Summer 2018 is the Summer of PDA


The wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was the blockbuster romcom of the season. It had a viewership —29 million—that would make John Hughes blush. It had a fairy-tale princess—literally—romance, and a classic girl-meets-guy-with-British-accent story arc. Don’t forget the aw-shucks Hollywood close-up: Prince Harry, standing googly-eyed at the altar as his freckled bride-to-be approached. He gnawed a little at his lip and shared his most intimate thoughts with 29 million of his closest friends and family. “You look amazing,” he whispered to Markle in a lip-read gif that has been reposted ad nauseam, “I’m so lucky.”

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If you’re starting to feel that Instagram is chock-full of Nicholas Sparks’s rough drafts, you’re not alone. According to Elaine Lui, the founder of the incisive celebrity and pop culture site Lainey Gossip, celebrity couplings and uncouplings come in cycles. “2017, 2016 seemed to be a year when breakups were taking over,” she says. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, Channing Tatum and Jenna Dewan. These are the years we collectively wondered, is love dead?

2018 is a year that defiantly answers no. In addition to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (try it with me: Harkle), Hailey Baldwin and Justin “GOOGLE IT” Bieber are making out all over Brooklyn. Ariana Grande and her ten-inched comedian Pete Davidson are live-blogging their physical attraction and their furniture shopping. Nick Jonas’s tamely flirtatious comments on Priyanka Chopra’s Instagram are covered like Trump’s tweets.

As of the royal wedding, none of these three couples was publicly dating. As of this writing, all of them are engaged to be married. Which is not to suggest that newlyweds Meghan and Harry have stopped making news—their every touch is dissected for evidence of “breaking royal protocol.” Celebrity romance is in the air, or at least, it’s all over our feeds. It’s not so much a celebrity summer of love as it is a summer of celebrity PDA.

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We’ve long been obsessed with celebrity couples, or at least with smashing their names together. But our access to Bennifer, Brangelina and TomKat was relatively limited—a tasteful red carpet here, a stressed-out LAX exit there, a frenetic couch jumping way over there—compared to today’s deluge of content. “Romance has always been a central pillar of gossip,” says Lui. “We just have more ways to consume it.” Leveraging paparazzi, social media, song lyrics and red-carpet appearances, this microgeneration of lovebirds offer 360-degree access to their intimate lives—and even older generations of celeb couples are drawing back the curtain. Alex Rodriguez captured all of J.Lo’s angles on the VMA red carpet; J.Lo thanked A.Rod in her award acceptance speech. Even the famously private Beyoncé and Jay Z put their love on wax and took it on the road this summer.

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Then there’s Chrissy Teigen and John Legend kissing on Instagram, Cara Delevingne and Ashley Benson kissing at Heathrow, Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott kissing at Scott’s album release party. Lucky timing? Acceptance that power-coupling is the fastest way to build a brand? A desire to mate before Trump hits his head on the Do Not Press the Big Red Button button? Or a philanthropic impulse to combat the smell of hot trash with the sweet aroma of romance?

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According to paparazzo Miles Diggs, who mans the Instagram account, PositivePaps, the demand for photographs in which celebrities resemble the heart-shaped eyes emoji is market-tested. “The business has changed a lot,” he tells me. “Formerly, people solo with great fashion used to be the top-selling photo.” But Diggs says the photos magazines want now all involve good news. “A new couple is at the top of breaking stories that sell for us so we definitely target new couples or newly engaged couples, newly married couples, newly pregnant couples, stuff like that,” he says.

But is this the only reason that, on some days, a frumpy-looking Pratt and Schwarzenegger leaving the movies constitutes a major news story?

If you ask Jesse Fox, an associate professor at the Ohio State University who studies the role of social media in romantic relationships, she’ll tell you the summer of PDA is the product of savvy celebs who want to take on Hollywood and believe that mission can more easily be accomplished together. “Most [celebrities] have PR people overseeing what it is they are putting out there on social media,” explains Fox. “You have to remember that celebrity disclosures are never authentic.” (I knew Davidson wasn’t packing.)

