But the service’s primary source of radiance is Obé’s cast of 25 instructors, all of whom teach classes live and on-demand from The Box, seven days a week. In brilliantly hued athletic separates, they squat and lunge against great, moving fields of pastel color. When Kemp transitions from the morning’s warm-up into an ass-blasting squat set, The Box blushes from glacial blues to downy sunrise tones.
Since joining the company in 2018 as its first male instructor, Kemp has been one of the brightest stars in Obé’s constellation. The pandemic, which drove people out of gyms and into the arms of digital fitness services, only turned up the wattage.
Kemp’s origin story comes up not infrequently in his class and at times takes on the contours of a fitness parable: He struggled with obesity, moved to New York from his native Miami to pursue dance, and came to understand his obesity as an obstacle. “I had a professor who said, ‘What’s your dream role on Broadway?’ And I was like, ‘to be Seaweed in Hairspray.’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Don’t you think you’re a little chubby for that?'”
Kemp was hurt, but ambitious, so he began to gradually incorporate exercise into his routine. He’d go jogging and let his mind wander. One day, he experienced something like a vision: a beautiful Black man standing before him. Thick of biceps, svelte of waist, gold of chain, and platinum of teeth. It was Walter Kemp II, but from the future. “Ever since that day, the weight dropped,” Kemp says now. “Whenever I work out, and even in my class, I say, ‘See yourself completing this workout.’ If you can hold it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand.”
This brings us to Act II of Kemp’s strength circuit. After the moves have been taught, it’s time to let the mind wander, where it can fall prey to divine revelations.
“Round two, you know exactly what to do.” He grins a heavenly white. “Now you’re just chilling.”
“Entertrainment,” or fun and fitness coupled into glorious harmony, is Obé’s unique value proposition, according to cofounder Mark Mullett. He and cofounder Ashley Mills met working as agents at CAA, where their skill for scouting electric performers and their mutual love of boutique fitness classes fused into a business plan. Mullett declines to share information about Obé’s viewership numbers, a corporate messaging strategy similar to that of Netflix: “We want to make sure that all of the talent, all the folks at home are just fixated on having a great, pure experience with the instructor, or themselves, or the group,” he half-explains. Plus, by not alluding to the material, conversations about Obé inexorably drift toward the spiritual. Even so, Mullett concedes, a single Obé class is attended by more participants than could possibly fit in your traditional American fitness classroom. (Later, I’m told that it’s “definitely safe to say” thousands of people will tune in to a single class.)