It was the Instagram pic that either crushed or fluttered a million hearts: Justin Bieber sharing a too-cute-for-words huddle with his on-again-off-again-on-again girlfriend Selena Gomez last weekend. Unlike a previous pic of the two, though, this time Bieber didn't delete the candid.
The latest missive from the celebrity couple spun the roulette wheel on their hot and cold relationship at a time when Gomez is in the midst of breaking free of her girlish pop past and Bieber is continuing his bumpy transition from young, burgeoning talent to world-wide sex symbol.
Like Chris Brown and Rihanna, who continue to tease their fans with a stream of pics that have turned their relationship status into a daily parlor game, Bieber and Gomez have mastered the art of keeping us guessing.
The only question is: what, if any, good is it doing for their respective careers?
Celebrity blogger Perez Hilton said the back-and-forth probably won't have much impact on their professional lives. "They are both incredibly successful and at this point the only thing that will impact their careers are hit songs or not hit songs," Hilton said, also pointing to Brown and Rihanna, whose ambiguous status has only increased their press coverage, without dampening their chart domination.
That said, Hilton cautioned that if anyone has something to lose in the deal it's Gomez. "I think it actually hurts her image right now because he's going through a difficult time and she has a cleaner image than he does," he said of Bieber's string of gaffes and public missteps. "Plus, she's very famous on her own."
Between her envelope-pushing role in "Spring Breakers" and the sultry tease for her "Come & Get It" video, Gomez is engaging in a time-honored tradition, according to Entertainment Weekly music editor Leah Greenblatt: trying to break free of the Disney orbit. "It's a bumpy road sometimes," she said of the transition that has at times tripped up everyone from Britney Spears to Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus.
If anything, the on-and-off love game between Bieber and Gomez is something many of their fans can relate to. "When you're in that Bonnie and Clyde type of relationship — you break up, you make up, you forgive each other, you can never forgive each other — that's the way young people are," said Greenblatt. "It's just that they're on a humongous stage."
And, because they're both social media-age stars, she said Bieber and Gomez are savvy about using social media to stoke the fires. "They don't accidentally Instagram a photo and not know it's going to have some sort of impact," she said. "They know the power of it and know that the media sword can cut both ways and the know they can use it to their advantage and tell the story the way the want it to be told."
While both are still young stars, they are undoubtedly making some serious business decisions every day and Greenblatt suspected that their advisers are probably weighing in on whether staying together is good or bad for their brand.
"For Justin, it's always valuable to be single, but the idea of two celebs together is their powers squared," she said. "It's greater than the sum of their parts." For example, she said the difference between Katy Perry dating the drummer from Florence + the Machine and John Mayer is the difference between the public caring and not being nearly as interested. "We like our famous people to breed with each other, but in this case she's beautiful and accomplished and it's not like he completely outshines her. He just happens to be one of the most famous people in the world."
Teen Vogue senior entertainment editor Dana Mathews, who spoke to Bieber for the magazine's May issue, agreed that the couple's star power is mega together. "[They] are two incredibly successful and hugely talented young stars who encompass staggering star power on their own but together, they really cause a media sensation — they share the same fan base," she said.
"Justin is a huge star and appears larger than life to some, but he is grounded and normal just like any other 19-year-old. The ups and downs in their relationship are one in the same as those every other teen goes through, and this makes them that much more relatable to their fans."