The Girl Logan Paul Rode With No Handlebars Speaks Up
Eliza Johnson has some advice for the YouTube star.
Posted Mar 26, 2018
If you’ve heard of Logan Paul, it may be because of the widely condemned video he posted on YouTube, in December, of his improper encounter with a corpse in Japan’s “Suicide Forest.” Or maybe you have a child among the 17 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. While some of his antics are criminal, others are harmlessly zany, and still others subversively cruel or at least thoughtless. A misogynistic music video posted in November falls into the third category. The chorus: “I can ride your girl with no handlebars.” You may find the song funny, or off-putting, or nonsensical, but the woman he rode as a bicycle in the video, Eliza Johnson, feels used. She spoke with me recently about her experience.
Some background: In 2008, a rap group from Denver called Flobots released a song called “Handlebars,” about our ability to make choices in the world. (Video in the link and embedded below.) The protagonist grows in power from “I can ride a bike with no handlebars” to “I can hand out a million vaccinations / Or let ’em all die in exasperation.” Last November, Paul published his video for “No Handlebars” with a chorus parodying the Flobots track. Sample verse lyrics: “Got that Tesla ass (Ooh) / Airbags ’cause I’m ’bout to smash (Woah) / She combing on my moustache / No handlebars, hit it from the back.” It’s up to 36 million views, almost as many as “Handlebars.”
The Flobots got wind and in December, one of the two MCs, Jonny 5 (Jamie Luarie) released a response video. Sample lyrics: “You have to see this / his masterpiece is / like a master thesis / in this project, he concocts a fascinating twist of logic / describes a woman’s body like it’s just an object” … “God, sorry if I sound too do-goody / but, for the sake of our community / Huh, Ima take the opportunity / to let you know there’s another stage after puberty.” Logan Paul’s response: “It’s just a funny song.”
In an interview with The Daily Mail, Jamie and the other Flobots MC, Brer Rabbit (Stephan Brackett), expanded. Stephan: “Our beefs are never with other artists. They’re with systems of oppression and all these things, and unfortunately at this point in time Logan Paul chose to embody a system of oppression.” Jamie: “He is very young. [He’s 22.] I look at him as like, Wow that’s cool that some kid started doing Vine videos and then was able to accomplish all this. The song ‘Handlebars’ is about that journey from: You’re a child, you accomplish something and everyone applauds you, you get older, you have crossroads where you have to make a decision on how you apply those skills. That’s literally what that song is about. Literally he took the wrong path in the video.” Jamie went on: “But also, because [Stephan and I] both have this background as teachers, we’re like, All right, well, it’s a teachable moment for him. Hopefully he listens. Hopefully he pivots.” And then he did that thing in the forest.
The suicide video put Paul vaguely on my radar, and then I heard of him again from Jamie (whom I lived with in college), who was in New York on tour in January. He mentioned that one of the models in the video, the woman Paul sat on, had reached out to him with some second thoughts about her participation. He put us in touch. She spoke about the complex emotions around victimhood, the role of plus-size models, and her advice for Logan Paul. The transcript below has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Matt: When did you first hear of Logan Paul?
Eliza: Literally six hours before the shoot. I had to YouTube him really quickly, and I just understood that he did satire. We got on set and he came up and said, “Have you heard of a human bicycle?” We didn’t know the song, we didn’t know anything.
M: What was shooting like
E: I believe there were 8 or 9 principal models, and I was the only one who was plus-size. I’m the base of the bike. He was riding on top of my back the whole video. We’re on a little trolley that they rigged up to a truck pulling us, and we did that five or six times, and we went about 200 meters each time. I was standing there trying to keep my balance with Logan on my back jumping all over, and holding only another model as we’re being pulled by this car. So many times my legs almost gave out.
M: What was your impression of Logan during filming?
E: He was cordial. I just feel like he’s probably—I’m not sure how much he has say in everything.
M: Did you become uncomfortable during the shoot?
