‘Frenemies’ Is The Most Unexpectedly Cathartic Podcast on the Internet
'Frenemies' has gone from being a drama podcast to the journey of two people gradually coming to understand each other.
In its early days, Frenemies — the massive podcast taking over TikTok and YouTube — seemed to derive most of its entertainment value from friction.
After all, the two co-hosts, Ethan Klein of YouTube juggernaut H3H3 and internet celebrity Trisha Paytas, first met one another as a result of a clash. Back in May of 2019, Klein had made a troubled video in which he compared photographs of Instagram influencers with the “reality” of what they looked like without make-up: Paytas was one of the influencers that he singled out, and he spent a great deal of time criticising and judging their looks.
When Paytas responded, the two eventually decided to meet, recording an episode of Klein’s H3H3 podcast together. Though mostly amicable, Klein still seemed to be holding himself at an arm’s distance from Paytas. There was something of a winking, ironised remove to the way that he used to talk to and about Paytas, as though he chose to engage with them only as an object of entertainment, rather than on their own merits.
That boxing-in of Paytas also dominates the front half of the episodes of the Frenemies podcast. Sitting on a set designed to bring out their differences — Klein with a black wall behind him, Paytas with a pink — the two frequently clashed. The third, fifth and 13th episodes of the show all feature a major blow-up between the pair, with Paytas walking out and threatening to end the show. In its early days, Frenemies didn’t just discuss internet drama. It created it.
But over the last few months, that has changed. Gone are the days of Paytas and Klein’s fights. Gone too are the days of Klein speaking to Paytas with a sense of ironised detachment, metaphorically winking at the cameras each time Paytas says something unusual. Against the odds — against even the original remit of the show — Frenemies has become a podcast undercut with actual, genuine love.
Frenemies Is About Healing
Paytas and Klein’s reconciliation happened slowly. Episodes after major blow-ups still felt tense; the 14th instalment of the show, in which the pair are guided back to one another by entertainment therapist Dr. Drew, is marked by the picking over of old disagreements.
But even as they fought, Paytas and Klein got visibly healthier in the ways that they disagreed. Though harsh words were frequently traded, promises to follow-up with one another when things were calmer were traded too. Klein learned to accept Paytas’ occasional habit of saying things that we should later regret; Paytas learned that Klein’s sometimes cruel jokes could be reflexive, and that he too would take some of them back.
Trisha and Ethan are the best pair to walk this planet Earth. I've been procrastinating work bc I want to watch them be an iconic duo for an hour.
— lalluh 😊 (@laluvs_) April 9, 2021
Most of all, the pair began paying attention to one another. The more they did, the less they talked past one another, or attacked strawman versions of the other’s arguments. Klein stopped engaging with Paytas merely as an object of fun, and their more outrageous gaffes — frequently and sometimes problematically about Judaism — became understood in the context of who Trisha Paytas is as a person, not who they are as a meme. Conversely, Paytas halted their habit of generalising Klein’s behaviour, and misreading his intentions. They too came to see him for what he is, memes and past behaviour aside.
In essence, the pair embarked upon that rarest human journey: they began to understand each other. That’s hard work, and Paytas and Klein could always falter at some future point; the possibility of another blow-up is so present that the pair frequently joke about it.
But even if they do undergo more strife, the outlook for the pair remains positive. You don’t unlearn friendship. That’s the thing about understanding: it grows.
…And Not Just Healing For Trisha and Ethan
In tandem with that journey of understanding each other, Paytas and Klein have also evolved and adapted their attitude towards the outside world. Frenemies has always been, at least in part, a drama podcast — from the outset, the pair have discussed cancellations and internet disagreements. That subject matter hasn’t changed: over the last few weeks, Paytas and Klein have frequently picked over the fate of David Dobrik and James Charles, two influencers who are finally facing repercussions for their actions.
What has changed is their attitude towards that drama. Again and again, Paytas and Klein now emphasise healing over finger-pointing. In the aftermath of their discussion of accusations against Dobrik, for instance, the pair started a charitable donation to RAINN, America’s largest anti-sexual assault organisation, and each donated $10,000. After interviewing Jeff Wittek, a YouTuber implicated in Dobrik’s behaviour, the pair frequently stressed the need to understand Wittek as a human being; to empathise, in some minimal but still justice-oriented way, with his perspective.
As part of that emphasis on personal growth and human change, Paytas and Klein have remained honest about their own failings. Both have a slew of controversies in their past; both have been rightfully called out for racist behaviour.
Importantly, those indiscretions have never been swept under the rug. Paytas and Klein bring up their mistakes themselves; the former will frequently stress the need they feel to remain informed, an awareness of sensitivity created by their slow, trial-and-error aided process of learning about social issues.
There is no perfection to Frenemies. The pair are constantly learning; constantly updating their understanding of each other, and how to approach the issues that they discuss. Naturally, that approach leads to some mistakes. But somehow, what was once one of the most fraught podcasts on the internet has become a picture of how imperfection can become an essential part of making a change. There aren’t many other internet drama podcasts you can say that about.
Joseph Earp is a staff writer at Junkee.