The allure of the celebrity romance narrative
I am definitely in the camp of never having been at all interested in a Taylor Swift relationship and being surprised by my interest in this one. Which is not super high but it does exist. So, having read this extremely fascinating piece on it, here's what occurred to me about what I'm seeing. One is that Kelce is so willing to enact the giddiness of the beginning of a relationship in a way that we don't usually see big football dudes do. And if you read romance novels, that is very much an end-of-romance thing -- the big guy so consumed by love that he for the first time drops his kind of masculine withholdingness and allows himself to be vulnerable and joyful. (I have no idea how Kelce has been in previous relationships; just talking here about how his current performance of this relationship fits into the general image of the big football dude.) So he's kind of offering the beginning and the end simultaneously. Additionally, also thinking romances, Kelce is at a classic romance hero place in his life: he's a football player trying to figure out what comes next. He's been successful but the thing he's dedicated his life to is going to stop being an option, so it's a kind of moment of possibility but also a moment he needs to figure out a new set of things to structure his life around. (I mean, Susan Elizabeth Phillips had a whole set of books about football players at more or less this moment in their careers. And I feel like there are other books by other authors with those characters.) Anyway, yeah, I did not expect to be spending this much time thinking about a Taylor Swift relationship.
Oh, I’ve been waiting for somewhere to discuss this. I have a 16 year old bona fide Swiftie, so we talk about this a lot. Plus, my husband is a longtime Chiefs fan and has passed that to our 14 year old son, so this feels like something that all my family can relate to (spoiler: they can’t). I appreciate AHP’s analysis of the narrative around Taylor, but I feel like my interest is much more face value: Taylor has been really transparent about all her relationships, so it feels like we know the stories and her pain, etc. And I was thinking about this the other night and it occurred to me that my delight, and I assume others’, as well, is about how here’s this incredibly successful in his field man, handsome, well-liked, etc, and he is crazy about this incredibly successful woman and is proud and supportive of the work that it takes to be as successful as she is. He supports her! He admires her for her work and talent and expresses that! I feel like that’s something that’s largely absent from a lot of the way successful men discuss the women in their lives; so often the things they say are focused on how the woman supports them, what she does for them as a partner. And here’s Travis, just like gobsmacked that he landed this woman whose success eclipses his exponentially and he’s into it. The only other male celebrity I can think of who’s similar is George Clooney, and I also really love seeing his awe and uxoriousness towards his wife whose contributions are literally saving lives.
I think there may be an additional element of this that I am understanding from my single woman friends who are actively out there trying to date men - the beginnings of relationships (or even non-relationships) are a HOT MESS right now! Everything is so needlessly complicated and everyone in the dating landscape seems to treat each other like crap. And I gather that this sort of old-Hollywood-style relationship press roll out of this girl who so many relate to being loved upon and micro-worshipped in an respectful way by this big handsome man conjures a kind of comfort that this situation might still exist somewhere in the hellscape of modern dating if you just hold on long enough.
Not saying that’s true for everyone, just what i am observing from conversations!
I find I'm very attracted to a love lost and then rekindled narrative which is why Persuasion is my favourite Austen and why I found myself very invested in Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez's 20 year later reunion. I think it is that other future's possible thing - the sliding door moment of what could have been if things had worked out with that person from my past.
This reminds me of something I just learned from sex therapist and educator Dr. Celeste Holbrook: that the opposite of desire is having something. Which is why that early-relationship desire is lost the longer you're with someone. Not because you don't love them! But because now you have them, so your brain moves on to desiring other things. I was so relieved to know that the "problem" wasn't me, even as I was and am stymied as to how to rekindle that early desire. Watching Taylor run to kiss Travis is such a strong reminder of what that early, falling in love, heady desire stage feels like. I miss it, I want it (desiring desire, how meta), and I can't look away.
God I love this newsletter. ❤️
I got deep into Taylor Swift fandom during the pandemic, around when folklore came out, and it's been so interesting to watch this whole business as an exercise in crafting narratives (really hitting all my English major buttons). I was never that interested in her relationships, but the way she talks about them and uses them to steer the conversation about her life is amazing.
Some context on how her music and tour are playing into this for people who are way too invested in her storytelling:
During 2023, fandom has seen the artfully communicated breakup of a six-year relationship with Joe Alwyn. Specifically: it came a few weeks into the Eras tour, on the only non-tour weekend between several other stops.
