"PROmances"—celebrity pairings that are less about love and more about profile—are nothing new, but watching Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston make out around the world is like watching a fruit rotting in time lapse; the accelerated grossness is fascinating, and it teaches us something both literal and metaphorical about the world around us.
On the surface, the pair make a lot of sense: Swift, the most successful pop star on the planet, Hiddleston, a very British actor in a very successful franchise. She's tall, he's tall. Neither of them can dance. But the very public way in which they have played out their romance so far—kissing on a beach in front of the paparazzi, meeting each other's parents in front of the paparazzi, touring Rome in front of the paparazzi, celebrating the 4th of July in front of the paparazzi—has led everyone from their respective fanbases to Phillip Schofield to call bullshit on the whole spectacle.
But celebrities end up in fake relationships (if it indeed is a fake relationship) all the time, for many reasons. Usually it's just good old-fashioned, dead-eyed cynical ambition. As proved by genuine couples as far back as Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbank and up to the current-day mainstays such as the Beckhams, the Knowles-Carters, the Kardashian-Wests, and the Jolie-Pitts, two celebs are better than one in terms of earning power and brand recognition. For the rich and famous, it makes sense, strategically speaking, to date other rich and famous people.
Sometimes this kind of pairing turns into a spectacular shitshow. Kaley Cuoco, star of inexplicably long-running, award-winning canned laughter show The Big Bang Theory and Henry Cavill, the guy who got the role of Superman because he's the not-gay Matt Bomer, were represented by the same PR company and completely coincidentally began dating in 2013 around the release of Man of Steel. Their grocery shopping outings struggled to make anyone believe the two were doing anything more than holding hands the second a camera lens pointed their way, and the "relationship" was almost comically brief. They now have the dubious honor of being at the top of every "TOP TEN CELEBRITY RELATIONSHIPS THAT WERE TOTALLY FAKE!!" list ever published.
On the other hand, relationships forged in a marketing boardroom can occasionally blossom into something more genuine. It seems likely that Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, as the stars of one of the biggest teen movie franchises in the world, were encouraged toward replicating their onscreen romance off-screen to further sell in the idea of true, unending vampire love to Twilight fans. Their relationship, never properly confirmed, but told through long lenses and red carpet appearances, may have begun as work, but four years down the line appeared to be very real. By the time Stewart was caught cheating on R. Pattz with the director of her movie The Huntsman, they had moved in together, gotten pets, and were more relaxed about talking about their romance.
Then there are bearding PROmances, where one or more celebrity in the pairing is concealing their sexuality in order to maintain desirability within the industry and to the public. Again, this practice has been invoked in celebrity circles for years—constant co-stars Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy, one of the Golden Age of Hollywood's prominent power couples, never married and conducted same-sex affairs throughout the whole of their long-term relationship. The public never had a clue.
Recently, with attitudes toward gay relationships becoming more accepting, this kind of PR arrangement is less frequent, with high-profile personalities who shy away from being publicly out preferring to live in a "glass closet" and maintaining privacy, while never explicitly lying about their sexuality.
The trend toward PR relationships seems to have tailed off in a social-media age, which relies more on transparency and honesty than deception and manipulation. Celebs are still spotted together, of course, more often than not because they have agents, publicists, managers, and record labels in common, but once the pics hit the press and the speculation begins, they can tweet a rebuttal that gives them two bites at the publicity apple: the "ARE THEY?" headline and the "FAMOUS PERSON DENIES RUMORS!" headline, which is often just as effective as faking a romance. When relationships are engineered, they are usually handled with such finesse that suspicion is never aroused.
Which is why Hiddleswift, wild-eyed and practically clawing at your skin for attention, seems particularly clumsy. If Hiddleston was making a bid at raising his profile in order to secure the role of James Bond, the entire caper has backfired spectacularly, with him being ruled out despite putting in an all accounts excellent extended audition in The Night Manager.
Another more likely sequence of events could be that Swift wanted to get a massive jump on the Kim Kardashian-West GQ cover story, in which she accused Swift of signing off on the controversial lyric in Kanye's single "Famous," which was followed by the even more controversial video—a wax model of Swift naked in a bed alongside Kanye, Kim, and other celebrities—a story she was probably keen to bury under a deluge of "better" news, such as a new boyfriend, a mere three weeks after she dumped her old one.
Whatever the truth, when operating at as high a level as Taylor, to some degree, every move you make is calculated PR to some extent. Her personal life has felt as stage-managed as her professional life as far back as her squad and the constant welcoming to the stage of her last world tour. Every pajama party, every 4th of July backyard BBQ, comes with a professional photographer providing photos for everyone on Instagram. Perhaps Swift and Hiddleston are truly a match made in thirsty, thirsty heaven. In which case, good luck to them, and may the Lord have mercy on the rest of us.
Follow Grace Medford on Twitter.