Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello
Getty Images 

are all celebrity romances fake? exploring the "showmance" theory

Type “Shawn Mendes Camila Cabello” into Twitter, and all anybody seems to cry is “fake news”.

Welcome back to TMZ Theory, in which writer Philippa Snow takes a deep-drive into the stranger corners of celebrity and fame.

Kylie Jenner’s latest birthday present from her boyfriend looked, in pictures, like the inside of a uterus, or something from a horror movie. Red — lush in the eeriest, most Cronenbergian way — carpeted her extremely bland McMansion; half a dozen urns, on glass illusion pillars, spewed out some hard-to-identify material the shade of arterial spray. Travis Scott, a 28-year-old with a supposed net worth of a little over 20 million dollars, had arranged for Kylie’s foyer to be covered in rose-petals, a romantic gesture that purportedly took 16,000 roses, and cost $50,000 dollars. “My house is covered in ROSES!,” Jenner posted, “and it’s not even my birthday yet!!!!! Omg.” The effect was gothic, and the act was unethical in its wastefulness, and unethical in the sense that there is probably no decent way to obtain 16,000 roses. If it called to mind a fairytale, that fairytale was Bluebeard with its bloody chamber. (“My house is covered in BLOOD,” that story’s heroine might have exclaimed in her Instagram caption, “and I haven’t even told my sister yet!!!!! Omg!”)


It’s unclear what drives celebrities to not just say it with flowers, but scream it from the rooftops with them, but it may have more to do with horror than you’d think. To be a very famous person is to experience the horror that’s intrinsic to existing in a human body, squared, since they exist in them in public. In celebrity relationships especially, those bodies become subject to enormous speculation, and to strangers’ fantasies about their use that are invasive to the point of trauma. “True love,” for a celebrity couple, can accordingly look too big and too outré to be true. Forced to learn this week who Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello were by way of reading about their apparent romance — “PDA-filled,” per the Daily Mail — I wonder how much showier, really, their display of love was in comparison to that of other new, good-looking couples in their early twenties. Type “Shawn Mendes Camila Cabello” into Twitter, and all anybody seems to cry is “fake news”. Still, how easy can it be to look in love on camera, to make it look natural, and to sustain it not for one photograph, but for 30 consecutive shots? Whether Mendes and Cabello are the real thing or a PR set-up, I would never fault them for not working hard enough to put on an adequately dramatic show.

"It would be impossible to talk about so-called celebrity “showmances” without talking about “Robsten,” the former union of two of our greatest millennial actors, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart."


Other pairs of celebrities who put on major shows of romance, some more convincing than others: Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston in the Hiddleston debacle, which was meant to look like something from the cover of a romance paperback, and looked more like an L.L. Bean catalogue; a breezy Bradley Cooper (38) reading Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita to a zoned-out looking Suki Waterhouse (21) in a Parisian park; Kanye and Kim on a motorcycle, one nakedly rapping about his emotions and the other simply naked, in the video for Bound II; Cara Delevingne and Ashley Benson winkingly hauling a “sex bench” into their newly-shared home. It seems exhausting to convince the public that you’re in fact fucking the specific person you claim you are fucking when you’re a celebrity, the call for proof as bloody as if you were a defendant in a freaky, psychosexual trial. (The easiest way to provide it is, of course, to make a sex-tape, a la Kim and Ray Jay, or Paris Hilton and Rick Solomon.)

It would be impossible to talk about so-called celebrity “showmances,” — usually taken to mean romances set up for PR, although I prefer to also see it as the right name for a romance whose famous participants put on a show of love in general — without talking about “Robsten,” the former union of two of our greatest millennial actors, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart. Hardly showy, and more inclined to seek shelter than to court the paparazzi, they nevertheless spent their five-year off-and-on relationship dogged by numerous accusations of foul play. Whether or not the two were actually in love, they were in the news between 2008 and 2013 roughly as often as, say, Barack Obama, or Four Loko. Wearing one of Pattinson’s old T-shirts in a 2019 shoot with Collier Schorr, Stewart sent a double message with the slogan on the T-shirt — GET OFF MY DICK — and with the obvious, much-photographed origins of the T-shirt itself. “We’re over it,” she seemed to say, “so why aren’t you?” It was a big, self-aware gesture, made for an entirely different reason than the purchase of a sex-bench, or a new and very public love of Nabokov.

“The star is the anterior of cyberspace,” Masha Tupitsyn writes, in Laconia: 1,200 Tweets on Film. “Whatever they say gets blasted into the ether every which way. It’s a dangerous way to live. Dangerous because the star’s life and body are always on the market.” No famous family now is closer to the idea of constructed reality than the Kardashians, just as no family’s lives and bodies are as present on the market. Is it any wonder that even when their relationships are real, they go to unreal lengths to mark them? Kylie Jenner’s sea of roses might have looked a little frightening to a person unused to having to telegraph their love affairs on the same giant scale as the Kardashian family also tend to telegraph their curves. To a celebrity, it probably looked like any old Tuesday. Joseph E. Levine, the famous Hollywood producer who made just shy of 500 films between the 40s and the 80s, may have summed up the importance of illusion in the life of a celebrity the best: “You can fool all of the people all of the time,” he grinned, “so long as the advertising is good.”