Shortly before the news broke (the week before, iirc), there was a setlist change at the start of the folklore set. For the first few stops, it opened with "invisible string," which is a very cute song about some piece of fate pulling lovers together, with specific references to her life and Joe Alwyn's (like his teenage job). Key lyrics:
"A string that pulled me
Out of all the wrong arms right into that dive bar
Something wrapped all of my past mistakes in barbed wire
Chains around my demons, wool to brave the seasons
One single thread of gold tied me to you"
Then she pivoted to "the 1", which is more about how it would have been beautiful if someone *had* been the love of your life. When the album dropped in 2020, it landed as a great general/ possible fiction song.
"And if my wishes came true
It would've been you
In my defense, I have none
For never leaving well enough alone
But it would've been fun
If you would've been the one"
At the time, the shift was just a fun "ha, you can't guess everything from what you read online" thing, but in hindsight, it's a cue for people to stop focusing on that relationship. When did the actual breakup happen? We don't know, but that musical shift and the intentional narrative of it captivate me. Some people were wondering "why isn't Joe at opening night of the tour?", and the counterargument was that everything was fine or she wouldn't have led the segment on her Grammy-winning album with a song that is unambiguously about him. That single setlist change let her minimize gossip both before and after the breakup news dropped.
There was a lot of uncertainty about why that breakup of an always very private relationship happened, and we still don't know for sure: best guess is that Taylor wanted the spotlight of this tour and the press, and Joe didn't, or perhaps a disagreement about marriage. However, the clearest answer we've gotten is a limited song called "You're Losing Me." This was available on a limited CD at one weekend of shows and available in her online store for one weekend only: so the core fan base got to it, but it didn't get the full glare of the spotlight and it's not on Spotify yet (find it on Youtube). It's a heartbreaking song about a relationship falling apart and features this line:
"And I wouldn't marry me either
A pathological people pleaser
Who only wanted you to see her"
I'm struck by the way fandom latched onto this song immediately, creating this shadow narrative along the lines of "Taylor wanted to get married and Joe didn't, but it's fine because he kept the relationship in the shadows and now she can be happy in public." She hasn't had to say a word in interviews-- the way the music was released, with the most vulnerable stuff being the hardest to find amid the glitz and glamour of the Eras tour, prepped the more intense fans to be looking for something new and different in her new relationship rather than resenting the next guy. (We are ignoring Matty Healy here because fandom hated that and it ended very quickly, but I've been impressed how comprehensively that rebound has sunk like a stone from the conversation.)
And then of course we come to that giddy kiss outside the tent, following a cute lyric change to "karma is the guy on the Chiefs", where there's a great reaction video of Travis clutching his face and grinning, clearly flattered. There's a lot of performed but real-seeming public, mutual affection there.
(sorry this is so long, but I wanted to drop in on behalf on the lyrics-nerd segment of her fandom, lol)
One reason we are hooked is that Taylor has yet to get married. By contrast, another Taylor, Elizabeth, had been married five times by the time she was Taylor’s age. Of course, times are VASTLY different, but we have yet to see Taylor choose her first husband. She may wait even longer - Derek Jeter had an equally varied dating record, and did not marry until age 40. But I think “is he the one?” keeps us involved in the story.
This romance allows me to live in a world of Both/And. It lets me hold so many realities at once even while I know that it absolutely is not reality. What joy! It makes me feel like any woman can run off stage and have someone waiting for her, someone who has been publicly rooting for her all night. It actually makes Romance novels with the trope of hot sports human (football/hockey/soccer/etc) and very unathletic human seem like reality. It’s like a vacation for my brain. It’s such a white heteronormative fantasy, which makes it even easier to digest. I recognize it. It’s the myth I’ve been fed, and now it’s “real.”
This was interesting to read. I’m a casual fan of Taylor’s and I’m in no way invested in this relationship. I saw how Kelce “rebranded” while he was with a black woman and I saw how he returned to his….”true form” after that relationship ended. I saw how some Swifties shat on this woman for no reason other than being the ex. So when I see this couple I don’t think about the potential for a similar kind of romance happening in my life. Instead it’s a reminder that men can be chameleons and it’s hard to know who they really are.
Add to that this layer of race/culture…. Travis got a style glow up from a black woman (See him in 2016, see twitter thread on the phenomenon
https://twitter.com/kiannaovo/status/1216914573300785153?s=21&t=bY4It3MsOVKT-cS_jY1FuQ), left her and landed one of the biggest pop stars in the world. I’m not a scholar on this topic, but it’s giving performative identity.
How does Kelce show up if he’s in a relationship with an Asian woman, I wonder? ….anyhoo, clearly this is about Kelce not Swift. I want to love someone who is authentic and not someone who constantly changes their entire persona to fit whoever he’s dating. So there’s nothing aspirational to me about their relationship.
I don’t want a love/romance like that. You guys see his red jersey, I see a red flag. 👀😅
What Morgan Crutchfield wrote!
