© 2024 South Carolina Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

A match made in fandom: Travis, Taylor and the weirdness of celebrity relationships

Could it be true love for Taylor and Travis? Sure! Why not?

Do you know how many of the bachelors who have been bachelors on The Bachelor are currently married to the woman they chose in the final episode? As of this writing, one. One! Out of 27 seasons. That is, let's acknowledge, hilarious. But even more hilarious is the fact that reportedly, seven couples are married who have met on various seasons of Big Brother, which is not designed to lead to marriage. The only logical conclusion to draw is that if you want to create lasting relationships, a setup designed to get compatible people married doesn't work as well as locking a bunch of young and horny randos in a house together for a couple of months, feeding them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and not letting them leave.

As far as we know, Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce have never been locked in a house together. As Brittany Luse and crisis PR person Molly McPherson discussed on NPR's It's Been a Minute, Swift (the megastar) and Kelce (the Kansas City Chiefs tight end) are in a PR relationship that is going great guns. And maybe they're in a real relationship, too. Who knows?

Really, truly, who knows? In the history of public relationships between celebrities, who among us can honestly say we have known who would last? Even the very most seemingly suspicious of relationships can flourish. Rob Mariano and Amber Brkich met on an all-star season of Survivor, and he proposed during the finale. In front of Jeff Probst! CBS showed their wedding as a two-hour special. What could have seemed more phony? What could have seemed more like a bit they were doing for attention? Well, they've been married for almost 20 years, and they have four kids, so if it's a bit, they've really committed to it.

In fairness, what kind of a relationship for Taylor Swift would not seem suspicious and publicity-seeking? It's tempting to say "a relationship with an ordinary person," but where in the world would Taylor Swift meet an ordinary person? On Hinge? At the grocery store? At a bar? According to the internet (and the story Kelce told on his podcast), he went to one of her shows in July. He wanted to give her a friendship bracelet with his number on it, but it didn't work, and then the story got out there, and before you knew it, they were maybe/possibly/perhaps dating.

Now, certainly, you can choose to think this is absurd and that what, in fact happened was that her publicists and his publicists met in an underground lair beneath an active volcano, and after ceremonially burning some copies of Us Weekly while chanting "Co-ver! Co-ver! Co-ver!", they schemed to put together this entire story to inure to everyone's benefit, and Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce don't even like each other. There is a long history of suspicion that celebrity couples are cooked up for publicity reasons, whether it's because they're in a project together or, more insidiously, because the true nature of somebody's personal life has been deemed a potential liability.

But on the flip side, famous people dating other famous people makes a certain kind of logical sense, over and above the PR advantages. You would need a month-long orientation to date Taylor Swift if you came from any sort of anonymous background — you'd need to understand all the people on her team, how PR works, all kinds of things about confidentiality and safety and security, obligations she has, what it's like to be in the press, what it's like to be watched all the time ... that's a tall order.

Travis Kelce, on the other hand, had a dating show on E! back in 2016 called Catching Kelce, which, according to Vanity Fair, was being pretty successfully memory-holed until he connected with Swift. (His relationship with the woman he chose didn't last.) After that, until 2022, he had a five-year on-and-off relationship with journalist and influencer Kayla Nicole. That connection certainly never attracted this level of attention, but it brought its own scrutiny. So he's played the whole game before of drawing very fuzzy lines between public and private life. He's even got his own fandom, though it's dwarfed by hers.

You don't have to believe Taylor Swift is any sort of victim — at all — to think that it's functionally impossible for a normie to casually date a person as famous as she is who handles the rest of her life the way she does. Yes, she could have someone smuggled in and out of her hotel in a laundry cart, she could decline to comment on her personal life, and she could decide not to share herself with her fans beyond what happens on stage. But that would be a reversal of her entire oversharing strategy, in which her friends are part of her persona and her broken heart is part of her persona. This is exactly how Taylor Swift would be behaving if she were in a fake relationship with Travis Kelce, sure. But this is also exactly how Taylor Swift would be behaving if she were in a real relationship with Travis Kelce.

She lives this way. She shows up at things. She is the most animated person in the audience at any awards show. Given all that, dating somebody who's already famous is both the most strategic thing for her to do and the most sensible thing for her to do. (And listen, she's almost six feet tall. Maybe she likes a tall guy and was intrigued by the fact that a 6'5" football player wanted to give her a friendship bracelet.)

True love can be pretty boneheaded. Relationships that develop in the silliest of circumstances can thrive, and what circumstances we think of as silly can change. There was a time when the idea of connecting with somebody online was treated like an embarrassment; now, it's completely standard. People stay together who make no sense on paper, and sometimes that's beautiful, and sometimes it's devastating. (As Brian Krakow said in the very last episode of My So-Called Life with the regrettable but common nihilism of teenagers, "If you, like, analyze why certain people end up with certain other people, it'll make you want to kill yourself.")

It doesn't matter to anybody else's life whether this relationship is real or not, nor is it something you can figure out from watching her watching him or watching them leave a football game together. Maybe it's PR. Maybe it's lust. Maybe it's going to be over in a month. Maybe it's going to last. Maybe she's going to write a song someday heavily hinting that somebody who wore pads and a helmet betrayed her. It's a weird and beautiful and ultimately unimportant thing: Who knows?

Copyright 2024 NPR

Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.