We know plenty about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, but pop culture history has also shown us a thing or two about sex, love, and rock ‘n roll between celebrities over the last several decades. In the year 2021, it’s making a comeback.
At the top of the weekend, Hulu released the first-ever teaser images from the upcoming limited series Pam and Tommy. The pics showed Lily James and Sebastian Stan in their roles as 90’s Playboy royalty Pamela Anderson and Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee. The internet responded with shock and awe as the two stars’ transformations were near replicas of the iconic couple.
The Pam and Tommy brand of romance harkens back to the unfiltered days of Hollywood drama. The pair famously married in 1995 after days of dating and were some of the first-ever celebrities to fall victim to their sex tape being stolen and sold without their consent. Their relationship was a wild ride (also rife with domestic abuse; Lee served jail time for his violence against his then-wife) that played out in tabloids of the time. Pam and Tommy are symbols now for the brand of rock ‘n roll romance that is fondly remembered for its famous, lawless and raw sex appeal.
With the tides of pop culture today cycling back through nostalgia of the 90’s and 2000’s, reckless rock ‘n roll romance may be making a resurgence.
The bond between Kourtney Kardashian and pop-punk musician Travis Barker, for example, is heating up and grabbing headlines for viral PDA moments like this Instagram photo.
The smitten couple seems well-suited for one another: they’re both famous, single parents and effortlessly cool in their own regard. But Barker is a departure from the Kar-Jenners’ typical beaus. Kourtney’s ex, Scott Disick, continues to face criticism for his clout chasing lifestyle adjacent to his former in-laws. The Kardashian-Disick relationship started to fall apart as Disick dove head-first into his ‘Lord Disick’ persona at the onset of internet flex culture.
Celebrities of the Instagram era often portray relationships as an extension of their wealth, with expensive date nights, bae-cations and presents touted or ‘flexed’ for likes. As access to fame has grown with the internet, new boyfriend-girlfriend pairings often act as social currency. Models or influencers are a part of perfect relationships that appear contrived or totally joyless for the sake of maintaining a lifestyle.
Some celebs may be bucking this relationship formula in favor of a more irreverent love seen in the Hollywood tabloid heyday. The Daily Beast recently called Kourtney Kardashian and Travis Barker “the horniest couple in America” in response to their recent more-than-PG-13 social media posts. New tattoos, naked hangouts and near-constant embrace are just a few of the signifiers that Kourtney and Travis are flipping the celebrity romance script from perfect back to passionate.
Actress Megan Fox and rapper-turned-emo musician Machine Gun Kelly are also a prime example of rock ‘n roll romance in 2021. The pair officially got together in summer of 2020 soon after Fox was featured in MGK’s “My Bloody Valentine” music video. To confirm their relationship in June ’20, Kelly, quoting his own song, tweeted out “I’m calling you my girlfriend, what the f—k,” on the same day the two were spotted kissing in public for the first time.
Big (maybe whacky) displays of love in their relationship are fun call-backs to romance of era’s past. Fox described MGK as her “twin flame,“ meaning they’re two halves of the same soul. On Valentine’s day, Machine Gun Kelly revealed he wears a pendant holding a drop of Fox’s blood around his neck– a clear reference to vials of blood famously worn by Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie during their marriage in the early 2000’s.
Before direct hate comments or cyberbullying, stars often acted out with their partners to give a middle finger to public perception. Who could forget Britney Spears strolling around town with hickies courtesy of Kevin Federline? At the time, the public labeled them as lust-struck fools who spoke at length about their sex life on their questionable reality show Britney and Kevin: Chaotic. Likewise, Kurt Cobain announcing that Courtney Love was the “best f—k in the world” on live British television should be considered a pillar in pop culture history. For those stars, it may have been vindicating to have their fast lifestyle to be anchored by a passionate, albeit turbulent, coupling.
Because of its intense nature, rock ‘n roll romance is almost destined to fail. But the fire that inspires stars to act out may actually be more normal than any luxe #CoupleGoals seen online in recent years. Today, we’re seeing stars allow their love lives to take over their online presence rather than curate a love life that exists solely online.