This article originally appeared on VICE Canada.
A considerably popular Instagram account, @injaileywetrust, has been meticulously documenting the relationship status of Canadian popstar Justin Bieber and American fashion model Hailey Baldwin for the last two years—a sloppy new years kiss, a collage of twin love bites, a stockpile of suspiciously affectionate comments. The account employs the rigorous technique of an amateur investigative journalist, poring over their every interaction: Screenshots of their respective Snapchat stories find them in the same place at the same time, perhaps on a romantic date—archive meet-and-greet photographs produce the origin of their love affair.
On Monday, when Justin theatrically announced, via Instagram, that he and Hailey had just gotten engaged, several other fan accounts cropped up across social media platforms, satiating the public’s intense desire for context. It was an exemplary case study in supply and demand. The world loves a good love story.
It’s a cultural trend to pine and obsess over celebrity relationships. When Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson confirmed their premature engagement last month on national television, Reddit threads and news outlets exploded with speculative stories—some about the size of Davidson’s penis (and whether he possessed big dick energy), others curating timelines of the newly consummated love story. Just this morning, I woke up to a push notification informing me Cardi B had just given birth to her first child with Offset. (The alert was slotted between news on Trudeau meeting with Trump at a NATO summit and footage of the Thai cave rescue. Guess which I opened first?)
Some researchers, like Neal Gabler, a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center, argue we are interested in celebrity relationships only because we are interested in the storylines of the celebrities themselves. Justin and Pete, in many ways, have similar biographies: the sprawling tattoos, the outsized juvenile talent, the general vibe that your parents might not approve of them. Ariana and Hailey mirror one another, too, albeit less overtly: the effortless sun-kissed beauty, the fleeting acting careers, the affinities for bad boys. “Celebrity narratives can reinforce fears and dreams, instruct and guide us, transport us from daily routines, reassure us that we are not alone in what we think and feel,” Gabler writes.
These obsessions we develop with celebrities and their public (or private) dating lives are often, according to some researchers, a naïve symptom of our expectations for our own relationships. The starry pairings appear to satisfy or disappoint us on a deeply visceral plane—we hope the relationship lasts to confirm the possibility of our own romantic successes; we will it to fail to prove even celebrities, in all their financial security, aren’t impervious to heartbreak.
Tabloid reportage manages this infatuation. It’s in magazines like People and Vanity Fair and InTouch where we find the peaks and valleys of these love stories: the aughts, the honeymoon, the wedding, the baby, the cheating, the breakup. A cursory Google search of “Rihanna and Chris Brown” yields 10 million results, with recent hits from up until yesterday, though the relationship came to a thunderous close nearly a decade ago, after Brown violently abused Rihanna, in 2009. The public is not interested in the stasis of a simple relationship. We obsess over storyline, over drama.
“Jailey” and “Grandson,” both twenty-something couples, are in the midst of participating in one of the world’s oldest traditions, railing against the whirring millennial current of casual sex and protracted commitments to love. Each springs nakedly from the ashes of publicly capsized relationships, from the depths of newfound sophomoric passion. The uncensored implosion of Justin and Selena Gomez, in 2015, made room for new intimacies; Ariana’s recent breakup with Mac Miller welcomes a new chapter. It’s as though these relationships offer us optimism: There is still hope for us, there is so much love to find. It is in this soppy narrative that we are able to locate ourselves, to revel in our fantasies, to enjoy the fruits of another’s labor: We’re on a beach somewhere remote; we’re sharing nerdy-but-adorable Instagram posts; we’re living out the delicate romances we imagined existed only on screen.
In any event, it is through these fan accounts that the memories of these stories have been preserved forever. On Instagram, Jelena lives on just the same as Jailey. Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande will never break up, so long as their romance is immortalized through the careful curations of the standom. It is in these images, forever embalmed, that our heartbreaks are kept at bay. We can revel in the honeymoon stage forever.
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