Arzaylea met Luke at Kylie Jenner's 18th birthday party. Arzaylea (who has asked us not to share her last name), 21, was there because her dad and Kylie's boyfriend, Tyga, are business partners—they both have stakes in a headphones company. Luke Hemmings, 19, was there because he is in 5 Seconds of Summer (5SOS), the Australian pop-punk band that went from YouTube-famous to famous-famous thanks to a devoted, mostly teen-girl following. Luke approached Arzaylea at the party, and the two have been a couple ever since.
That was August 2015. By September—after Luke had followed her on Twitter, she says—Arzaylea was on 5SOS ("five-sauce") fans' radar. They found her on Instagram; pics highlighting her and Luke's relationship were taken as huge "fuck yous" by those who claim to be in love with him. Fans (and paparazzi) began noticing the couple around LA, and masterposts frantically parsing Arzaylea's social media trail started popping up on Tumblr. Her social media mentions exploded, as 5SOS devotees demanded an explanation: Who is this girl?
Turns out, "who she is" doesn't matter.
"[Luke's fans] want me to be this really horrible person," Arzaylea tells me. "But I'm not. I'm just a really normal girl who just happens to date someone not so normal."
Arzaylea is a normal girl—sort of: She's a guest at Kylie Jenner's birthday party, but she's not Kylie Jenner. She's Puerto Rican, grew up in Texas, and her parents are in the music business. She has been around industry people—and industry money—her whole life.
"People think I use other people for fame, but my parents have been in the music business since I was nine," she says. "I have a lot of friends who are already well known." In fact, after they got together, she and Luke found that they had many friends in common.
Arzaylea has non-industry friends, too, like 17-year-old high school senior Alicé, whom she met on Twitter two years ago. They talk every day; both describe their relationship as sisterly. "She's my best friend," says Alicé. "She's always supported me through tough times, always made sure I held my head high." Alicé hasn't met Luke yet, so I ask her if she's excited to meet a pop star: "It's meeting her boyfriend, not "Luke." I mean, that's cool too. But I really just want to meet the guy she keeps talking about."
I'm just a really normal girl who just happens to date someone not so normal.
Arzaylea moved to LA last year after going to Aveda esthetician school. She lives with a friend, considers herself a jack of all trades, and is still figuring out what she wants to do with her life. She declined to share how she makes money (or comment on the promotions for slimming tea, fake lashes, and lip fillers that have appeared on her Instagram); instead, she tells me she's taking acting classes and has already secured management, an agent, and a consulting team. Like many of us, she tweets 10 to 20 times a day, Instagrams selfies and group shots a few times a week, and Snapchats almost daily.
Her tweets run the gamut of the form: day-to-day observations ("i've noticed that in any show with a devil figure they're always British. why?"); dictums that might also be song lyrics ("wasting our youth is a crime"); explicit calls for attention ("sos i need ice cream and love"). She shares quotes from friends, screenshots of text conversation, memes. When I ask her about her social media philosophy, she tells me, "Twitter is kind of a game. I think all of it is kind of a game. And when people take a game too seriously, it turns into something way more than it needs to be."
It all feels pretty innocuous. But every time Arzaylea tweets, posts on Instagram, or Snapchats a part of her life, she's giving her adversaries fodder to support their narrative: "she sucks."
She keeps posting.
An incomplete list of fan grievances against Arzaylea: She is fame hungry; she's a gold-digger; she's actually 25; she has leaked pictures and texts to fans; she is selling info about the band to tabloids; she intentionally flaunts her relationship with Luke to hurt his fans; she willfully stirs up drama; she's rude to fans in person, on Twitter, and on the phone; she has forced Luke to smoke pot; she's been hired by management to rile up the fandom; she has brainwashed Luke into hating the fans; she is all manners of phobic and problematic.
I rattle off rumors to Arzaylea; she denies all of them.
Interestingly, "is dating Luke" never makes the list of complaints.
Lindsay Webster, a 22-year-old fan in LA, produced a deep-dive into Arzaylea's Internet footprint for Team Fangirl, a blog that she co-founded. According to her, it's what she found out about Arzaylea that makes her uneasy—not the relationship itself.
I think all of it is kind of a game. And when people take a game too seriously, it turns into something way more than it needs to be.
"I don't know Arzaylea personally," she tells me in an email. "I'm totally judging by how she makes herself appear online. But you don't have to be pessimistic or even biased to see that she's thirsty for fame, inconsiderate, and an alien to anything but a privileged life. Seeing our young, awkward, adorable Luke dating someone like that made the majority of the fandom upset. When I did the extensive research on Arzaylea, I questioned if I even knew the Luke that I thought I knew. My Luke wouldn't date someone like that."
