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Phoebe Bridgers Paul Mescal Getty 1.jpg

The Indie Couple Celebrity Romance Scandal That’s Captured Our Imaginations

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | January 30, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | January 30, 2023 |

Phoebe Bridgers Paul Mescal Getty 1.jpg

There are celebrities who everyone knows. There are those with small but committed fanbases. Then there are those who become curiously inescapable through a potent mixture of drama, fandom madness, sad songs, and sheer attractiveness. If you’re a Twitter regular who didn’t know who Phoebe Bridgers and Paul Mescal were before this past month or so, you probably know now.

Bridgers is a Grammy-nominated indie musician whose work, both as a solo artist and collaborator with the likes of Conor Oberst and the band boygenius, has made her a critical darling. Sometime in mid-2020, she began a relationship with the Irish actor Paul Mescal, who leaped to stardom through his Emmy and BAFTA-nominated turn in the adaptation of Normal People. They made for a hot pair, talented in their respective fields and collaborating on a music video. They walked red carpets together and their tweets to one another make for adorable reading. Just as a rumor began swirling that the pair had gotten engaged, new claims emerged that they had broken up. Soon, Bridgers was being spotted by DeuxMoi readers at events with Bo Burnham, the comedian and actor who comes with his own intense fandom. He was assumed to still be in a long-term relationship with director Lorene Scafaria, who made Hustlers. Now, however, it seems that Burnham and Bridgers are in while Mescal, currently performing on the West End, is out. Are you still with me?

These were not celebrity couples who commanded immense attention, per se. Mescal and Bridgers earned some headlines and enthusiasm from their respective dedicated fandoms, but Burnham and Scafaria were intensely private. They didn’t talk about one another in the scant interviews they gave for their work, and Burnham’s comedy often made a point of trying to disentangle his private self from the image he conveyed to his audience. Even by indie power couple standards, we weren’t exactly in the higher echelons here. These couples weren’t Greta Gerwig and Noah Baumbach or Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara, for instance, creatives and collaborators whose images and work have become inextricably connected on and off the screen. They’re just people who seemed to make sense as couples, at least to those who are interested in what they conveyed to their niche audience.

There isn’t much that differentiates the varying levels of celebrities in terms of the work of fame. An A-List megastar may command greater attention and have a more sophisticated publicist network on hand than your average influencer, but their intentions are remarkably similar: get all eyes on you, but only the right kind and maintain that allure for as long as is required. Everyone with even a sliver of celebrity must adhere to this ethos on some level. You’ve got albums to promote, awards to campaign for, distributors to butter up.

Even the most private pairs can’t help but become canvases for their fans to project their desires upon. Hell, it’s probably easier to do so if you’re something of a blank slate. Bridgers was never a blank slate. She’s brutally honest with her fans, open about her history with bad relationships, abortion, and sexuality. Her most recent solo album, Punisher, was quickly championed as the ultimate sad girl record thanks to her immensely candid lyrics and often sardonic approach to heartache. Confessional songwriting has frequently led to intense fan attachment for how it seemingly encourages symbiosis between creator and consumer. The most potent of pop culture comes from the possibility of relatability, whether it’s Taylor Swift or the Try Guys or Julia Fox showing Instagram viewers her modest apartment. The personal becomes the universal. That does not mean one instantly welcomes the possibility of parasocial projection or outsider judgment but it’s so wearily inevitable that nobody is ever surprised when fan things get weird.

Emotional vulnerability in art is fan catnip across all levels of fame, and it felt especially potent with three of the four people involved here. Bridgers’ music, Mescal’s raw performances in Normal People and Aftersun, and Burnham’s candid comedy challenged audiences to see the inherent artifice of the medium. Even as Burnham discourages fans from getting close to the idea of ‘Bo Burnham’, they can’t help but cling to the image. The same goes for Mescal, who is Film Twitter’s sensitive thinking person’s totty of choice right now. A lot of fandom loves to claim that it’s not like those fans, but it’s easy to fall into the same pits and perils. When you get attached to someone or something, reason often goes out the window. We’ve all been there. I’m not an exception.

And no person is exempt from the messiness of love. Even the coolest, hottest, most self-aware celebrities can’t escape break-ups, rumours, or outsiders’ weird scorn of their private lives. Despite how common splits are, we’re still kind of surprised when our favourites don’t buck the trend. Perhaps that’s why this particular romantic drama has left a lot of us weirdly enraptured. There was no big announcement of a split. Nobody left a sad Instagram caption about it. They just did what they did in their own time and space and now everyone is trying to figure out what happened when they weren’t allowed to see. Shock horror, not everything is for our consumption but turning off that urge to know is easier said than done, especially when the entire concept of celebrity is dependent on it.

Burnham and Bridgers seem like a cool couple. Mescal just got Oscar-nominated and Scafaria’s going to make the Bee-Gees biopic. Everyone involved here seems to be doing fine. Celebrity drama never ends, and I’m sure we’ll find a new pair to latch onto sooner rather than later. Hell, by our standards, this was barely drama. We’ll still take it. I’m sure we’ll get a few good songs out of it.