Love is in the air this Summer, somewhere in-between the smothering heat and existential despair. We love a good celebrity romance and us gossip hounds find particular delight in a whirlwind engagement. Yet few of us could have predicted we’d get not one but three major celebrity love stories going from first kiss to jewellery shopping in less than three months.
It started with Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande, who waited around two months before saying yes. Then, Justin Bieber popped the question to new girlfriend Hailey Baldwin while some of us wondered when he’d gotten around to breaking up with Selena Gomez. Finally, it was reported that Nick Jonas had gotten down on one knee for Bollywood superstar Priyanka Chopra, with rumours that he’d shut down Tiffany’s just to get the ring. Also included in this bunch but oft-overlooked is model Emily Ratajkowski’s marriage to producer Sebastian Bear-McClard after a courtship of mere weeks. Most of the romantics involved are very young or paired off with younger folk and many of them have been proudly vocal and visible in their declarations thanks to social media and tattoos. Each romance has represented a potent mix of millennial glee, high glamour mashed up with mainstream fandom fuel, and old-school gossip narratives surrounding love, marriage and a woman’s place in it. To quote Pete Davidson when he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, ‘Love is lit.’
I posed the question of Twitter as to which of the three whirlwind engagements of the Summer people actually expected to, if not go the distance as a married couple, at least make it down the aisle. To my surprise, Chopra/Jonas won the day, with Ariana and Pete following closely behind. Sorry, Bieber and Baldwin, but can you blame everyone? Some people told me their vote was completely random because they either didn’t know enough about the couples or didn’t think any of them would last longer than a few months. Chopra and Jonas, the former of whom represents the oldest of this Summer’s lovers as well as the one with arguably the most international clout, seemed almost like the secure choice to some. They kept their romance locked down, they didn’t broadcast it across social media or talk-shows, and we’ve yet to see this mythic ring that got Tiffany’s shut down.
Chopra is wildly famous and has been for most of her life. Jonas’s fame levels have dipped a little since the Disney Channel days, but he is the brother who retained pop relevance into adulthood and successfully transitioned into a grown man without any long-lasting scandal. This is a couple who have dealt with press intrusion and hyper-visibility longer than most, and certainly more than their romantics-in-crime. Perhaps that’s why my Twitter friends consider them the closest thing to a safe bet: Both of them have been on this rodeo too many times to make silly slip-ups that would dent either of their glimmering reputations.
Still, of the three, it’s the pairing that makes the least sense to me on a purely passionate level. I firmly believe that, when Davidson and Grande play up how adoring of one another they are, it’s 100% authentic. Bieber, for all of his faults and public failings, is certainly the kind of guy to get caught up in the fast burning flame of romance. Chopra and Jonas aren’t necessarily mismatched so much as they’re almost too abstract to work. Break it down to the basic machinations of celebrity and it makes sense they’re coupling off. It works on many career levels for both, to the point where I cynically consider the calculations of it all. Audiences are more pessimistic than ever and more willing to write off every celebrity moment as the work of evil PR. Every couple is the result of publicist planning if you believe some folks. I don’t think Chopra and Jonas are the result of business matchmaking, mostly because if Chopra wanted to elevate herself into the Hollywood A-List through marriage she’d aim higher than a Jonas brother. Still, it would be naïve to assume that the mutually beneficial benefits of celebrity love weren’t discussed at least once between them.
Rumours continue to swirl that Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson will marry on August 4th to match up with 8418, the badge number of Davidson’s father, a firefighter who died during the 9/11 attacks. Given the speed with which everything else in their relationship has happened, this would probably be the least surprising element of the romance. The multiple tattoos seem more rushed than a dang wedding. Grande has always prided herself on her openness with her fans. It’s something stars of her generation have had to embrace, thanks to the proliferation of social media and its importance in building an audience.
Another child star who has had highly passionate fans since her early teens, Grande doesn’t know any other way of being famous. Of course she would share every element of her romance with the young SNL star, from joint-Harry Potter dress-up to tattoos to their moving in together to his alleged penis size. Hell, Grande’s joke-slash-confession of the latter was such a major deal that it inspired the ceaseless Summer meme of ‘big dick energy’. What’s the short-hand explanation for one of the world’s biggest pop stars saying yes to a stoner comedian after less than a month? His swagger, obviously. It almost seems more believable than the simplicity of love.
Grande and Davidson have seen a touch of backlash from fans over their relationship. Davidson has been blamed by some of her fans as the reason she’s done less promotion for her upcoming album, a claim she denies. Davidson deleted every image on his Instagram account because of fan comments and the desire to keep his lit love pure. Grande returned from her own social media exile of two days to post a picture of her with Davidson. Every image or Tweet or decision to not post is interrogated as a sign of trouble for the pair. When you allow others to becomes so heavily invested in your life, your persona, your romantic entanglements, it shouldn’t surprise when each of those things becomes the endless topic of interrogation.
Out of the three pairs, it’s Grande and Davidson who court public attention the most. While they claim otherwise, it’s tough to pretend their social media spectacle isn’t on some level designed to provoke and intrigue. It’s easier to keep a public romance private than it’s ever given credit for. Priyanka and Nick are managing that, to an extent.
