Not #CoupleGoals

In 2021, Celebrity Power Couples Chose Violence

It came in the form of cringe content.

Gotham, Mark R. Milan, Rich Fury/Getty Images

Modern relationships seem to exist on a bewildering spectrum from vaguely “talking to” someone to becoming the full embodiment of a Lana Del Rey song. And for those who find themselves on the other side of the DTR convo, booed up and blissed out, the next logical step — before meeting the family and before cohabitation — is to begin producing couple content. After all, what is the value of a relationship without a cadre of strangers shipping you from afar?

The pull to publicly document your mutual fervent devotion and compete in the arena that is #couplegoals (165 billion views on TikTok and counting) is a Hunger Game, to which many of us volunteer as tribute at some point or another. Even celebrities are not immune to frequent partner posting. See: Lana Condor, Beyoncé, and every person to ever appear on a show in the Bachelor franchise. Perhaps for wannabe A-listers, the urge to post is even stronger because they have the opportunity to become an actual power couple, rather than the domestic envy of a small circle of friends.

Why would a celebrity who’s already extremely rich and incredibly famous care about being in a power couple? For the clout, bay-bay! Celebs in power pairings enjoy even more attention and sway than they do as single entities. It’s always beneficial to pool assets, and in this case, the assets are adoring masses and Instagram followings with decimal points. Striking the right note with your power coupledom can even reboot a career that’s begun to fade, like a Dancing With the Stars appearance often does.

Take Travis Barker. In 2019, his claim to fame was drumming in your millennial uncle’s favorite ‘90s pop-punk band. So what! Now consider 2021 Travis Barker, devoted fiancé of Kourtney Kardashian, who gave her actually pretty good haircuts during the pandemic. Alt boyfriend of our collective early-20s dreams! Their overly photographed (and extremely horny) coupledom makes both of them more interesting. (Also, I think we love shipping high-profile seemingly mismatched couples, but that’s just my personal bias.)

No power couple has been more omnipresent this year than Bennifer, making us plebes who have no business getting back together with our ex-plebes consider doing just that.

Here’s the thing — we all love love. We love seeing people coupled up, doing relationship stuff, fulfilling our preconceived notions of what ideal (monogamous) romance should entail. It gives us hope that that kind of all-consuming love is real and possible, maybe even for us.

But perhaps there’s something about the modern 2021 limelight that’s making these power couples… too powerful. Traditionally, the checkout line at the grocery store was ground zero for tabloid fare on power couple content. Now you can just look at your phone. The celebs are making their own juicy content on social media, sharing every aspect of their lives for an audience — no paparazzi necessary. Unfiltered by publicists, this direct-from-the-source content is often brilliantly entertaining, but also painfully... ordinary. I am spellbound and disenchanted, all at once.

The most glaring example: Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly’s “torrid, solar flare of a romance,” the contents of which she describes as “feverish obsession, guns, addiction, shamans, lots of blood, general mayhem, therapy, tantric night terrors, binding rituals, chakra sound baths, psychedelic hallucinations, organic smoothies, and the kind of sex that would make Lucifer clutch his rosary.” Sounds like a couple clearly drunk with the power of their hold over of us.

When some undercooked post-coital post comes straight from the horses’ mouths, it’s off-putting, like cheesecake at a pool party.

Those two twin flames are hardly alone in their compulsion to overexpose their relationship, however. Fox also featured with the aforementioned Kardashian in a spin-off series where the girlfriends from two different celebrity power couples team up to sell underwear. Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively have been married for nearly a decade and have an ongoing roast via social media in which one will jokingly troll and tease the other in front of their combined 69 million followers. Chris Pratt hurt his own feelings in an attempt to do couple content when thanking his second wife, Katherine Schwarzenegger, for a “healthy daughter” in an Instagram post that elicited backlash about the insinuation that it was a dig on ex-wife Anna Faris. Even when it ends poorly, the celebs simply can’t help but turn a courtship into content.

And of course, no power couple has been more omnipresent this year than Bennifer, a remake of a popular early-aughts relationship featuring Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez, making us plebes who have no business getting back together with our ex-plebes consider doing just that. So, you see how influence can be dangerous.

To be fair, Affleck and Lopez are just living their lives, unaware of the havoc their rekindled romance is wreaking on us rubberneckers. At the end of the day, it’s we who imbue power couples with their power, as we look for signs that align with our biases, confirming our belief that true love prevails (or in the case of Pratt, that Anna Faris is always the center of the narrative).

The buffer of intrigue is gone, and the cringe that is known cannot be unknown.

Everyone’s a little bit extra when they’re in love; that’s just facts. I’m not one to tell anyone how to behave, but the downside of celebrity is that the things they do are scrutinized, replicated, and often become cultural precedent. I am not ready to hear my cousin describe their new college boyfriend as a “feverish obsession” over Christmas lunch or see them touching tongues at the dinner table. These things must be stopped.

On the bright side, being a regular, non-famous person means your embarrassing relationship antics likely aren’t immortalized on your Wikipedia page for eternity. I mean, can you imagine all the cringe things you’ve done in past relationships following you throughout your entire career? Remember when Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton, who were married from 2000 to 2003, wore vials of each other’s blood as necklaces? (Thornton has since said it really was NBD, which I respectfully agree to disagree with.) And this was before Instagram was invented — the app that gives earnest A-listers like Justin Bieber plenty of platform to gush (candidly or cringingly, depending on who you ask) about his wife, Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin), which he does. Often.

We’ve always been so ravenous for celebrity gossip that we latch onto hearsay from anonymous celeb-reporting accounts, creating entire narratives and theories around unfounded rumors and hints. We are a generation that posts TikTok theories about relationships we know nothing about, so when some undercooked post-coital post comes straight from the horses’ mouths, it’s off-putting. It’s like getting too much of something you didn’t necessarily ask for and were definitely not prepared to process, like cheesecake at a pool party. The buffer of intrigue is gone, and the cringe that is known cannot be unknown. With great power coupledom comes great responsibility — to pump the GD brakes every once in a while.