This week, three Jezebel employees were invited to join Wendy Williams, the talk show host and media personality, in a special intimate session of SoulCycle, despite none of said employees having worked out in the past two months to a year. Wendy's prospect was to promote her debut as this year's Soul Train Awards host. Our prospect was certain death.
SoulCycle and Soul Train—that's cute, makes sense, and heaven knows Wendy Williams dishing dirt makes for good motivation/distraction during a workout. (I know, too: I have timed many past gym stints so I can watch Wendy's talk show on the treadmill.) The promised playlist would include Soul Train Award Winners past and present, and the idea of Wendy Williams, she of the perfectly blown-out weave and butterfly-beautiful eyelash extensions, getting sweaty in a room full of media, was too good to be true. Indeed.
So Jia Tolentino, Clover Hope, and I—some of the most armchair exercisers on staff, and by armchair I mean our exercise at this point is basically getting up from it—changed into our gym clothes in the communal Gawker bathrooms, giddy with abject terror. It felt masochistic to kickstart our own fitness with SoulCycle, even with everybody's best girlfriend/snarkiest aunt Wendy Williams at the helm. The CULT OF SOULCYCLE is pervasive and, perhaps, evil: the mere mention calls to mind sinewy type-As wearing Stella McCartney for Adidas, unmussed hair and perfectly intact 24-hour eyeliner. (The kind of people who can afford a $70 class.) The point is allegedly that SoulCycle is about Being Free, but your rep's your rep: the proselytizing and vehemence around that shit is enough to make the smoothie-toting supermodels leaving Equinox seem kind of chillaxed. SPINNING, the rumors go, transforms mere humans into HARDBODIES, but SOULCYCLE will make you fucking TRANSCEND. True story, read it in a trend piece. What were we doing ourselves? Were we even going to watch the Soul Train Awards? We were only going for Wendy Williams. And she was looking forward to it about as much as we were.
What follows is our chat before leaving for SoulCycle.
Julianne: I don't know about you but I have to rent shoes .
Jia: We need special shoes?????
Julianne: Yeah dude . You snap into the pedals .
Jia: OMG. Clover. Were you aware that you need SPECIAL SHOES?????? WHAT THE HECK IS THIS SHIT???
Clover: Wait special shoes? I brought sneakers. What if you try to hop off?
Jia: Yeah Clover. WHAT IF. It's like at a yoga class where they're like, please don't leave the room and I immediately feel like I'm gonna poop myself. I grow very uneasy under constraint.
Julianne: They don't offer non-snap-on bikes at SoulCycle because there, SPINNING IS LIFE. If you try to hop off I think you break a bone, that's all. I'm gonna call them real quick to see if they have bikes with no snap-on shit because I'm legit worried I will injure myself.
Jia: So where are we coming at this from, fitness-wise, everyone? I can assess my fitness level as..... fine. I did a back handspring in Puerto Rico two weeks ago when I was wasted but I haven't been to a gym since 2008.
Clover: My endurance level is getting winded halfway up the stairs at the office. However, I can do yoga for long periods.
Jia: I get short of breath about halfway as well. Also, can you tell me about Wendy Williams? All I know about her is that once she saw my friend at the airport and yelled at her for wearing pajamas. (She doesn't know my friend.)
Clover: Usually SoulCycle is someone with a mic giving direction, so Wendy will probably give some gossip in between. She used to be on radio—WBLS in NYC—and her thing was calling out closeted people in the music industry.
Julianne: Okay, yeah, we have to rent shoes.
Jia: Julianne, where do you get winded on the stairs? We're at half, we think.
Clover: On a good day.
Julianne: Maybe like, half, yeah. Earlier if I've been smoking. But I purposely haven't smoked a cigarette since Thursday evening in preparation for today.
Jia: That's really good.
Julianne: (Thursday eve = like 2 AM)
Jia: So, what do we do if we all panic? Just like, try to stop panicking?
Clover: Yeah this is important.
