Ariana Grande, Pete Davidson, and the Power of Celebrity-Relationship Instagram

Whether it’s introducing a new baby or announcing a divorce, our actors and actresses, our pop stars, our athletes, almost always, at this point, break the news directly to us. Social media has become the essential tool for high-profile celebrities, not just for promoting their work, but for spinning their personal life in exactly the way they want. For the celebrities, it’s the ultimate way to have control; for fans, it’s a direct “personal” connection to their faves, a photo of their college roommate’s two-year-old appearing in their feed right above a photo of Chrissy Teigen’s two-year-old.

And in the same way you might gradually discern that a close friend has started dating someone new—wait, they’re at Storm King together? He must be her boyfriend!!—new couple Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson have been dropping digital bread crumbs over the past weeks that at first coyly suggested, and then made more clear, that they’re an item. Word of their relationship may have broken in the tabloids, but for the most part everything we know about Grande and Davidson has been as a result of the social-media choices made by the 24-year-old pop star and 24-year-old Saturday Night Live cast member themselves. Young and inherently social-media savvy, they make the whole digital couple rollout work, or at least feel “natural” and not in any way steered by publicist forces.

Prepare yourself: we’re about to enter the Instagram weeds here.

So, the first we became aware of the possibility Grande—who recently ended a relationship with musician Mac Miller—and Davidson—who recently split with actress/writer Cazzie David—were dating was due to a thinly sourced People report from last week that the two were casually dating (“It’s very casual” was actually a quote that appeared in the headline of that story). But it’s at this point that Grande and Davidson took matters into their own iOS’s. Before the two interacted in any manner on Instagram, Grande posted a response on Twitter to a user who had blamed her for Miller’s recent relapse; Davidson then, in response to trolling comments, posted a note discussing how people with mental illnesses like himself are still able to be in healthy relationships. It seems likely that it never even occurred to either of them to address these serious matters in any manner other than direct comment on social media. It was at this point that the two then took to Instagram . . .

Step One: Comments. Anyone who has attempted to flirt via Instagram to any degree knows that the first step, before it’s time for anything even verging on “serious,” is light commenting on each other’s photos. On Thursday afternoon last week, Grande posted a photograph of a worker-bee tattoo she got behind her ear; Davidson promptly commented with a few choice emoji (a bee, a yellow heart, a heart-eyes face). Grande then—this is some romantic stuff, we know—commented on Davidson’s most recent post, of him wearing a sweatshirt and hat, with a smiling face. Even more “wild”: Grande commented on a photo of herself posted by Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown, which Davidson—some might say overzealously—replied to (yes, in the comments of Brown’s picture), with the message “hey cutie u up.” Essentially, these few comments were all Grande’s enormous fan base—she has 120 million Instagram followers—needed to begin treating this relationship as if they were private investigators. They had the clues, and they were invested.

Step Two: Tagging. Grande posted a shot on her Instagram story over the Memorial Day weekend, in which neither of them showed their faces but in which Davidson’s arm tattoo was clearly visible, as obvious as if she’d tagged his Instagram handle. The two were roasting marshmallows. At this point, they were basically teasing their fans, while still, of course, making deliberate decisions as to what they wanted to be sharing.

Step Three: Premiere (or something like that) date! On Wednesday, Davidson posted a shot of the two of them on his Instagram—an actual post (not a story!) and featuring the two of them dressed in Harry Potter garb, no less. “The chamber of secrets has been opened . . . ” he wrote as his caption; Grande commented immediately with some emoji and a slightly risqué Harry Potter joke. This inaugural “here we are!” post was actually preceded—little did we know the foreshadowing at the time!—by a selfie Grande posted of her in a SLYTHERIN sweatshirt. At this point, as far as the teenage and millennial sets that breathlessly monitor Grande’s every move are likely concerned, these two may as well be engaged for how “in” they are (do a quick scan in the comments on Davidson’s post for “#relationshipgoals” for proof of this).

Variations of this story have happened before. When Selena Gomez and The Weeknd were rumored to have split, it became abundantly clear when they unfollowed each other on Instagram. When Rihanna explained in an interview that she and Drake were no longer friends, he unfollowed her on the social-media platform. And conversely, when Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas showed up in the same Instagram recently, it seemed to confirm reports they were dating (Niall Horan and Hailee Steinfeld made a similar unveiling this week as well). Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, as well as John Legend and Teigen, have made a practice of bantering on Twitter or Instagram, only furthering their accessibility as couples (while at the same time deciding carefully what to impart with the public).

There is something refreshing about seeing these very famous people using social media in a . . . relatable way. It’s a very different approach—of a previous era, perhaps—of celebrities avoiding all comment about who they’re dating and what they’re up to when they are not on screen or on stage. Grande might not want to talk about Davidson on a red carpet, but she’s fine commenting on his grams and “letting her fans into her life” in her own terms. Though this approach also, of course, allows for the risk of backfiring if things ever go south for Grande and Davidson—hopefully it will not come to this for the pair, but, just in case, Instagram has kindly just installed a muting feature.

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