Lena Dunham is a chronic oversharer, someone who spares no detail when it comes to describing her “misshapen” uterus, the bevy of apologies she’s been publicly shamed into making over the years, the rumors that she’d abused her pets. Still, despite all of Dunham’s borderline irrational admissions, it really was interesting when, during a recent profile in The Cut, she spent a lot of time talking about her ex-boyfriend, Jack Antonoff. Dunham and the Bleachers frontman, producer, and member of the on-hiatus fun. split a year ago, but the two regularly keep in touch, Dunham said. Something they’d been talking about was Antonoff’s rumored infidelity — specifically, a secret relationship with Ella Yelich-O’Connor, also known as the pop star Lorde.
Antonoff had co-produced Lorde’s sophomore album Melodrama, a magnum opus inspired by her breakup with longtime boyfriend James Lowe. They’d spent hours in Dunham and Antonoff’s Brooklyn home studio, writing and recording. Was it possible they were sneaking around behind Dunham’s back? “It was awful,” Dunham told The Cut of the rumors, “and I couldn’t do anything about it except trust that what he was saying to me was true.”
Was this Dunham again placing herself at the center of a creative partnership that did not concern her? Or did the rumors really hold that much weight? They did. In true celebrity gossip fashion, Perez Hilton first linked Lorde and Antonoff romantically in early January, a few weeks after Dunham and Antonoff’s breakup. Antonoff rebuked the rumors on Twitter, calling the stories “dumb hetero normative [sic] gossip.” But alas, our society is fueled by dumb heteronormative gossip: Jesus and Mary Magdalene, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Marilyn Monroe and John F. Kennedy, Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber.
normally i would never address rumors but i resent having the most important friendships and working relationships in my life reduced to dumb hetero normative gossip. those relationships are deeply important and sacred. with that said, im not seeing anyone. lol.— jackantonoff (@jackantonoff) January 17, 2018
What would tabloids be without celebrity romance rumors? It’s human nature to fixate on scandal, to live vicariously through people you don’t actually know but feel like you do — a form of wish fulfillment and fantasy in which the stakes are low for the observer. Heteronormative celebrity gossip is a distraction from the heartbreak in our own lives, a soap opera for everyone — or at least, people who watch E! and surf Twitter — to participate.
Heteronormative gossip does not abate with a tweet, however. Instead, it came to a head in April during Lorde’s North American tour. At Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Lorde coyly welcomed special guest Antonoff to perform a few Melodrama cuts and reminisce over times spent making the album. Remember the time Lorde ate bodega sushi, and walked barefoot down the street, all in New York? The pair sat cross-legged, playfully passing the mic back and forth. Antonoff stuck his tongue out at Lorde; she nearly jumped into his lap. “The second I see you in a professional context like this, I turn into a fucking child,” she professed when he first walked on stage.
The 10-minute bumbling and beaming exchange all but confirmed Lorde and Antonoff’s supposed relationship. Gossip bloggers observed the musicians’ “obvious boyfriend/girlfriend banter,” the “pretty palpable” emotions, their chemistry — “There’s no way they aren’t effing. Or haven’t come close. — and how cringey the whole interaction was.
At the time of the world-shaking event, Lorde was 21-years-old to Antonoff’s 34. In the fanfic version of this would-be love affair, Yelich-O'Connor would scribble in her diary in the same verve as her pop songs: with ferocious sincerity, drama, and a healthy dose of desperation. She would text her friends about every interaction, every touch, every glance with the notion that this relationship, above all, was the one.
Because many of us have experienced infatuation of this nature, or at least known someone who has, it was easy to assume this was what Lorde was exhibiting onstage when speaking to, and about, Antonoff to her fans. To any outsider, these elements of flirtation and desire were overly intense, embarrassing, and melodramatic. But maybe Lorde realized this, maybe her back-and-forth with Antonoff was just another facet of the stage production, two characters from Melodrama putting on a show for the audience. It was hard to believe two celebrities as publicly anxious and self-aware as them would have failed to note the subtext ahead of time.
Two weeks after the Barclays show, a fan created an incredibly in-depth Powerpoint detailing years of "evidence" around Lorde and Antonoff’s supposed relationship. Citing interviews, social media posts, and live appearances, the author, @buzzkillary (the handle is inscribed on each page of the presentation), argued Antonoff had cheated on then-girlfriend Dunham with Lorde during Melodrama’s creation and the album was actually about him, not Lorde's ex. Lorde was frequently referred to as an “emotionally broken psycho” (a call out to the podcast and online network of the same name), and had her lyrics meticulously dissected. With the unsparing eye of a prosecutor, the timeline laid out the events leading up to and including the Barclays performance, concluding “Listen they are not only fucking but they are forcing me to watch and telling me it’s not happening we are all being gaslit.”
Countless dramas in film, television, and books depict “the other woman” as a crazed, suffering lover. It’s romance at its most tragic, and where the stakes are the highest — a trainwreck you can’t help but watch, due to your own romantic history or the intrigue the pairing provides. Their behavior on stage allowed spectators a glimpse into the dynamics of their relationship behind closed doors. Heteronormative gossip filled in the blanks and read between the lines, painting a picture where Lorde was still the bumbling youth encouraged by her collaborator-turned-lover, a trope as timeless as the doe-eyed young talent falling for seasoned industry vet. (See: Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola, Celine Dion and René Angélil, Ally and Jackson Maine.)
Of course, no such relationship was ever confirmed. Antonoff is reportedly dating model Carlotta Kohl; Lorde is rumored to be seeing record producer Justin Warren. The gossip quieted just as quickly as it erupted. But among all the celebrity couple coverage of the past year — Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson, Noah Cyrus and Lil Xan, Audrina Patridge and Ryan Cabrera — Lorde and Jack Antonoff’s was the most personally fulfilling. Watching their relationship from afar recalled my memories speculating if my leads in the high school musical were boning. I remember it vividly: I, a mere freshman ensemble member, sat offstage in the wings watching the quietly artistic kids performing “It’s De-Lovely,” a late Act I number in “Anything Goes.” Their acting couldn’t be that good, I pondered; some of their chemistry must be true affection at work. Imagining Lorde and Antonoff’s secret love affair filled my gossip-thirsty heart with the same quiet, vicarious thrill.
The two didn’t ink each other’s names onto their bodies or call the other out dramatically on Instagram. Instead, they dropped subtle hints about their closeness in interviews, performed on live television together in wedding garb, were photographed traveling abroad — all completely appropriate friend activities, as well as activities just as easily assigned to more-than-friends. They remained in each others’ orbit, even as they never came as explicitly close as that Barclays show.
Regardless of the outcome, the reality of this will-they-or-won’t-they spectacle had no substantial bearing on my — or anyone else’s — life. There was something refreshing about this. Compared to political rumors and reports, with their real-life outcomes and implications, tabloid drama leaves no victims in its wake. Ah, so: Lorde simply acts giddy around a friend in front of thousands of people and isn’t an emotionally broken psycho with a damaging crush on her producer? If I were 21, famous, and with also famous friends, I’d probably do the same.
Society as we know it did not collapse because I, and the people in my heated text threads, were wrong. We moved on, waiting for the next opportunity to lose ourselves in the hidden drama of other people’s lives.