I can’t remember when I started watching Frenemies. We don’t discover things anymore. Things are just quietly planted in our line of sight, where one day, maybe, we bite. I was probably trying to get a handle on some YouTuber saga. Trisha Paytas, anti-star of that world, and h3h3Productions’ Ethan Klein, despite the whirlwind of drama that seems to follow them, are good at calling content creators to the floor for their shit at a time when it seems that the growth of the field has outstripped its ability to regulate itself. The twin sagas of the James Charles and David Dobrik Vlog Squad allegations this year seem to suggest there is too much money, access, and power on the table for accountability to be an industry priority. It seems there is much you can get away with when you present a likable facade. The frenemies are not necessarily likable. They’re risible but also unafraid to have terrible, discomfiting, and important conversations, and prone to cut up on basically anyone, including each other.
I showed up to the Frenemies bandwagon just in time to watch it peel off a cliff. I understand that this is a band that has broken up before and that the show is a business built on familial ties, as Trisha’s engaged to Moses Hacmon, the brother of Ethan’s wife/H3 Podcast co-host Hila. Trisha and Ethan’s deeply confusing tiff over financial splits and creative control has to blow over, but maybe that comes at the cost of the podcast dying. I don’t know. I don’t know who the aggressor is here. Both parties have made solid points; both parties are making themselves out to be innocent and aggrieved. The more we hear, the muddier things get. Trisha is a force of nature, and Ethan’s immovable when he thinks he holds the more principled take. The formula for their chemistry — the good-cop, bad-cop dynamic uniting the unfiltered Paytas and the more restrained though no less spiteful Klein — also makes for a powerful grudge. You hate to see a good bridge burn.
In less disappointing though no less intriguing Frenemies news, Trisha has released the new EP Trigger Warning, the 11th overall from the media polymath and the second from Paytas’s Sadboy2005 band with electronic musician and YouTuber Social Repose, singer-songwriter and producer Jeremy Thurber, and humorist, producer, and rapper Connor Musarra. Paytas’s catalog is impressively strange. They started out as a covers artist with almost disconcertingly wide-ranging tastes. On the 2015 Fat Chicks EP, a cover of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” is followed by a rendition of Elvis’s “Little Less Conversation,” this after the title track, a lurid trap banger. There’s no rhyme or reason: On 2015’s Superficial Bitch, Paytas tackles funk, pop, rock, and R&B. 2016’s Showtime is a pleasant batch of EDM-friendly post-Britney pop. Trish might serve you a reverent Christmas song, a faithful Britney cover, or a pridefully gauche take on ’80s gangsta rap. Some of this stuff is pleasant, and some is pure chaos of the same sort that produced memorable tracks like Kim Kardashian’s “Jam (Turn It Up)” and Real Housewives of New York City cast member Luann de Lesseps’s “Money Can’t Buy You Class,” reality star excursions into pop music whose appeal had nothing to do with the singer’s musical proficiency.
It’s clear Trish is having fun, but it wasn’t until the pop-punk makeover of Sadboy2005 that solid hooks became reliable fixtures in the catalog. This is not to say Trigger Warning is a great EP, necessarily. It’s fun. There’s something there. The nonbinary pride jam “They” is timely and empowering. “Tragic Story of the Hollywood Blonde” is sweet and affecting. “Wall to Wall” is incredibly catchy. I pressed play on Trigger Warning on a lark and enjoyed it at a time when the H3 extended universe seems fraught with disputes and news of lawsuits. That’s a net positive for one of us, right?