Music

Why Do We Care So Much When Our Faves Date A Dud?

When it looked like Nicki Minaj and Eminem were dating, the internet echoed their upset from when Grimes and Elon Musk became a thing. But why?

For 48 disorientating hours last month, it seemed like Eminem and Nicki Minaj were dating. They weren’t, for reference, but we didn’t know that at the time.

All we had to go off were some bars Minaj spit off in a feature on YG’s ‘Big Bank’ which seemed to be about dating Slim Shady. Then, when asked by a fan on Instagram whether they were dating, Minaj responded with one world-shifting word: “yes”.

Over on Twitter, fans of Minaj and Eminem alike shared a general sense of confusion. The pairing felt off, for lack of a better word — like when a sitcom slings two incompatible characters into a relationship, apropos of needing a new storyline.

Thankfully, two days later Eminem confirmed in concert he was still single — and while they weirdly keep playing with us with flirty Instagram comments and shout-outs, we’re tentatively going to call the crisis averted.

The rise and fall was its own rollercoaster, but the mass existential angst it inspired felt all-too familiar. It was an eerie echo of weeks earlier when Grimes and technocrat Elon Musk announced they were dating via Page Six, just hours before their debut as a couple on the Met Gala’s red carpet.

But we didn’t need an echo, since we are all very much still on our bullshit about the couple, making the same jokes on Twitter a month on.

But unlike a Mariah Carey and James Packer — or even an Ariana Grande and SNL star Pete Davidson — it wasn’t just a sense of incredulousness which drove the memes about Musk and Grimes.

There was a sense of betrayal underneath the jokes, as fans found the union a discredit to both Grimes or Musk. No-one, save for Azealia Banks, was a fan. Even the New Yorker felt the Earth was off-axis enough to publish a think-piece called “The Problem With Grimes And Elon Musk”.

It’s clear people weren’t just confused or bemused: ‘Grusk’, as absolutely no-one calls them, was a problem which could not be solved by memes alone. But why do fans get to decide what’s right and wrong for their fave?

A New Realiti

As a couple, Elon Musk and Grimes are a magic eye drawing — at first glance, they make no sense.

For a quick recap, Grimes is Claire Boucher, a Canadian indie pop-star. When she rose to prominence with third album Visions, in 2012, she spoke within the cadence of social justice and cross-cultural pollination which was burgeoning on Tumblr, where she avidly posted a mix of k-pop videos alongside personal essays and Slipknot x Justin Bieber mash-ups.

Elon Musk, meanwhile, is the eccentric middle-aged magnate who throws his millions into electric cars (Telsa), space exploration (SpaceX) and infrastructure issues (The Boring Company). To fans, he’s solving our impending energy crisis. To critics, he’s a neo-liberal nightmare who, among other things, is reluctant to let his workers unionise and ‘invents’ buses so he can privatise transport under a benevolent guise.

According to the Page Six article, the two met because Musk slid into Bouchers’ DMs about a pun she made three years ago about ‘Roko’s Basilisk’, a philosophy-tech concept which imagines that AI overtake the world and punish those who attempted to thwart them.

With that meet-cute image, the internet ran wild. Their red carpet debut, in which Grimes looked like a teenage goth with her rich college boyfriend, complete with what looked like a Telsa logo necklace, didn’t help.

It felt like a merging of Bouchers’ middling to Musk’s best, as the two found common ground in their nerdy counter-cultural interests, divorced of any other context.

As Naomi Fry wrote for The New Yorker, “one can imagine the pair sharing insights about space travel, psychedelics, polyamory — mining the kind of self-exploration that has begun to split the difference between Silicon Valley libertarian nerd-core and millennial Tumblr-bred experimentalism.”

It was disheartening for fans — it felt like Boucher had not so much changed as fallen askew into a different type of person. Cuddling up to a controversial figure like Musk was a far cry for an artist who had once talked passionately in interviews about class and wealth but had now removed the words “anti-imperialist” from her Twitter bio.

Soon, she was defending Musk from unionist activists in a series of now-deleted tweets, calling their claims “fake news”. It’s clear Boucher was no longer Grimes, in the sense of what who her fans thought she was — or, at least, she was something more as well, not as definable as we had thought.

Pound The Alarm

For the moment that Minaj&M seemed possible, it also stretched our idea of Minaj, as the pairings unified two very different eras of pop-culture.

Eminem, 45, who made a name for himself through hyper-violent machismo lyrics in the early 2000s, feels antithetical to Minaj, whose verses regularly bests each-and-every male rapper she shares a track with. It’s not so much that the pairing suggested something specific about Minaj, but more that it didn’t fit the mould of what we knew. It was another reminder that we don’t really know celebrities, even the ones we really, really like.

Of course, celebrities are allowed to date who they want. This isn’t to suggest there’s not reason to critique Musk — or to question why Boucher is dating someone who seems ideologically opposed to her — but there’s an ickiness to the way in which Boucher must atone for the sins of someone she’s only been dating for seemingly a few months, at most.

We expect more of her, and part of that is because she told us to expect more.

When Kim Kardashian began dating Kanye West in 2012, there was an outcry within the rapper’s fanbase, as if the reality star was more conceited than a rapper who regularly compared himself to God.

Putting aside that this line of logic assumes that artists aren’t conceited by design — or that there’s a type of artistic genius conceitedness that’s acceptable, and a Kardashian-styled one that’s not — the argument figures West as stuck within a Calabasas bubble, becoming only a conduit for Kardashian’s conniving plan for water-cooler content and endless headlines.

And so too with Boucher — with both reporting and tweets, there’s a sense that Musk is corrupting her, as if her own agency is missing from the equation. When Boucher announced plans to legally change her name from ‘Claire’ to ‘c‘, the sign for the speed of light, it was reported upon as if it was a decision made by Musk, which Boucher quickly rebuked.

Maybe this was easier for fans than admitting that Boucher was making her own choices here, ‘changing’ wilfully into something else. While fans wait for a follow-up to 2016’s Art Angels, they fear they’ve lost the artist they love.

We aren’t, of course, owed anything. What we don’t understand here isn’t for us to understand — as much as it’s fun to theorise and imagine the private lives of Grimes and Musk, or, briefly, Minaj and Eminem, it’s not exactly fair.

But we’re also allowed to have a pang of disappointment, like when a friend dates a dud.

Jared Richards is a Staff Writer at Junkee. He is on Twitter.