Webster's research brought up four years of tweets; an ask.fm that has been deleted but lives on in screenshots; Instagram and Snapchat accounts; and a lot of bitter tea from an ex-boyfriend that, for 5SOS fans, serves as proof of Arzaylea's shady character. (When I ask another fan why Arzaylea is so despised, she says, "Well she's been called out by fans for being a tad rude, but she apologized. And she didn't pay rent one time.")
I ask Arzaylea about the rent. "My ex-boyfriend is a character," she says. "I wasn't happy anymore, and the only way I could leave was if I actually left."
In December, the long-awaited 5 Seconds of Summer Rolling Stone feature leaked, and the 5SOS fans weren't happy about what they read: The band was open about sex, drinking, and their desire for a male fan base; Arzaylea and Luke were open in their affection for each other. For many fans, the article was proof of what they already knew—the boys were growing up, and the band was changing.
"5SOS aren't the same, young, awkward little band who filmed acoustic covers in between classes in their Christian school uniforms," says fan-girl Webster. "The band has changed drastically, whether the fans like it or not, and Luke's relationship with Arzaylea is more of a perfect example of how they changed, which is why I think fans have pinned everything on her. "
Rolling Stone staff writer Brittany Spanos says there is precedent for this: "If a band develops beyond what a fan's idea of it is, they don't want to blame the band," she says. "It's Yoko syndrome. Everyone wants to blame the girl that's dating them."
"I think Arzaylea is an easy target," Spanos tells me. "She's been around a shorter time than [drummer Ashton Irwin's former girlfriend] Bryana [Holly], and she's around all the time. I also think Bryana was seen as someone [the fans] could speak to, someone who liked the band as much as they did, and therefore was a worthy significant other to someone they loved so much. Arzaylea didn't seem as inviting of their questions or their speculation. Not cruel—just blunt."
In early January, Arzaylea posted an apology (since deleted) to fans on Instagram and Twitter, asking to be considered as a person. "I don't want you to hate me," she wrote. "I don't want to be the 'reason' this 'fandom' is 'falling apart.' I'm more like you than you can imagine." What she was apologizing for wasn't too clear, but it was obvious she wanted the harassment to stop.
"I felt like—if I apologized—maybe they would chill with the hate," she tells me.
"It's really hard for people to grasp the idea that I'm a human and that I have feelings," she says. "I love music, I love bands. I'm so much like [Luke's fans], and they have no idea. "
Working on this piece, I spent a lot of time digging into Arzaylea's mentions—and even messaged with several 5SOS fans who have attacked her online. During one foray into Arzaylea's Instagram comments, I found a reformed hater named Olivia.
"I don't know why I sent [Arzaylea] hate," Olivia admits. "She was the only person I've sent hate to. I guess I was jealous of her. It wouldn't have accomplished anything, and I didn't want her to see it, yet I sent it."
Olivia's young—only 14—but she has gone from being one of Arzaylea's attackers to one of her biggest champions: Now, she tells other haters why they have it all wrong. The turnaround came after she watched a Snapchat video of Arzaylea talking to a friend. "I started liking Arzaylea because I heard her voice," she says. "I realized she was normal, not some monster."
I just felt like—if I apologized—maybe they would chill with the hate.
Part of her Arzaylea defense crusade is penance. But it's also something else: Olivia really likes Arzaylea, now, and thinks others would, too, if they'd give her a chance.
I ask her if there's anything she wants to say to Arzaylea. She types a letter over Instagram. ("Just because you aren't perfect doesn't mean [you] should get massive amounts of hate. I apologize if I ever hurt you with my comments.")
I send Arzaylea Olivia's apology.
"I appreciate Olivia's letter a lot," she writes back. "I am so happy she's had this kind of epiphany at 14. It's hard for girls her age to admit they're wrong. Her letter was so cute. I wanna give her a hug. I hope she can spread this reformed positivity to her friends and throughout her life."
I ask Arzaylea if she ever regrets having been so open online, and she tells me she does regret some of the things she has posted. "I'm a different person than I was a year and a half ago," she says. "So when [people] dig into my past, they are seeing who I was, versus who I am now."
Later, when I ask Arzaylea how her parents feel about what's going on, she tells me that they are really frustrated. "They know who they raised, and they know that I am not who people say I am online. But at the same time they are like, are you happy? And if you're happy, are you able to deal with it? And I am happy, so I can deal with it."
She's happy and dealing with it and trying things on, figuring herself out.
"My ambitions in life are to make myself and the people around me happy," she writes in response to one of my follow-up emails. "I hope to have made some type of positive imprint on society."
And maybe she already has. As an object of hate, Arzaylea's unwittingly become a conduit for empathy, like with Olivia. How many more people out there will—after watching a Snapchat, or seeing a selfie, or a tweet, or an Instagram comment—experience a similar shift in perspective and realize: "Oh, a human. Just like me."