E: I definitely became uncomfortable when he wanted to just get on my back like that, because it’s rare that you’re on set and they just throw something at you. Con artists do things like that. I reached my breaking point after the sixth take and my legs were giving out. I was so physically exhausted, I wasn’t even able to process what was going on. It wasn’t until I was able to see how they edited it, and what the full song was, that I was able to get the full picture and process psychologically what was going on. I felt kind of abused. Of course, I felt ashamed, and when something like this happens and we kind of become victimized, we don’t really realize it, we want to just block it out, or say maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s not happening. It’s a very confusing type of thing to experience.
There was a making-of video prior to the actual video coming out. They’re filming us and he’s, “Okay, this is how you do it,” and I was just laughing because I just couldn’t even believe what was going on. I thought, I just really hope this ends up being a really funny satire. Because he kept saying it was going to epic, it was going to be great. I was not aware of what he stood for.
I do remember, after hearing this song a little bit on set, going home and thinking of the Flobots. I remembered their song and thought, Wait a minute, that’s about creation and destruction and how we all have that ability within ourselves. And for Logan Paul to be doing something like this, it just really threw me off in a lot of ways.
M: Why did they select a plus-size model as the base? Did they think you’d be stronger, or was it a commentary of some sort?
E: I think it was a commentary, I really do. “Here’s the biggest person, and I’m just gonna use this and make a mockery of everything.” There was also a discrepancy in pay. I think my rate was 200 or 400, and another model mentioned she was getting paid 600 or something like that. The other models said it was the same as hers. So I mentioned that to production. And they were kind of quiet about it, and came back to me and said, “Well, um, some of these people are video bloggers and so we gave them a higher rate.” Which I guess I could understand, but long story short, I ended up getting the pay that I needed to get.
M: At any point during the day did you begin to think that the song or the human bicycle was demeaning?
E: I did, as far as the way the other models were dressed as well. I was kind of thankful that they didn’t make me as risqué looking. They kind of had me fully clothed, but that says another thing about the whole plus-size model idea, at least in my brain.
M: Did you talk with the other models about their impressions of the shoot?
E: We had a conversation when we were all sitting down, and a lot of them seemed to be very feminist or pro women’s rights. And that just took me back even further afterwards. I just felt so much more offended, like, Did they plan this? Where they looking for strong women to just kind of degrade? I’m not trying to say that they did, obviously, but it was just kind of a weird coincidence. But nobody seemed to really mind. A lot of the actresses and models out there need to realize that if something isn’t right, we need to speak up, and we have every right to leave the set if somebody’s going to use you as a tool to promote something that doesn’t align with our ideals.
M: Do you regret doing the video?
E: Because of everything that has happened afterward, absolutely not. But if Jamie hadn’t done his amazing video—that just felt like salvation to me. That was absolutely amazing. A photographer showed me Jamie’s video, and I was floored. Immediately I jumped on YouTube and wrote a comment and I said, “I would be more than happy to throw some bars down on your next dis track as far as Logan Paul is concerned.” I was like, This is the team I would be on. He reached out and we’ve been talking back-and-forth about a lot of things, the whole #MeToo movement and where men stand in all of this and how can they help. Then I took a trip to see their concert in Chicago and meet them in person.
M: Has the experience led you to be more active in feminism or the #MeToo movement?
E: I would say yes, but just having a voice overall. I took a little break to reconnect with myself and my values. It says in a lot of agency contracts that you are an individual, but just be aware that the people who are going to hire you are going to be looking at your views. So they kind of teach us to be quiet about things. This has definitely helped me open up more and become a lot stronger and see things in those terms. Now I’m able to say, Okay, this is probably why I didn’t really voice many opinions, and now I have no problem doing it. I’m starting to do it more online, and in conversations with family and friends, or just anybody on set or younger people.
M: If you could say something to Logan Paul what would you say?
E: I would say that I would just like for him to start thinking for himself, if that’s possible. Because I don’t know him enough to say that he’s a bad person or that it was his idea or anything like that, but I would say he needs to take a look at what he’s representing and what his demographic is and what he’s feeding to all of these people.