Jia: Should I just gently faint onto my bike?
Julianne: I think we just have to like, Lean In to the music. Maybe there's a safe word.
Clover: We won't be able to hear it. I would say wave your towel in the air, but the instructors will just think we're into it.
Julianne: Okay here's the thing though, Wendy's shit-talking is sometimes motivational cause you're like YEAH I DONT WANT TO GET PLAYED LIKE THAT.
Clover: Great. I'm confused though, because I guess she'll have to speak in between the instructors?
Julianne: Maybe they'll give her a mic also? I mean, it's unclear what is going down.
Jia: I'm afraid of everything, including our return. We'll just be steaming up the office. Kill me I'm so scared.
Clover: Or we'll be really jacked and excited and everyone else will be scared.
Jia: True, Clover. We'll be bright-eyed and fucking insane.
Julianne: I have only eaten two Kashi granola bars and a half a glass of fake juice all day, btw. I'm gonna have one more before we go.
Julianne: I'll be okay, I ate falafel at like midnight last night.
When we arrived, there in the spinning room was Wendy Williams, gossip goddess, in full face, her auburn weave flowing in the invisible wind, wearing a T-shirt and leggings. We headed to our bikes and strapped in as cameras flashed reflections off Wendy's gleaming, contoured face. Once we were fully locked into our bikes, invigorated and more courageous after seeing Wendy would be right there with us, we were ready. She began to speak.
"I'm about to leave," she said, her signature Jersey brogue exactly as it sounds on television. "I've been up for twelve hours."
Time. Fucking. Stopped.
She made some other comments about being really excited to host the Soul Train Awards, and that when she works out it is usually alone or with one other person, and that she likes the rowing machine. Her words melted into the ether as it sunk in that we were about to die on bikes for Wendy Williams and that shady chick wouldn't even be there. To what sacrifice? TO WHAT SACRIFICE?
"At least I am being honest with you rather than sneaking out the side door!" she said, multiple times. There is that, Wendy, there is that.
So we SoulCycled, without Wendy, and returned back to the office sweating to chat.
Jia: Now we are done, soul let's cycle back to the beginning. I didn't understand how the gym lockers worked. I locked myself out and almost had a panic attack.
Julianne: Those were extremely ADVANCED gym lockers, though. The only time I've ever seen that kind of gym locker before was at the spa at the MGM Grand in Vegas.
Jia: We took a selfie!
Julianne: Before we left the office we were all concerned that we were going to die, and honestly, I'm surprised we didn't. I also didn't cough up a lung, another surprise.
Clover: Still alive :)
Jia: I think it's clear that of all of us, Clover was the best at SoulCycle. Let's just get that right out in the open. Clover, as a natural SoulCycler, how did you feel at the beginning of class? I for one felt like I was in an episode of Black Mirror. The one where they live in a video game and have to bike for points.
Julianne: OMG that was an insane episode Jia and YES.
Clover: I feel like they took it easy on us.
Jia: Yeah. I applied my general exercise strategy of "always give 70%" and dropped it to 45% because I was worried that at any point it would escalate. But it seemed to sort of keep an even pace.
Clover: It wasn't so bad compared to the spinning ones I've done. They didn't force you to up the resistance, which was cool.
Julianne: It was pretty even, although as we were doing mini pushups I kept thinking about those studies that say spinning is bad for your neck. And, as someone who spent all weekend crouched down over an iPad playing Candy Crush, I could feel it.
Jia: Oh yeah. IDK about the pushups thing. I had trouble with that because I was afraid of putting undue stress on my vaginal area.
Clover: I wanted more direction.
Jia: I WANTED MORE WENDY.
Clover: Now you still don't know Wendy.
Jia: She did leave a very distinct visual impression in the one minute I was in the same room with her. As she said in her excuse for not SoulCycling, she was wearing a "glamour wig" and fake eyelashes and also she preferred sleeping to being awake in a room with other people, which is something I understand well. How did this Wendy match up with the Wendy of your minds' eyes?
