TikTok is a fragmented place. Sometimes, it seems like your For You Page is perfectly synced with your friends’ and housemates’ – like menstruation cycles linking up and hitting all of you at once. Other times, you’re so far away from your friends’ TikTok feeds that it’s like looking through a telescope at an alien planet.
You’ve got the usual Chicken Shop Date, outfits of the day, and sad scenes from Normal People set to even sadder Phoebe Bridgers songs. Your friend, on the other hand, is on capybara TikTok (just look it up). The more you like a type of video, the more of them you get.
This is why, this week, I have found myself disappearing down a TikTok rabbit hole. Like Alice’s fall into Wonderland, I have had little choice in descending into the mad world of celebrity gossip: yes I’m talking about the Selena Gomez/ Justin Beiber/ Hailey Bieber love triangle feud/ toxic mess. If you’re lost, I’ll bring you up to speed.
Trigger Warning: Discusses suicide.
Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber both burst onto the celeb scene back in the early 2010s, when TikTok was just a twinkle in the universe’s eye. Baby-faced singers, they coupled up in 2011 and were the “definition of a teenage dream” (as tweeted by Hailey Bieber in September 2011). During their years of on-and-off, Justin Bieber was spotted kissing Hailey Bieber in 2015.
When Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber eventually split in 2018, the Biebers were married just a few months later. Ever since, the pair have been dogged by rumours that Justin cheated on Selena with Hailey, something which was denied on the podcast ‘Call Her Daddy’ in September 2022.
Since then, Hailey is supposed to have ‘shaded’ Selena multiple times on TikTok. Most notably after Selena posted a TikTok of her ‘over’ laminated eyebrows, to which Kylie Jenner (yes, of course, the Kardashian/Jenner clan are involved) posted an Instagram photo of her and Hailey’s eyebrows saying “This was an accident?”.
In recent weeks, the internet has once again exploded with theories and rumours, such as the viral accusation that Hailey has copied and ‘stalked’ Selena for years, comparing her to Joe from You or the film Single White Female.
These theories have prompted dozens of TikTok sleuths to compile extensive ‘proof’ of these copycat incidents. These range from befriending Selena’s friends, to copying her ‘G’ tattoo behind her ear (which is admittedly, quite weird).
If all this sounds painfully playground, that’s because it is. But there’s a darker, more pervasive side to this internet gossip mill. If recent times have taught us anything, it’s that the mental health of celebrities at the heart of these stories are often neglected, in the rush for a few clicks.
Selena Gomez famously suffers from Lupus, an autoimmune disease for which there is currently no cure. Gomez is frequently body-shamed in the media for weight gain linked to her Lupus diagnosis.
Justin Bieber has been in the spotlight for his mental health problems such as depression and suicidal ideation. He’s recently had to cancel his Justice tour, due to mental and physical health issues, including his Ramsay Hunt syndrome diagnosis, a rare neurological condition.
Further, in March 2022, Hailey Bieber suffered a mini-stroke. It’s easy to dismiss the pain of celebrities as distant from us, but it’s tragedies like Caroline Flack’s death that highlight just how damaging this view can be.
Celebrity gossip has always existed (well, since celebrities have at least), but the internet allows for it to spread faster and more directly into the personal worlds of celebrities than ever before. Fans increasingly have parasocial relationships with stars, leading them to treat them as an extension of their own social life.
Celebrities of course play into this bizarre ecosystem of gossip: they encourage the parasocial nature of fandom when it benefits them or their bank accounts, but (quite fairly) recoil when it turns nasty. The image of a snake eating itself comes to mind when thinking of the self-devouring nature of the modern celebrity.
How did we get from lighthearted gossip to snake metaphors then? Isn’t that just the way internet culture works: a few clicks and you’ve jumped from capybara TikToks to anti-capybara TikToks, to thinking you really need to delete the app.
Or at least scroll past.
Copyright © The Mancunion
Powered By Spotlight Studios
0161 275 2930 University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, Oxford Rd, Manchester M13 9PR