I'll also add that I recently watched the David Beckham documentary on Netflix and I found it surprisingly tender, trenchant, and at times, hilarious (especially the immediately viral back-and-forth with Victoria about her upbringing defined and what kind of car her father used to drive her to school in when she was a kiddo.) While I was a living and breathing human when their relationship began, I didn't live in the UK, didn't listen to the Spice Girls, didn't watch professional soccer (okay, okay, football, hello Ted Lasso) but was still *keenly* aware of what a monster match it was, celebrity-wise. A super relationship. The fact that it has endured and that they seem to genuinely enjoy one another decades on, makes me want to root for them all the more.
But where this dovetails with the angle on this particular newsletter is that the doc lets the viewer live through that fevered beginning stage of a relationship with them again, but with the benefit of hindsight (and sure, massaging given it's the two of them controlling the narrative.) Add to that the massive pressure on DB to perform in the 1998 World Cup and it's a tale that at times feels mythological.
“they care so much that they must occasionally seek utopia, no matter the form, no matter how seemingly dissonant. We return to fantasy not to forget, but to remember: other futures are possible.”
Couple of thoughts springing up in me, A Non-Fan of TS/TK Who Nevertheless Watches *All* the Tiktok Reposts (And Who Loves Mad Men!!!!):
Thought #1: In polyamory we have the concept of New Relationship Energy, or NRE (one of the many concepts from polyam-land that I think is super useful in all kinds of relationships!), that codifies this idea of the intoxicating but also narrative rush of the Beginning of Things: all the ways you idealize someone, all the chemicals flowing through your body, the reality of the fact that it WILL fade, and then your relationship will have to transition: either end (because NRE was the thing carrying it along) or transform into, as AHP says, the real "labor" of loving someone. All the polyamorous folks I know have their own relationship to NRE, and it's one of those things you do need to think critically about if you want to have successful multiple relationships running/overlapping/developing/ending at the same time. How do you indulge in the potential of your new hot girlfriend and keep one eye on the very real reality of your ten year marriage at the same time? Or, in this TS/TK monogamous context that we're all watching, how do you get carried away by all the STORY of a new romance while hoping/wishing for the thing to become, eventually, your mundane day to day life?
Ultimately, it's bittersweet, right? Wanting the thing and technically, then, wanting that thing to end in service of another thing. (Thought #2 incoming) Anne Carson writes about this kind of desire in her book EROS (which is an unpacking of Sappho's invention of the word "bittersweet" to describe love and also it's about so much more and god she's just brilliant). One of the many things the book revolves around is how desire is an unresolved action: it's a reaching, it's a movement, it's wanting -- but it's NOT having. And most importantly, having transforms desire into something else, because the action was completed. The lover has been had. The apple on the tree has been plucked.
So (thought #3), the allure of this story we're all watching is that we're caught in the tension and suspended reality of the moment of desire JUST being fulfilled: they sort of have just now had each other, on the cusp of resolving tension. (Maybe this is highlighted even more because of all the Content to consume? You can rewatch the handholding as many times as you'd like; the consummation can be replayed again and again. It's in the fossil record, so we can stay in the bittersweet tension/desire moment as long as we like.)
I think we're collectively realizing that a lot of men are downright awful and we're not only being turned off by that but repulsed by their commitment to that bit. So the idea of a seemingly lovely girl, who's been unlucky in love, being unexpectedly pursued by not only a stereotypically beautiful manly man, but one who seems to be a progressive, supportive, confident in himself man? It's quite literally like all of our favorite romance novels come to life. It gives all of us hope that our version of Travis Kelce could also be out there, admiring us from afar and about to shoot their shot.
(As an aside: I have my doubts about the longevity of the relationship, primarily because Travis has this Black man affectation that feels uncomfortable; it reminds me of Justin Timberlake in Britney's memoir, pretending to be this hip-hop wannabe. It feels juvenile to me, like he's trying to be cooler than he is, I would find it grating, but perhaps Taylor has more patience. Regardless, I am rooting for her!)
I said to my friend just yesterday “I’m concerned Taylor only likes the beginnings of things!” And it was a direct reference to Dr. Faye! I meant I was concerned that we were all getting too invested in this relationship and *we* - the viewing public - would get our collective hopes dashed. Taylor Swift is a billionaire talent extraordinaire who needs no man and has afforded herself the right to do what so many ultra wealthy men have done before her, which is lots of beginnings of things! Still, she is such an image crafting mastermind we want the heteronormative fairy tale to play out before our eyes.
I read a lot of romance books, and watching footage of Taylor and Travis provides the same hopeful feeling of a happily ever after. In complex times, it’s comforting to gravitate towards hope. Their relationship is something to root for, just as we do in romcoms/romance books.