Julianne: I was surprised that Wendy was not wearing six-inch heels, but when she hopped on a bike so she could be filmed riding it for 30 seconds after she told us she was ditching us, it all became clear. I guess her shirt wasn't as shiny as I expected.
Jia: I forgot how she hopped on a bike to film fake footage. So rude.
Julianne: Her voice is a billion-dollar voice, but she was basically giving us a huge dis by telling us she was bailing AFTER we were all strapped in, but still making it seem DISHY and GIRLFRIENDY and SOOO GOSS.
Jia: She did give us a bit of goss about her exercise strategy, which involves a machine I don't believe exists. "A rowing machine, in water."...... Wendy, a canoe?
Clover: I really wanted her to stay and gab with us and do a Hot Topics.
Jia: Oh yeah. She introduced her posse and was like, "Here's Norman, from Hot Topics." Julianne and I thought she said "Hot Topic."
Julianne: Haha yeah, I was like "If there is a representative of Hot Topic here WHY ARE THERE NO NOSERINGS IN THIS SWAG BAG." I appreciated that she also likes to work out alone, although I was strangely not self-conscious about working out with you guys, which *group hug*
Clover: [dancers emoji]
Julianne: OKAY. They started with "Don't Stop Till You Get Enough." Then they played the censored version of "Loyal."
Jia: Yes. We were still on low resistance so everyone looked like hamsters.
Julianne: And the flog-you-over-the-head-ass instructor was like, screaming into the headphone mic, "THESE GIRLS AINT LOYAL! THESE MEN AINT LOYAL"
Clover: EQUAL OP.
Julianne: I feel like she was working some shit out.
Clover: That's her therapy.
Jia: She was like 3 1/2 notes off pitch every time, magically. Precise in the consistency of her error.
Julianne: Her pitch was another thing that was making me angry, especially when she was about to go into the high parts of "Drunk in Love," which almost literally no one should try.
Jia: How can we even describe it? Atonal Goatwave.
Clover: She went beyond Beyonce's octave.
Jia: After "Loyal" they played "Happy." I guess the hook was that all these songs were Soul Train Award nominated songs, right? But please, "Happy" is SUPES LAME. Throw us some old N.E.R.D.
Clover: I wish they played "Lapdance" instead.
Jia: Exactly. Like, that one exactly.
Jia: OMG. Clover let's get your opinion of that weave in writing.
Clover: The weave was "ok." Better than usual but...
Julianne: Hey remember when Wendy Williams lured a bunch of journalists to SoulCycle with the promise of "Soul Train SoulCycle with Wendy Williams," took a photo on a bike, and then ditched us?
Jia: I do remember.
Clover: I vaguely remember.
Julianne: Whatever, I'm not bitter. I feel awesome. This green juice is fucking awesome.
Jia: Yo, do you always get free green juice at SoulCycle? Is this what it feels like to exercise regularly and eat green juice???
Jia: I feel like I do an okay job with both of those things just by existing functionally but like this is a WHOLE NEW LEVEL. We're all typing incredibly fast right now. Okay, what came after "Happy"? "Are You That Somebody"?
Clover: Was it the Lil Jon song?
Jia: I liked both of those. This was when I started to convert my confusion to endorphins.
Clover: No Wendy in the room though.
Jia: Wendy is long gone. Wendy was in her pajamas, her wig flung gently onto the chaise lounge.
Clover: Hope you got a good rest, Wendy.
Jia: This is around the point where I was like, "Clover is really good at this."
Clover: Thanks! The secret is that my resistance was very low. I was basically just riding a bike?
Julianne: I was actually not really watching either of you except when I would turn to Jia to say "What the fuck," like when the yelling instructor told us that sweat was our fat crying, which felt very fat-shamey and annoyed me. I was also very distracted by the woman in front of me who had no rhythm and kept killing my vibe.
