After 18 months of banned hookups and sex briefly being illegal between people who weren’t cohabiting (yes, that really happened), it seems we’re ready to fall in love with love again. And nowhere in the world has this reinvigorated lust been more prevalent than in Hollywood.
Celebrity romances are always afoot, but this year gave us something different. For a while, anonymous celebrity relationships have been the in-thing, with many A‑listers dating outside of the limelight, Billie Eilish and Whatever Her Boyfriend’s Name Is style. Just look at Ariana Grande, who got together with a non-famous estate agent and quickly became engaged in less than a year. But in 2021, with the return of low rise jeans (please let this trend be fleeting) and Lindsay Lohan’s acting career, came another Noughties favourite: the power couple.
Now, it’s not just Beyoncé and Jay‑Z filling the high-profile celebrity couple void for us. 2021 has uniquely offered our gossip-craving, post-lockdown minds an abundance of new couples who consist doubly of A‑listers. Some of these pairings were expected – Machine Gun Kelly has always been open about fancying the pants off of Megan Fox, after all – and some were absolutely wild. Who had Travis Barker’s relationship with Kourtney Kardashian, AKA Kravis, on their 2021 Bingo Card? Absolutely no one. The same goes for the potential Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson situationship. Meanwhile, Zendaya and Tom Holland (finally) went official, and Bennifer reunited, replicating their old paparazzi bum-grab shots twenty years on. Even Rita Ora and Taika Waititi are rumoured to be romantically connected.
And after almost two years of living like Miss Havisham, we’re eating up every tiny milestone in these couples’ relationship timelines. It’s like we’ve time travelled back to the Brangelina era, when we obsessively flicked through glossies, idolising couples like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.
Back then, gossip was currency and celeb couples kept us on our toes, dropping hints that alluded to relationships, weddings and even children via the tabloids. Brad and Angie, for instance, never actually confirmed their relationship until they announced they were expecting their first child together in 2006, but they sure as hell teased their connection beforehand, with magazine covers performing as a family and aptly-timed paparazzi snaps of their romantic trips away.
Meanwhile, notes on Jennifer Aniston’s heartbreak over Pitt’s betrayal had the world on its knees. After all, Brangelina’s baby announcement came only three months after Pitt and Aniston’s divorce was finalised. Gossip column dynamite. Every move made by those involved in this love triangle instantly populated headlines.
But the arrival of social media changed things significantly. Suddenly, celebrities could control their own narratives through social media platforms on their own phones. They didn’t necessarily need the glossy mags to feed anecdotes from their lives back to fans. No longer were they at the mercy of paparazzi to help them to stay relevant. Celebs had more control over what they shared and that became Not Very Much.
For a while, we got used to celebrities being quieter. Being able to easily find candid updates about our faves via their own Instagram accounts made news and street shots less exciting.
But although social media played a part in lowering the noise of the celebrity buzz, TikTok appears to be reigniting it. All the celebs are dedicated TikTok stars now, with Doja Cat and Lil Nas X regularly updating their fans with silly videos and dances. The app isn’t only giving Instagram and Twitter a run for their money, it’s also replacing the tabloids, with celebs using it to drop hints about upcoming projects and what’s happening in their personal lives.
And let’s not forget the TikTok creators who have become quasi-gossip columnists, sleuthing their way through social media to find nuggets of new relationship intel. We now regularly find ourselves awake at 2am, scrolling through TikTok videos that analyse images of Kim Kardashian and Pete Davidson holding hands in public, and detail conspiracy theories claiming Selena Gomez is in the background of Chris Evans’ Instagram stories.
It makes sense. We need to focus on something other than the constant destruction and despair of the current news cycle. Catching up with celebrities and their romantic, albeit a little odd, antics provides the perfect antidote, be it Kim K and Pete Davidson holding hands while she wears her ex’s clothing line, or Harry Styles and Olivia Munn wearing matching swimwear as they lovingly frolic in Porto Ercole.
And they inspire us to follow suit. The return of power couples means relationships are back in style and it’s trickling down into our everyday lives.
This year, “normal” people are taking relationship acquisition the extra mile. Dating app Hinge has seen a significant shift in how its users are interacting with the app. When asked how the pandemic affected their relationship goals, for example, 53 per cent of Hinge UK users said that they’re ready for a long-term, serious relationship, while 31 per cent said the pandemic has made them value romantic relationships more. All the more surprising, 39 per cent of Hinge users said they have become pickier since the pandemic, with 91 per cent of that group explaining that this is because they don’t want to waste their time on the wrong person, abandoning the previously popular “slow” approach to dating. Whether you’re an A‑lister or not, it seems we’re all after a faster, skip-to-happily-ever-after dating experience.
So, long-term relationships are back on the cards. And so is flaunting them. The power couples reigning 2021 have also brought full-frontal public displays of affection back, launching an era of what we can confidently say is pretty unhinged yet sweet love posting. Kravis, and MGK and Megan Fox are pioneers in this department, sticking their tongues in each other’s mouths for the notorious VMAs four-way snog and dressing up as actual murderers, complete with romantic captions, for Halloween. Cute.
Once again, us normies appear to be taking this on board. I’m already starting to see couples walking around town with hands in each other’s jean pockets (extremely Noughties vibes). Meanwhile, on social media, partner soft launches are on the rise, wherein a person hints at a new relationship by posting an ambiguous photo that reveals their partner’s elbow resting on a table or their shoes just in frame. And once they’ve teased the relationship enough to followers, more people are filling their feeds with unabashed PDA. All the things we wouldn’t have dared post a few years ago – matching tattoos (I’ve checked this one off), make out photos on the grid, updates of date nights on stories – are cool again.
There’s something wholesome about the pandemic spawning a renaissance of power couples and the subsequent influx of romance into our own lives. As Brits, we’re a pretty miserable bunch, rarely willing to be so heart-on-the-sleeve vulnerable and so obviously, publicly in love.
But after an uncertain couple of years, it’s understandable that celebrities and Normal People alike are embracing the cosiness of long-term relationships. Whether you’ve found 2021’s power couples (and the PDA that came with it) cringey or exciting, this year’s romantic energy was undeniably about defiance and liberation, drowning out the notes of despair and anxiety we inherited from 2020. We’ve abandoned our pride and embraced full-on, soppy, disgustingly sincere, loud and proud romance. Gross.