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Timothee Chalamet and Kylie Jenner
Photography Gotham/GC Images

Inter-clout relationships are so hot right now

Public interest in the sexcapades of the rich and famous is nothing new, but our online engagement in these stories highlights a collective need to create our own narratives

Making an impact in today’s attention economy isn’t easy – and it usually comes at a premium. Scroll the feed and you’re bound to come across any number of micro- and macro-influencers posting #content with each other, the combined effort sparking a series of likes and reshares that boost both their reputations and follower counts. But these days it’s not enough to just commodify your identity, your lifestyle, your friendships – now, you need to do it with your romantic relationships, too. These ‘inter-clout relationships’ might be genuine, they might not be – it doesn’t matter. For the clout-coded among us, they can take many forms, and apply as much to high-profile celebrities as they do to your local DJ BF/model GF Insta romance. 

There’s been an uptick in strange celebrity romances in recent months. The biggest of course being Kylie Jenner and Timothée Chalamet, a relationship so publicised, so unlikely, that it must be staged… right? Ever since the couple were photographed doing some very public displays of affection at the Beyoncé concert, then papped eating chicken nuggets at the US Open a few days later, the internet has been ablaze with speculation: how can two people so seemingly incompatible, at play in such different areas of the pop cultural arena, end up together? Unsurprisingly, this has prompted a cascade of online speculation, with an internet library-worth of memes and TikTok explainers bolstering the five-seconds-of-virality. A photoshopped image of Timmy with a hoodie that reads, “I’m not the stepfather, I’m the father that stepped up,” circulates my feed. Another meme shares Kylie in that much-shared Schiaparelli dress, only the lion head has been replaced with Timothée’s face.

The key to any successful clout bomb is what each person can bring to the table, and this is no exception. Both celebs represent opposing sides of A-listers, with Kylie a multi-millionaire cosmetics mogul and Timmy one of the most wanted actors in Hollywood. They offer new cultural significance to each other by joining forces, uniting fanbases for the next big product drop or film premiere (Timmy offers Kylie an arthouse edge, Kylie offers Timmy Kardashian-level attention during the ongoing strikes). This tried-and-tested formula is something Kylie already has plenty of experience in. A savvy pairing can not only bolster fame but also business – just look at Kim and Kanye, or Kourtney’s marriage to Travis Barker.

United in holy cloutrimony, the hype surrounding Kylie and Timmy is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to our terminally online obsession with high-profile romances. Another recent example is Matty Healy and model-of-the-moment Gabriette, which has sparked similar confusion. What these examples highlight, aside from an obvious and borderline unhealthy parasocial attachment to the lives of the rich and famous, is something far more nuanced. Met with instant, digitally-mediated suspicion, there’s an assumed artificiality to these relationships. Fauxmance rumours and predictions of big-money deals are practically a given. To reference another meme: “Kris Jenner after finally securing the Kylie-Timothee photo series.”

“A savvy pairing can no only bolster fame but also business – just look at Kim and Kanye, or Kourtney’s marriage to Travis Barker”

What makes the romance between a multi-million reality TV star and an Oscar-nominated actor so incompatible is beside the point. Chances are Kylie and Timothée have more in common than meets the eye – not that anyone, bar a handful of close friends and family, will ever know the real truth behind closed doors. For a start, they know what it is to exist at the very apex of fame as young people; to have their every moment, every movement photographed, discussed and dissected. As the internet rumour mills churn away, creating its own expansive lore that spans op-eds, Twitter threads, TikTok analysis and memes, what becomes apparent is how these media narratives mutate in users’ minds. This UI-friendly speculation is engineered for and by social media, and allows the user to play side character in the action. Each post, video clip, like and reshare feeds into the ever-growing lore surrounding the celebrity romance, as the speculation fuels a theatre almost entirely separate from the actual relationship itself. Yet it’s our investment in these stories, how unlikely and outright bizarre they appear, that brings these fan theories to life.  

If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that media narratives are generally flawed, and it’s the job of us (as the people who consume them) to uncover the real truth that lingers just beneath the surface. We piece together seemingly disparate strands of information – news stories, paparazzi snaps, a group photo – and make up our own minds. So, while public interest in the sexcapades of the rich and famous is nothing new, what our personal engagement in these stories, and their digital lifespans, highlights is a collective need to create our own narratives.

Celebrity couples have existed forever. There’s a long history that dates all the way back to Old Hollywood where production studios would manufacture celebrity relationships as promo for upcoming releases. But with all the megabytes of information pummelling our brains per second, it’s harder than ever to cut through the noise. A successful inter-clout relationship then requires a certain kind of buzz. It either must capture the public’s hearts (Stormzy and Maya Jama, Zendaya and Tom Holland); create a scandal (Kanye and Kim, Ariana and Spongebob); or come across so seemingly bizarre and unthinkable that we can only scratch our chins in collective confusion (Timmy and Kylie, Kelis and Bill Murray). For celebrities, inter-clout romances are big business – Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker’s nuptials came with a $15 million Dolce & Gabbana collab, and lest we forget Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas’ #sponcon wedding. As for lower-level influencers, the increased exposure opens doors and boosts social capital – arguably more important today than ever.

The assumption that inter-clout relationships are mutually beneficial is a given. Nowadays, it’s the humble internet-goer who plays the role of tabloid and gossip columnist. But the desire to act as a commentator comes at a price. Becoming an active participant in the drama will only fuel the fire – and we all know who benefits from that.