The Magic of Lil Xan and Noah Cyrus

The alchemy that happens when a Who dates a Who at the perfect time in their careers.

Noah Cyrus and Lil Xan covered in animated hearts and sparkles.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Matthew Eisman/FilmMagic, Mike Coppola/Getty Images for MTV, Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images, Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images.

In Slate’s weekly column Who?, the hosts of acclaimed podcast Who? Weekly explore the world of near-fame.

People often ask us, scholars of the first few rungs of the fame ladder, what strategies a celebrity can employ to ascend from Who to Them. There are obvious answers, like success, scandal, and simple longevity. But you can also take somewhat of a shortcut. Let’s call it “conscious coupling.” Tabloids love a surprising hookup, the gasp-inducing news that two seemingly dissimilar types have come together: like, say, alt musician Grimes and Tesla entrepreneur Elon Musk or pop star Ariana Grande and SNL comedian Pete Davidson. But sometimes there’s magic in not having a Them in the equation. In some relationships, Whos are all you need.

While unpredictable pairings can be fun in the short term, tabloids love it even more when a celebrity hookup just makes sense. Perhaps this is because a fan ship comes true in real life, as two people we’ve seen together, on TV on in movies or elsewhere, actually do hook up. Take the two young stars of the Netflix rom-com hit The Kissing Booth, Jacob Elordi and Joey King. To our collective delight, they got together in real life! Or The Bachelor’s Ashley Iaconetti finally landing her dream guy: fellow Bachelor contestant Jared Haibon. The classic example is The Hills’ Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag, two reality show villains whose marriage has now lasted a heartwarming 10 years.

And sometimes it’s because two Whos find each other at the exact right moment to simultaneously launch themselves into our consciousness. This year’s MTV Video Music Awards introduced us to a delightful post-millennial hookup between Lil Xan and Noah Cyrus. It’s hard to miss Lil Xan, the youthful 21-year-old emo rapper born Diego Leanos. His musical style is slowed down yet somehow abrasive, and his personal style is similar: He looks young for his 21 years but sports multiple face tattoos (including “ZZZ LOVER” and his mother’s name, “CANDY”). Photos of him on the red carpet were an immediate online sensation. Maybe you first noticed his face. Maybe his knit cap, one featuring the image of his late friend and emo-rap legend, rapper Lil Peep. Maybe you’ve heard his music, which was played occasionally throughout the show and has lyrics like “Her pussy tastes like Skittles.” But what shocked us most that night wasn’t any of that; it was the woman on his arm, Noah Cyrus.

That last name must ring bells. Noah, 18, is the younger sister of Miley Cyrus, the actress and pop star known for Hannah Montana, “Party in the USA,” riding a wrecking ball, and feuding with Nicki Minaj. Their father? Billy Ray Cyrus, the ’90s country star who rose to fame with his international smash “Achy Breaky Heart” and its accompanying mullet. Nepotism can be a powerful tool, but can be tricky for its beneficiary. No matter what Noah does, she’ll be connected to her famous family. Miley overcame her father’s one-hit-wonderdom with a string of success and controversy. By 2014 she was more famous than her father had ever been—sliding down an oversize version of her own outstretched tongue on the Bangerz world tour and twerking beside Robin Thicke at the VMAs. Noah has a budding pop career of her own: She opened for Katy Perry on the Witness world tour and her first song, “Make Me (Cry),” hit No. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. Her first album, NC-17, is due at some point this year (maybe) and what could be better than … a well-timed, unsurprising romance?

Sure, maybe you weren’t shipping Lil Xan and Noah Cyrus. We weren’t either; we didn’t know who they were. But now that we do, we think they’re the ideal match. Now they can work together, boosting each of their profiles with a song that tells the story of their whirlwind romance. (Never forget 2018’s chart-topping hit “Him & I,” starring now-ex-lovers G[erald]-Eazy and Halsey.) They can cross-pollinate their audiences, garnering more and more press for merely appearing in each others’ Instagrams. The image of them on the 2018 VMAs red carpet a week ago, Xan’s lil face smushed up against his new girlfriend’s, was so compelling that it spawned legions—a meme that made enough of a ripple that when, merely a week later, Noah posted a photo of her beau and her father posing with a huge bong that the former had given the latter for his 57th birthday, it went everywhere. Like, everywhere.

What we’re saying is that as much fun as it can be to shriek at the sight of Whos dating Thems, the passion is typically short-lived. Remember when Lady Gaga got engaged to Taylor Kinney and promptly dumped him after a naked V magazine cover? Or J. Lo’s short-lived marriage to long-forgotten backup dancer Chris Judd? Thems and Thems are another tricky situation, because fame tends to get in the way. (Plus, they value privacy above all. Good luck with that!) Though they may begin their relationships on the A-list, what happens when the other one drops down a few notches? In a recent interview with NBC, Dennis Quaid said his marriage to Meg Ryan began crumbling when she started getting recognized more frequently than him. (She then dumped him for Russell Crowe, speaking of A-list relationships that didn’t last.)

No, Whos falling in love with Whos are the most fun (and promising!) category of celebrity coupling. We just want to see them happy, and, let’s be honest, they’re happiest with people who can climb alongside them up that celebrity ladder. Long live Xoah!