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@haileybaldwin



Fox believes that, for these couples, social media is mostly for show. And by these couples, she means all of them. Baldwin, “essentially a nobody,” says Fox, is merely after the Beliebers. Grande wants to stay in the news. Beyoncé and Jay Z are crazy in love…with ticket sales. At one point, Fox prematurely put a fork in Jailey and Petiana. “If these relationships follow through, divorce is a very likely outcome,” she says.

Say love really is a four-letter word manufactured by Scooter Braun. What explains our willingness to buy in? “Celebrity gossip and gossip in general says more about us than it says about the subject,” says Lui. Celebrities may be acting like lovestruck middle schoolers. But Hollywood is also recognizing the lovestruck middle schooler in us all. Appearing on The Tonight Show last week, J.Lo. posited that the public hungers for romance, even if it’s fictional. “I think people need [romcoms]!” she said “We miss them!”

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Granted, J.Lo was promoting her own upcoming romcom, Second Act. But Liu agrees. Last summer, The Big Sick tested the waters for the genre’s return. Now we’ve got Set It Up, Crazy Rich Asians, and All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. “The romcom is back but being modernized to represent different story lines and different faces,” Lui observes. “It’s inclusive.”

We might see Beyoncé, one of culture’s savviest businesspeople, as writing her own romantic dramedy. She released a joint album with her husband and is proudly flaunting their post-Becky reconciliation on tour. Just because it’s smart business doesn’t mean it’s fake. “Jay and B, I believe are committed to each other and in a real marriage and love each other, definitely,” says Liu. “But I also think that they are performing it and showing it in front of the world.”

In line with Beyoncé and Jay Z’s other work, their performance of love likely has more political intentions than paparazzi bait. At the end of On the Run II shows, a graphic reading “This Is Real Love” is plastered across the stage. Then, Jay Z and Bey share an intimate you may-now-kiss-the-bride smooch in front of a stadium full of people. In doing so, they offer a raw, real look at what complicated black love looks like, enabling two powerful icons to relate back to millions of black individuals.

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For his part, Diggs believes the demand for photos of celebrities in love is a reaction to everything else going on. “There’s so much shitty press out there nowadays, that when there’s a positive uplifting story it feels good and people want to read about that and they obsess over it to a point,” he says. To put it more pointedly: the antidote to another horrific story about Trump is by living vicariously through other people’s’ love or infatuation.

Bieber’s long-winded Instagram proclamation of love doesn’t back us off the cliff of mutually assured destruction. Davidson wearing a bracelet with Grande’s initials won’t help kids at the border reunite with their parents. And Jay Z and Beyoncé’s rejuvenated love can’t impeach Trump. (But maybe we should at least ask on that last one.) Still, those stories can help people forget for just a second. “The thought process is,” says Dr. Fox, “I just need escapism and that’s just going to help me because the entire country has gone to crap and it’s the only way I can not focus on that.’”

I believe Diggs’s and Fox’s theory to be deeply, unshakably true because it describes me.

Soon after Davidson and Grande became official, I started following the Instagram account PeteandAriana, which documents the couple’s every interaction, out in the world or on social. At first, I thought it was a nice way to keep up with a cute couple. Now, I think it’s a safe space in an internet hellscape for me and their almost 50,000 followers.

Take this recent video of Davidson shimmying. Davidson’s weird private dance moves and helium voice countdown the days until Grande’s album release. “This put the biggest smile on my face I’ve missed them so much please,” reads the caption. It’s excellent promo and utter giddy nonsense. The joy of PeteandAriana only makes sense in the context of what Lui, Diggs, and J Lo say, about fighting hate with love. Petiana is so resplendent with new love and bright shimmery happiness that bystanders can get a contact oxytocin high just by following along.

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Another PeteandAriana post addresses this experience directly: “I hope some of y’all can learn to be more positive !! It’s a lot less draining, trust me.” It doesn’t take much guesswork to figure out what this account would recommend as the solution to negativity: L-O-V-E.

Maybe, like in any good rom com, we’re just a person, standing in front of a phone, begging it to show us people in love. Maybe we just need this right now.

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