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Blood, guts and gore-baiting: the rise of the gruesome celebrity romance

From skin branding to drinking blood, famous couples are growing increasingly desperate for attention

It’s 2011 and I’m scrolling through Tumblr. It doesn’t take long before I stumble across Alex Turner’s famous love letter to Alexa Chung: "My mouth hasn't shut up about you since you kissed it,” I read. “The idea that you may kiss it again is stuck in my brain, which hasn't stopped thinking about you since, well, before any kiss.” This is the epitome of romance, I think as I hit the reblog button.

Since then, Alex and Alexa have broken up (RIP), and celebrity couples have become a lot more unhinged. Like, a lot more. We have Megan Fox and MGK drinking each other’s blood (with Kelly gifting Fox a thorn-studded engagement ring designed to hurt if she tries to remove it), Kourtney Kardashian posting pictures of vials containing Travis Barker’s blood, and, worryingly, Pete Davidson getting ‘Kim’ literally branded onto his skin with a white-hot iron. 

It’s… a lot. It feels like one moment celebrities were trying to be relatable by shoehorning references to pizza into every interview, and now they’re dry-humping on luxury boats and doing weird things with each other’s bodily fluids. 

How did we get here? Biz Sherbert, culture editor at creative agency The Digi Fairy, explains that on a basic level, big romantic gestures make for engaging content. “Our feeds are oversaturated and repetitive, but content dedicated to intense love tends to trigger age-old emotional responses in us, whether that’s desire for a similar relationship, jealousy or cringe, or simply getting hooked into the relationship narrative and compelling us to DM it to our friends for speculation,” she explains. It’s gore-baiting: the internet has pumped so much content into our brains, celebrities now have to go to increasingly gruesome lengths to get our attention.

It’s also true that dramatic declarations of love like these aren’t entirely novel: famously, Angelina Jolie and Billy Bob Thornton used to wear vials of each other’s blood back in the day. “We’re also revisiting famous love stories of the 1990s and 2000s, like that of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee and Bella and Edward in Twilight – whirlwind relationships that were more than a little dramatic and stand in contrast to the low-effort situationships that Gen Z is used to, but is becoming increasingly critical of – as demonstrated by the ‘the bar is on the floor’ meme,” Sherbert continues. “This kind of content is a way to directly absorb these kinds of love stories without a filter of a song or film.”

The revival of emo culture is an undercurrent to all this. “The emo subculture of the 2000s embraced individuated, personal pain – applying the angsty proverb ‘nobody understands me’ to one’s inner world and suffering. In terms of relationships, the one person capable of understanding the emo, and their deeply personal pain, was perhaps someone on the other side of an intense romantic connection,” Sherbert adds. “This connection type is similar to what we see with Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly, who say they consider themselves of twin flames: two halves of the same soul.”

“The emo subculture of the 2000s embraced individuated, personal pain... [and] the one person capable of understanding deeply personal pain was someone on the other side of an intense romantic connection” – Biz Sherbert

On the one hand, it should be stressed that proposing to your fiancée with a ring that implicitly forces them to stay in a relationship with you (especially when you have a history of predatory behaviour) or literally melting your skin off is not a healthy way to show your love for someone. Relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan explains that something like Fox’s ring exemplifies MGK’s “need to inflict a physical response to his spouse if they ‘separate’ themselves from the ring”, while Davidson’s branding potentially signifies “a sense of ownership over [Kim] internally that he wants to portray externally”. There’s certainly a danger that, in some instances, celebrity couples are at risk of glamorising toxicity by professing their commitment to one another in increasingly extreme ways.

However, where these shows of love are less problematic, we can’t really fault celebs for being unabashedly horny and in love. Sure, it’s indisputable that there’s an element of PR to all this – publicly admitting to drinking your SO’s blood is bound to make headlines, generate intrigue, and keep you relevant. But isn’t that what celebrities are there for? To make spectacles of themselves?

Considering the tabloid culture of the early 2000s shamed celebrities for doing anything slightly unorthodox, it’s weirdly refreshing to see them own their decisions – no matter how batshit crazy – and take back control of their own narratives. Despite the ubiquitous popularity of Alex Turner’s love letter, it should be noted that it only entered the public domain after Chung left it in a bar and an opportunistic thief nabbed it and sold it to sensationalist rag The Sun. Chung later called the whole fiasco “upsetting”, while red-tops slated Turner for being “soppy.” Now, the subtext underpinning every celebrity’s wild show of PDA or weird declaration of love seems to be: “deal with it!” As Gen Z would say: they are cringe, but they are free.

I have zero intention of drinking my boyfriend’s blood or permanently etching his name into my skin – I literally cannot even fathom being in a headspace where I give either of those two things a modicum of consideration – and this is precisely why it’s so fascinating to see other people do it. Post-Imagine video, it’s fair to say we’re all collectively done with the era of the #relatable celebrity. I don’t want to hear about glamorous people going to McDonald’s and sitting around in sweatpants – I have enough of that in my own life, thanks. I want to hear about them swilling blood and tattooing each other.

Will some of these celebrity relationships end? Sadly, most likely. Will some end as dramatically and abruptly as they began? Again, sadly, it’s probable. In the meantime, though, I’m happy to watch glamorous people fall in love and share their joy with us in the most spectacular fashion possible. If celebrities can’t solve the world’s problems, the least they can do is provide us with some escapism from them.