s 17 years old. That’s a child.

We are very nearly to the present. In 2020, Trisha Paytas starts the podcast called Frenemies with Ethan Klein, as part of his larger media company. And that is the root of why Trisha Paytas is in the news this week. Frenemies is an aptly named show. Have you listened to it?

Hampton: No. If you can’t tell by the fact that Madison is clearly running this bus, I don’t know a lot about Trisha Paytas. Much like with Logan Paul and David Dobrik, this a part of the internet that I largely ignored because it seemed built on what you’re describing, which is provocation for provocation’s sake.

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Kircher: The short version of it is that Ethan Klein and Trisha Paytas have this really kind of confrontational friendship. It began when Ethan Klein fat-shamed Trisha in a video. Trisha calls him out and then shortly thereafter appears on his podcast. And they do this over and over, sort of using each other in a weird, spiteful way. I mean, it’s smart, on Frenemies, they talk about influencer drama, YouTuber drama, and they make a game out of holding bad YouTubers accountable. But within that, you get the drama interpersonally. It’s like a show inside a show, and it grows into this really big thing. It has millions of subscribers. People love the show.

Hampton: I mean, it seems like a cash bucket. As you were describing, gossip plus a kind of antagonistic relationship between the hosts. So even if there is no drama happening externally, there is always going to be drama internally. Madison, we have to start beefing.

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Kircher: We’re working on it. We’re really trying. But that’s the draw. Plus also that Trisha Paytas is the kind of person who doesn’t hold back. Who at least gives the appearance of showing you everything. For example, they talk pretty candidly about struggling with their mental health. Sometimes they talk about it well, and sometimes they talk about it in ways that are harmful. For example, at one point they said they had dissociative personality disorder.

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Hampton: That’s a very popular thing to say online.

Kircher: And introduce their alters.

Hampton: That’s also a very popular thing to do online. We’ll talk about that at some point, but the DID faking community, wild. Smart for Trisha to kind of capitalize on that.

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Kircher: Right. Paytas later said they had borderline personality disorder. On TikTok, they’ve talked about going to therapy, about getting medication, about getting help. Trisha and Ethan both talk about mental health on the podcast, but with all these things and the bombacity of the way the Paytas enterprise works, jury’s still out on whether or not this is actually a good thing, right?

Hampton: Yes. Jury very much still out. Net good: talking about mental health on the internet, normalizing it. Net bad: using it for clicks.

Kircher: Everyone take a breath. We’re now at the present.

Hampton: We are now in 2021, which, if you’ve listened to our show, you might know that we covered the David Dobrik Vlog Squad mess, wherein a woman was pressured into a threesome with Durte Dom. Trisha Paytas very much commented on that situation when it happened. So they were at the center of that. Early this month, another YouTuber, Gabbie Hanna, was profiled in BuzzFeed. In the profile, Gabbie namechecks Trish. And none of it is exactly complimentary. Gabbie accuses Trish of causing Hanna to lose a record deal and sponsors, friends.

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Kircher: Her livelihood.

Hampton: Yeah. Trish immediately denies this in a Twitter thread. Not only denies this but denies ever having been friends with Gabbie, which seems a little implausible.

Kircher: What this means is the Trish Paytas moment we’re in now is burbling when this profile comes out. So this drama is all brewing over here. I’m gesturing to my left. Now I’m gesturing to my right, which is this week’s drama when Paytas quits the Frenemies podcast. This is not the first time that they’ve quit the podcast. In the most recent episode of Frenemies, Ethan and Trish have a fight, which we’ll boil down, we will reduce on a low simmer for several hours to describe as a fight over creative control and pay.

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Hampton: Wow, you really did simmer that shit down!

Kircher: Look, there’s too much.

Hampton: There are a lot of Twitter threads. There are a lot of screenshots of text messages. There are a lot of YouTube videos. But, yeah, it comes down to creative control over the show Frenemies.

Kircher: Paytas records this 22-minute video on their kitchen floor, and in the video, they talk about how they wanted to be equal partner in the show and that Klein only ever treated them as talent. Meanwhile, Ethan Klein is tweeting out about how he doesn’t know what to do, he’s so sorry, he tried to save the show. Eventually, as the argument over who was making what money and how the crew of Frenemies are being paid or not paid, Trisha releases a whole bunch of text screenshots to show a conversation between them and Ethan Klein going back and forth on just how much profit share Trisha would get. And in the texts, Trisha refers to Ethan as being “Jew-y,” which is a deeply anti-Semitic thing to say. Trisha then tweets that they’ve come a long way, once again trots out that they’ve dated Jewish men, that they’re converting, and that they’re sorry. That they’ve grown since this, the screenshots were old, and they just needed them as receipts.

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Hampton: Didn’t they also say something along the lines of, “To not allow me to grow and learn when I’ve apologized time and time again is really not cool.” But people were calling them out for being anti-Semitic as recently as last year, 2020. Trisha, have you grown that much? In six months? The sound in my head is just question marks, you know?

Kircher: The whole situation is a mess. No one involved in it is perfect. A good person or a bad person, it’s all very murky. Will Frenemies return? Honestly, maybe. Probably? We’ll be here waiting when it does.

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