Drake and Rihanna. Arguably the greatest love story of the digital era. They are the couple that everyone has been wishing were actually together since he almost kissed her in the grocery store in the What’s My Name video. Drake’s recent speech at the 2016 VMAs, in which he presented Rih with the Michael Jackson Vanguard Award, was the pinnacle of years of fan shipping for the two singers. In his emotional speech he proclaimed with both sincerity and humility that he had been in love with Rihanna since he was 22 years old. It seemed like the product of a particularly expressive piece of fanfiction in which the good guy finally gets the girl. And honestly, it probably wasn’t much different. Drake’s words gave the fan theories just enough validity while still keeping an air of mystery as to whether the pair where actually officially dating (kudos to whoever wrote the speech).
In short, Drake and Rihanna have mastered the oldest trick in the book- the showmance. They are together enough to plaster Instagram with pictures of their ‘couple goals’ without ever actually needing to ‘officially’ be together. For all we know, Drake and Rihanna may well part ways after each erotically charged performance of Work to their separate lives without any further contact. The beauty of their showmance is that they never have to commit to either being together or not. All Rihanna has to do is wear an OVO sweatshirt and headlines across the globe will proclaim that IT’S OFFICIAL! Cue fan tears, I-told-you-so posts and massive boosts in record sales for both of them. After all, neither of them can sell records quite as well as when the other features. Think about it – Drakes last few big hits have always featured Rih for some added star power.
After breaking records with One Dance, he opted for Too Good as the next single from Views, the album that was the sound track to every 18 year old festival-goer’s summer. This was no coincidence. Too Good, the less-good rip-off of the 2011 Drake and Rihanna hit Take Care, was released on the back of the success of summer anthem Work as a way to highlight Drake’s album to the pop fans. He could have released Pop Style, the Jay-Z and Kanye collaboration that combined good rap with star quality. But instead both stars banked on the will-they won’t-they suggestive selling power by releasing yet another hit together. (After all, Controlla was way better.)
The thing is, as with many showmances, the formula that Drake and Rihanna have is far too good to be jeopardised by them actually dating. Let’s consider Taylor Swift. She’s had more than her fair share of pre-album launch showmances over the years *cough* Harry Styles *cough*. And yet, when she had a relationship with Calvin Harris that was, as far as we know, real, the post-breakup backlash literally transformed her career from wildly successful to farcical. Swift and Harris cashed in on the publicity of their high profile relationship; they were the golden couple while Taylor’s pop career soared to previously unimaginable heights. But when the relationship ended, as they all inevitably do, the flood gates of backlash against Taylor that had been quietly building up were released, crashing into her perfect image, leaving only rubble in their wake.
Do you really think that Kim and Kanye would have released that phone call recording if it meant causing beef with the world’s most successful DJ? With Calvin by her side, Taylor had a form of armour – once they broke up, she became suddenly vulnerable, and no amount of ridiculously staged seaside walks with Tom Hiddleston could fill the boyfriend void in her image. Their public relationship had very public consequences once it ended, however commercially beneficial it was while it lasted. Maybe Drake and Rihanna’s golden formula is too valuable to risk losing in an actual breakup; if they never commit to openly dating, they never have to suffer through the backlash if it all ends.
[pullquote]You can continue to out sell every other duo in the game while maintaining your carefully constructed roles in the tumultuous journey to love.[/pullquote]
Another star who seems able to manipulate her personal life to dazzling effect is Queen Bey herself. Beyoncé is the patron saint of the power couple formula, creating an empire around her seemingly unbreakable relationship with King of rap Jay-Z. Like Drake and Rihanna, the two have released more hits together than I can count on both hands, including Crazy in Love, Drunk in Love, Upgrade U, and Deja-Vu to name but a few. They played the ‘dream couple’ thing nearly to death; and when the world couldn’t take any more songs about their perfect love story, Beyoncé released Lemonade, the revolutionary album that branded Jay-Z unfaithful, and her marriage a farce and a lie.
To argue that the cheating sub-plot of their marriage is entirely fabricated may be a bit of a push, however Jay and Bey have mastered their own relationship narrative to such an extent that their marriage is both a strong beacon of love and an emotional, relatable story of betrayal all at once, no questions asked. After all, Beyoncé could have gone full Hillary Clinton in the wake of the cheating rumours, and vigilantly stood by her man despite his transgressions. But no, she made a smash hit album venting her fury and heart break as a feminist cry to every woman who has ever been dumped, then returned to the red carpet with her million dollar man, without batting an eyelid. Listening to Lemonade, you would think that Beyoncé would abandon her relationship with Jay-Z entirely. But despite her eloquent, beautiful depiction of heartbreak, the perfect marriage is a tool in Beyoncé’s stellar public image that is quite simply too powerful to loose. She is just lucky that she can manipulate the media so successfully as to be plausibly angry and forgiving all at once.
Maybe this is all dreadfully cynical, and as we speak Drake and Rihanna are curled up in each other’s arms watching the Great British Bake Off. But I can’t help but think that the selling value of a showmance is at its all time high during the social media age. We are in an age where a well-timed couple-y Instagram post is the most valuable marketing technique out there. Thanks to social media, even reality is a commodity that can be manipulated for profit. After the recent loss of our beloved Brangelina, the people need something real to believe in, and what wins hearts more than rich beautiful people who may or may not be the next hot couple. So hats off to you Drake and Rihanna. You’ve mastered it. You can continue to out sell every other duo in the game while maintaining your carefully constructed roles in the tumultuous journey to love. Their personas are as much a part of their image as their music- it fits that the crooning Drake pines over the sexy bad girl Rihanna, who is forever tough and illusive. So who cares if it’s real, the showmance is, and always has been, a bloody good show.