As Juwan and Chanen Johnson stroll through Bywater on a scorching Sunday afternoon, they carry an odd accessory: a tripod. The Johnsons are on the hunt for a filming location where they’ll create a new video for their 2 million TikTok followers.
After assessing the aesthetic qualities of a space outside a restaurant, Chanen selects a wall of greenery as their backdrop. Juwan, a second-year player for the New Orleans Saints, secures his phone in the tripod and hits record. Then, the couple proceeds to jump, crouch and glide in every direction, as if they’re in some kind of intensive aerobics class.
To create their version of a TikTok challenge, in which people try to avoid being cropped out of a succession of photos while the dimensions of the picture constantly shift to the tune of “The Hustle” by Van McCoy, they need only two takes — each lasting about 15 seconds — and they’re done for the day.
Professionals at work.
The Johnsons have gained popularity on TikTok, the video-sharing social media app with more than 2 billion downloads worldwide, as @JuandChan. The app rose to prominence in 2020 as many people looked for entertainment while stuck at home. Most of the couple’s videos offer a satirical peek behind the helmet into the lifestyle of an NFL player and his wife.
“We started realizing that people really like to see the behind-the-scenes of the life,” said Chanen, 24. “They can go watch him play football on NFL Network. They want to see ‘the life of.’ ”
The Johnsons’ life together began four years ago at Penn State where they were both student-athletes: Juwan a football player and Chanen a gymnast. They tied the knot in February 2020 in Las Vegas, a few months before Juwan was signed by the Saints.
“We didn’t get married by Elvis,” Juwan said, laughing.
The newlyweds started their TikTok account in March 2020.
“My kids were always telling us to do TikTok, and I was like, ‘I’m not doing that,’ ” said Chanen, who was a fifth-grade teacher in California at the time. “I didn’t really know anything about it. I just thought that it was a bunch of kids doing dances.”
Juwan, on the other hand, was encouraged to get on TikTok by his agent, who said the app offered a good opportunity to grow his brand off the field.
Chanen and Juwan Johnson are passing along what they’ve learned on TikTok to a fellow Saints couple, second-year running back Tony Jones Jr. a…
But the Johnsons’ foray into social media stardom wasn’t an instant success.
“We started our account, and it was terrible,” Chanen said. “We didn’t know what our niche was yet.”
It took months to find that niche. But in June, Juwan posted a video about the perks of having a girlfriend during football season, and the couple topped 1 million views on a single video for the first time.
“That video kind of went off and I was like, ‘Chan, we can do this, all you got to do is make something real controversial, and it’ll be good,’ ” Juwan said.
Much of Juwan and Chanen’s newer content pokes fun at preconceived notions fans have about the relationship of an NFL player and his wife. And they don’t hold back.
In their most popular recurring series, “The NFL Wife Routine,” Chanen often plays an over-the-top, gold digging, obsessive trophy wife who waits on her spouse hand and foot, while Juwan plays the role of a mostly absent, lazy, entitled athlete husband.
“We make a lot of people mad, but we do it on purpose,” Chanen said.
Some of the scenarios presented in the “NFL Wife” series include: Chanen being forced to throw away her clothes to make more room for Juwan’s in their closet; Chanen leaving Juwan’s game at halftime in order to have dinner on the table before he comes home; Chanen watching football film to create a scouting report for Juwan; and Chanen washing their car with nothing but a toothbrush.
“I thoroughly love watching ‘The NFL Wife Routines,’ just simply because they were complete lies, but it was just so funny because she made it seem so realistic,” Juwan said. “It’s gotten to the point where it was so drawn out that people actually came up to me and asked me, ‘Yo, is that real?’ I’m like, ‘Now what would I look like doing that to my wife?’ It’s just the funniest thing.”
But when the video satire goes over viewers’ heads, the couple said they’ve received hateful comments criticizing them for being an interracial couple or questioning Chanen’s motives for marrying Juwan.
“It’s just fun to play with those things and know what’s real between us. As far as everybody else is concerned, let their assumption be their assumption,” Juwan said.
But the Johnsons celebrate authentic relationship moments with their fans as well. Although most of their content is not serious, the couple finds time to give genuine relationship and life advice to fans while livestreaming on TikTok.
During a recent stream, a fan asked Juwan how to think positively. “A minute of you being angry is 60 seconds wasted of you not being happy,” Juwan said. “Everything is so temporary, so just be grateful.”
Meanwhile, 5,600 viewers flooded the comment section with positive messages: “Aww you and Chan are my favorite humans,” one read. “Y’all so cute… blessings from Lake Charles, Louisiana… Saints fans for life,” read another.
The couple said the support from their fan base keeps them motivated.
“Even amongst the jokes people love to see that we’re a relationship that does a lot together, but also has a really good time together and we’re healthy,” Chanen said. “So many girls reach out to me and ask for relationship advice. … It’s super fun and encouraging that people will want to get advice from you.”
Since much of their audience is on the younger side (including some of Chanen’s former students), Juwan and Chanen said they recognize that their platform comes with responsibility, especially now that the two are recognized in public for their social media exploits more often than for Juwan’s football career.
“Everything you do, you have to monitor yourself. You just can’t have loose lips and be saying anything,” Juwan said.
“We’re definitely cautious these days,” Chanen added. “There’s so much of a cancel culture, like, we can say that we like purple grapes over green grapes and someone’s gonna freak out on us.”
Keeping a grip on one’s image is imperative for any TikToker whose account is monetized, which happens after a user hits 10,000 followers. Monetization pays an estimated 3 cents for every 1,000 views on a video. TikTok itself solicits brand deals for users like Juwan and Chanen, who have more than 100,000 followers and 100,000 video views in the last 30 days, as part of their Creator Fund.
For the Johnsons, who have racked up more than 83 million total likes on the app, business is booming.
Chanen helms the money-making side of their TikTok account, but brand management is nothing new to her, since her first job out of college was as a celebrity assistant. Chanen has coordinated video partnerships for herself and Juwan with corporate giants like Cheetos and Walgreens, while also securing endorsements from clothing lines, beauty products and energy drinks.
Though most of their content is light-hearted, the Johnsons take their commitment to the platform seriously. Juwan’s practice schedule with the Saints is demanding, keeping him at work most days of the week. To maximize the time they have together, when they have a day off, they film several times, which is why they can often be seen wearing the same outfit in subsequent videos.
Consistency is key, they say.
“We like to post multiple times a day,” said Chanen. “TikTok is one of those things where you have to post all the time to stay relevant.”
Now, Chanen and Juwan are passing along what they’ve learned to a fellow Saints couple, second-year running back Tony Jones Jr. and his fiancée, Becca Rainey.
Saints’ Tony Jones Jr. and Becca Rainey follow ‘Ju and Chan’ TikTok with viral engagement video
The Johnsons aren’t stopping at TikTok fame. Chanen said it’s “100% our goal for the future” to expand their media presence by doing a reality or talk show.
“The cool thing about social media is it really opens up the door for a lot of random things,” she said. “[There are] so many things that we’ve gotten to do or are in the works of doing that we never would have been able to do without social media. So whatever doors open up, we’ll take.”
Though the adage warns against mixing business and pleasure, the Johnsons are fine with blending the two.
“I feel like it’s so intertwined with our life that it doesn’t even feel like work sometimes,” Juwan said. “Sometimes people are like, ‘Well, what do you do that’s fun with your wife?’ I’m like, ‘We make videos.’ That’s kind of like our fun thing to do, and that’s something that we love to do.”