So, what of Bieber and Baldwin?
Justin Bieber is one of those celebrities who I have serious trouble talking about. It’s not as if we’re short of topics on this generation’s teen idol and his endless hoopla of drama. Even people who can’t name a single Bieber song can’t help but have passionate opinions on the man, who is still only 24 years old. To talk of Bieber is to talk of masculinity, adolescence, society’s disdain for teenage girls and their hobbies, the never-ending trap of child stardom, cultural appropriation, faith, and of course, Canada. He is, like too many teeny boppers before him, almost unbearably tragic once you get past the irritation he inspires.
Bieber’s identification as a romantic figure has mostly been through his music, the kind of pop-love ballads most tween boys wouldn’t understand as relatable to their life on any level. The most prominent woman in his life has been fellow teen star Selena Gomez, a woman whose fame matched his on every level, from social media numbers to sales to volume of overzealous fans. The pair were on and off, jumping into rebounds with the same level of consuming passion they’d had together (hello, The Weeknd). As recently as a couple of months ago, everything seemed back on with the pair, and then all of a sudden Bieber was announcing his engagement to Hailey Baldwin, a former rebound, on Instagram to his 102 MILLION followers.
What stuns in this Instagram post is the overwhelming sincerity of it all. I’m not kidding, I totally buy Bieber’s declaration of eternal adoration to Baldwin, daughter of Stephen. Jesus features prominently in the post, as does his excitement that his younger siblings ‘get to see another healthy stable marriage and look for the same!!!’ Bieber says it feels good to have his future secured, which makes sense given how staggeringly insecure his fly-by life must have been since he became famous. Call me silly but the post touched me.
Was gonna wait a while to say anything but word travels fast, listen plain and simple Hailey I am soooo in love with everything about you! So committed to spending my life getting to know every single part of you loving you patiently and kindLY. I promise to lead our family with honor and integrity letting Jesus through his Holy Spirit guide us in everything we do and every decision we make. My heart is COMPLETELY and FULLY YOURS and I will ALWAYS put you first! You are the love of my life Hailey Baldwin and I wouldn’t want to spend it with anybody else. You make me so much better and we compliment eachother so well!! Can’t wait for the best season of life yet!. It’s funny because now with you everything seems to make sense! The thing I am most excited for is that my little brother and sister get to see another healthy stable marriage and look for the same!!! Gods timing really is literally perfect, we got engaged on the seventh day of the seventh month, the number seven is the number of spiritual perfection, it’s true GOOGLE IT! Isn’t that nuts? By the way I didn’t plan that, anyways My goodness does feel good to have our future secured! WERE GONNA BE BETTER AT 70 BABY HERE WE GO! “He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains FAVOR from the Lord!” This is the year of favor!!!!
God is a bonding factor for Bieber and Baldwin, as it was with him and Gomez. All three are regulars at Hillsong, the enigmatic and headline grabbing mega-church that courts the cream of Hollywood’s Christian crop. The church’s senior Pastor, Carl Lentz, is frequently credited as a key member of Bieber’s entourage. It’s not uncommon for celebrities to proclaim a love for God or dedication to faith in public - see about 80% of Oscar speeches - a full-on evangelical commitment from an A-Lister whose primary audience isn’t one of faith still surprises. Bieber has publicly lived like a bro, drinking and partying and making life as difficult as possible for everyone around him. It’s to be expected from a man who was raised as an exceptional force to profit from - indeed, it’s the curse of child stardom - yet it still feels so oppositional to everything we assume about him.
Hailey Baldwin almost feels like the B-squad in her own romance, at least as it has played out publicly. She’s a model but best known as the daughter of a Baldwin who isn’t Alec. In a GQ profile of Bieber, written by the ever wonderful Caity Weaver, Baldwin features but is positioned as an accessory to the primary subject. He asks his bodyguard if Hailey is in the hotel room, and when they get there, she is ‘doing nothing—no TV, no book, no phone, no computer, no music, no oil paints, nothing. She is pretty and polite and 19.’ She waits for him and then they hang out. In the piece, Bieber insists he’s not dating Baldwn, although he does relent to describing her as someone he really loves and spends a lot of time with and occasionally kisses.
In a moment of rather sweet candidness, Bieber reflects on how his mega fame and its attached commitments effect his ability to have a relationship: ‘What if Hailey ends up being the girl I’m gonna marry, right? If I rush into anything, if I damage her, then it’s always gonna be damaged. It’s really hard to fix wounds like that. It’s so hard…. I just don’t want to hurt her.’ Given the speed with which he popped the question to Baldwin only a couple of years later, following his reconciliation and break-up with Gomez, these words stand out. Bieber is always trying to reinvent himself, stepping further away from the persona that made him and the ones that dented his reputation. How does being a married man of faith and bad fashion fit into that?
Statistically and historically speaking, nobody expects any of these relationships to go the distance. If they make the five-year mark, it’ll be a strong showing by celebrity standards. These kinds of public romances cannot help but be some form of strange public entertainment, partly because the subjects demand it. As everything goes to hell, the sweet narratives of celeb love are revealing distractions, and hey, it may work out alright in the end. That would be the biggest shock of all.
(Header photograph courtesy of Getty Images)