Jia: Julianne, that's the #1 reason I don't like structured exercise, because of the implied goal that everyone wants to get rid of all their fat. That's rude. "U R HERE TO TRANSFORM INTO A DIFFERENT PERSON" is the overt message and I am like, absolutely not. Although... I must admit, I did transform. I am exercise Jia now.
Clover: After the fat melting they did "Hold On We're Going Home." They slowed it down.
Jia: OH YES, FUCK YES. I closed my eyes and SoulCycled for Dionne Osborne.
Jia: WOW, WENDY!
Clover: Found another
Jia: Goddamn. That wall behind her in the first one looks like a Forever 21. Julianne was right next to it and she started dissociating.
Julianne: Yeah, the writing on the wall started getting real wavy as my endorphins unleashed, and at that exact time I was convinced I was getting a bloody nose.
Jia: Can you imagine getting a bloody nose at SoulCycle? That would almost be worse than starting your period.
Julianne: Definitely worse.
Clover: But you're strapped in.
Julianne: Oh god yeah. Hold on, Googling "bone fractures spin class."
Jia: Let's recall that none of us could get our feet in the bike. They had to put us in, sort of like three babies in three adjacent car seats.
Clover: I need more stories (and videos, Vine) of people getting stuck.
Jia: Remember when they did "Partition," the woman was like U KNOW HOW TO TWERK, EVERYONE, EVERYONE TWERK! I'm really not sure about that. I'm not sure if twerking is medically sound on a bicycle.
Clover: I found that tough logistically. I mean, I didn't try.
Jia: Same. I didn't do anything bold with the ass region because I felt like my seat was up too high and I would hurt myself.
Julianne: Yeah, I actually tried it but it seemed dangerous.
Jia: How did it go?
Julianne: I don't think my core is strong enough yet.
Jia: What was the song during arm time? Arm time was funny because of those weensy 1-pound weights. I felt like I was working out with Tootsie Pops.
Julianne: I don't remember. But most of these Google results are about people who rejoined spin class after breaking their ankles, which reminds me that at first, I was looking at the lifers like "Fuck you." Like "Fuck you, I hate you," but then afterwards I was like "How can I join your club," theoretically speaking.
Jia: Right, the club of Good Health and Energy.
Julianne: Not SoulCycle. I'm not that into SoulCycle, based on that one time, but regular spinning is pretty tite. Regular ass spinning.
Jia: Regular ass-spinning.
Clover: My friend says they took it easy on us.
Julianne: Oh, now I feel less ~powerful~
Jia: They may have gone easy, but they also tried to make us Soul Train out. We refused.
Clover: We were like, "Fuck off."
Jia: They knew their crowd. Lazy journalists who wanted to dip out of work to see Wendy Williams. But we all feel great right now. We walked out of there basically different people than we walked in. We were like making personal vows and talking super fast.
Clover: It worked. I'm thinking about getting back into that thing called exercise.
Jia: I'm ready to commit to giving 70% once in a while. Here's the real question. #1) Has this changed your opinion of Wendy Williams? And #2) has it made you any more likely to do SoulCycle?
Clover: No, I now just know Wendy is small in person.
Julianne: #1, no, because ditching us like that was pretty classic Wendy, and if I had thought about it more I would have assumed that is what would happen.
Jia: I DO now know what she looks like.
Clover: I would def do SoulCycle again, but not regularly.
Jia: Yeah, I think I would do SoulCycle again too. I'm no longer scared of it.
Julianne: #2, hell no. SoulCycle is a cult and it felt like an anesthesia tank on a second-season SYFY series ("DEFIANCE") in there, and that shit is $35 a class. But I WILL make a concerted effort to go back to my gym where I pay $99 a month to simply think about and/or know that if I am ever stuck in the city without a place to pee, I have it. #3 though, are you going to watch the Soul Train Awards?
Clover: LOL, I guess.
Jia: I don't have a TV so uh. Julianne, are you?
Julianne: I will indeed watch the Soul Train Awards in the interest of being thorough and also to see if Wendy leaves 1/8 of the way through AYOOO.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.