Why Are People So Helplessly Riveted by Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson’s Engagement?

Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande.
Pete Davidson and Ariana Grande Photos by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Xbox, Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartMedia

Watching celebrities make questionable romantic decisions has been a national pastime for over a century—that meme of Charlie Chaplin as the “original” distracted boyfriend is truer than you know—but it never gets old. When Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson were canoodling in front of the camera (or the 2018 version, leaving love notes in the comments of each other’s Instagram accounts), they were charming, if a little over the top. But when the ponytail aficionado and that guy from Saturday Night Live who looks like Rami Malek’s sophomore photo confirmed their engagement after seemingly less than a month of dating, the internet struggled to make sense of the two 24-year-olds’ fast-forwarded courtship. People were indignant, amused, hopeful, confused, worried, envious, and that old Twitter standby, “truly devastated.” What accounts for the varied, but consistently extreme, passion?

1. Ariana and who?

Ariana Grande is a Top 40 staple with a trio of Grammy nominations and three platinum albums. She’s arguably one of the five biggest pop acts working right now. Pete Davidson has been on SNL for the last four years, but probably wouldn’t even crack a top 5 list among that show’s cast. Davidson’s no slouch: He was hired by Lorne Michaels at age 20, making him one of the show’s youngest cast members ever. But Grande and Davidson’s disparate levels of fame and accomplishment have made the couple Exhibit A in discussions about how differently humor is seen as a sexually desirable trait across genders.

Comedian Julia Claire makes a great point, but if you need hope that the opposite of Grande + Davidson happens too, lie back and think of the glorious romance of Chris Evans and Jenny Slate. But still: Are Grande and Davidson a power couple or yet another illustration that high-achieving women need to marry down? Expect the debate to continue.

2. The ’Gram dramz

It’s not unheard of for celebrity couples, especially those under 30, to channel their PDA impulses through their social media accounts. And it’s not just the fame-thirsty Whos, either; couples you can identify by just their first names—Justin and Selena, Zayn and Gigi, Nick and Priyanka—are guilty, too. But it’s quite possible we’ve never seen a social-media romance accelerate as quickly as Ariana and Pete’s did, or watched a couple’s posts take on such concentrated meaning. Twitter and Instagram gave us not only proof of their togetherness, pictures of the pair, and snippets of their love language, but also—by roping in references to their exes—multilayered texts to get lost in.

Davidson’s former girlfriend, Cazzie David (daughter of Larry), is a cult object of envy on Instagram. And less than five weeks ago, parts of the internet took badly to Grande ending her relationship to the rapper Mac Miller, with whom she sang “The Way.” In response to a nasty comment about Miller’s post-relationship DUI, Grande posted a righteous message on Twitter decrying society’s tendency to shame and blame women “for a man’s inability to keep his shit together.” Part of the response to this engagement is excitement about knowing that this TMI couple, whose cachet is now partially based on their transparency, will continue giving us all a lot to talk about.

3. I don’t know her?

By 2018’s standards, Ariana Grande’s behavior makes her basically a latter-day Marie Osmond. Since the odd moment in 2015 when the then–22-year-old licked a few donuts and (probably) joked that she hated America, Grande has been a model pop citizen. She handled the tragic 2017 bombing after her concert in Manchester, England, with grace. The relatively modestly clothed (for a pop star) Grande has even appropriated Bambi’s innocence as her selfie filter of choice.

So what does it mean for Grande’s squeaky-clean persona that she’s now engaged to a comedian whose image is built around his bout with addiction and a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder?* Does Grande have a wild side waiting to get out? A caretaking side she’s ready to embrace? Maybe fans and onlookers are freaking out because they’re realizing they don’t know Grande as well as they thought they did. That’s the hazard, and fun, of discussing people you don’t really know.

Update, June 13, 2018: This post was updated to more accurately characterize Pete Davidson’s image.