All hail the return of the horny, chaotic, celebrity summer

Our thanks go out to Bennifer, for making famous people... good again?

by Louis Staples
|
29 June 2021, 1:21pm

Famous people are often annoying. What do they do, really, except consistently behave appallingly before posting grovelling apologies written on the Notes app or subjecting us to neverending Medium essays about how they’ve “grown”? Nothing, you cry! But wait; over the last few weeks, something has changed. Suddenly we’re asking ourselves: are celebrities… getting good again?

The evidence for this starts where most good stories start: Jennifer Lopez. The queen of The Block, “getting loud”, iconic Versace dresses, unfairly maligned rom-coms and being a Hustler broke things off with long-term on-again-off-again boyfriend, athlete Alex Rodriguez (“A-Rod”), in April. She was then seen hanging out with her ex-husband Marc Anthony, which got people talking. But then speculation reached a whole new level when Jennifer was seen with another old flame: actor and walking meme Ben Affleck. The internet’s jaw collectively dropped when “Bennifer” were seen kissing, 17 years after their iconic first stint together ended with a dramatically cut-off engagement.

If that wasn’t enough, JLo’s ex A-Rod was reportedly then spotted hanging out with Ben Affleck’s ex, Lindsay shooketh Shookus. Continuing to ramp up the emerging theme of deranged nostalgia, Angelina Jolie was then seen leaving her ex-husband Jonny Lee Miller‘s apartment on two occasions. But look, horny celebrity summer is not just about exes. That would be too simple. Consider Rita Ora and her boyfriend Taika Waititi, pictured in a three-way kiss with Marvel star Tessa Thompson. And a bunch of other rumoured celebrity pairings have been spotted together (if you know, you know).

We’re calling it: the chaotic, horny celebrity summer is here. And it feels well overdue. No one really knows whether it’s love, lust, a rebound, or an old-school publicity stunt. But quite frankly, who cares? Twitter seems happy to marvel at the theatrical spectacle of it all regardless, with fans already manifesting other former couples they’d love to see together again.

So why are people stanning this horny pivot? After a highly fraught few years — including pivotal elections on both sides of the Atlantic and a deadly pandemic — in which celebrities struggled with their image as role models, as public figures, as people with a responsibility to use their considerable platforms for good, it feels like there’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return to celebrities being, first and foremost, a source of entertainment. It’s not that famous people never do any good in the world, but we’d much rather see them papped awkwardly sneaking out of their ex’s apartment than singing “Imagine” together or reading off a script in one of those cringeworthy PSA videos.

Over the last year, with millions trapped at home and glued to their phones, it’s become increasingly frustrating listening to an endless feed of the famous and privileged preaching to us normals about how we should be behaving (even if what they’re saying is broadly correct). At the same time, it can also be exhausting keeping up with celebrity beef, scandals, and cancellations, which inevitably always result in some sort of cultural ramification, or reflects some sort of societal ill, thus requiring us all to provide a “take” on it.

Rather than forcing us to endlessly discuss their faux pas and missteps, as we wait for life to fully return to ‘normal’ (or phase into a much mentioned ‘new normal’) celebrities have, for once, become a positive distraction. And what feels refreshing about this horny summer – and unusual to the point where I’m asking, ‘what’s the catch?’ – is that it appears to be relatively harmless. Finally, famous people are giving us something we actually need: frivolous gossip.

When it comes to exes, it feels like the way we’re viewing past relationships is changing in pop culture too. In previous eras, songs like Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter”, Jamelia’s “Thank You” and Little Mix’s “Shout Out To My Ex” revolved around the narrative of women being thankful for an ex because his awfulness made them stronger. Yet, new ex-centric pop-bangers, like Ariana Grande’s “thank u, next” mark a departure from this: there is one un-attributed reference to “pain”, but the song is very positive about each of Grande’s previous boyfriends (and not just in a ‘thank you for hurting me’ way). It felt much more like an mp3 version of Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” than our previous era of “fuck you” anthems.

Where running back to an ex would have been seen as shameful before, today’s stans can perceive a certain power and notoriety in watching a woman like Jennifer Lopez return to an ex as the “main character” in his life many years later. Given the long history of famous women being shamed for taking back men who have wronged them, this feels like a significant shift, which could be connected to the current re-examination of how famous women have been treated in the past. Take Britney Spears, who was once characterised as a villain, particularly in the aftermath of her breakup with Justin Timberlake. But when Framing Britney told the story through a different lens, Timberlake ended up having to publicly apologise to his 60 million Instagram followers (via the Notes app, of course) following backlash about Britney and his notorious Superbowl controversy with Janet Jackson.

These narratives being rewritten years later also feels related to pop culture’s enduring fascination and celebration of the art of ‘returning’. There’s the Emma Roberts “Surprise, Bitch” Gif, where she is resurrected from the dead in American Horror Story. Taylor Swift’sreputation era”, after her fall-out with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian, became shorthand for ‘returning to silence your critics’. Even blockbuster movie franchises like Marvel and Star Wars are resurrecting heroes and villains from the dead at a rapid pace, because reboots and remakes without original characters are failing to hit the mark. Reality TV stars are also returning to the shows that made them famous, with a growing number of ‘all stars’ formats satisfying our demand for familiarity and nostalgia. There’s nothing we love more, it seems, than a call-back.

 

But moreso than nostalgia, in stanning these horny, messy celebrity moments, we’re enjoying a more relatable connection to them than they could ever manufacture through carefully curated, #relatable social media profiles. It’s no secret that physical intimacy has been in short supply over the last year. Sexting has become the height of intimacy and many of us have found ourselves reflecting on our old loves, or people we’ve been with in the past.

It’s been said many times that 2020 marked the end of the “relatable celebrity”. Anna Helen Peterson wrote on this topic last year, describing how “performative authenticity” from celebrities fell flat in the years just before the pandemic. But photos of Kim Kardashian’s “humble” 40th mid-pandemic birthday bash on a private island, she wrote, represented the “great, echoing distance” between Kardashian and the people who made her famous. Writing on the same topic, Vice’s Emma Garland lamented that the fun of fame had “lost its currency”. Now that Covid had made clear they aren't “just like us”, she asked: “can we go back to fame being fun again?”

This summer of love makes it seem like that might just be possible. We’re finally free from the tyranny of the Jennifer Lawrence-era relatable celebrity, but perhaps we don’t hate it after all when the rich and famous prove they’re human, as long as the relatability doesn’t feel too forced and the storyline isn’t all about their moral virtues. Not un-coincidentally, our feelings towards celebrity relatability are similar to how we might feel about our own exes, once the dust of the breakup settled: glad it’s over and wishing them the best, but also missing them a bit. Enough to flirt, but not enough to consider taking them back. For now we’re in a nice middle ground, or “friends with benefits”, with the relatable celebrity. Being mischievous and kissing an ex might feel relatable to us at this moment, but you know what doesn’t? The ex in question being Ben Affleck.

So as we enjoy watching famous people being horny and chaotic this summer, like we hope to be, we’re not fooling ourselves into thinking they are “just like us”. Because right now, we don’t need them to be – we just want to be entertained.

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