“Wait, are Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani dating?” My exclamation was surely not the only one of its kind earlier this week when the news of new celebrity power couple”Blen” (or “Gwake”) was coyly made official, just in time for a few new episodes of The Voice. The reaction machine went to work, spawning such contradictory takes as the pessimistic”Why Blake Shelton Is a Total Loser Who Doesn’t Deserve Gwen Stefani” and the sunshiney “Gwen Stefani and Blake Shelton are people, not playlists: Relax and embrace the new poptimist crossover power couple.”
Everyone has an opinion about Gwake, it would seem.
I haven’t kept up with The Voice since Season 1, and I don’t consider myself to be a fan of either artist’s recent work (besides ’90s No Doubt, of course, in Gwen’s case) or public persona. So why was the news of their romance so captivating to me and much of the reading and viewing public?
I think it can be attributed to several factors: Stefani and Shelton are slightly more familiar to a wide audience than many other recent ill-fated and star-crossed celebrity couples. Like Ben and Jen were, they’ve been tabloid fodder with their respective ex-spouses for a long time, and are solidly recognizable to older fans — unlike all the Justins and Selenas and Taylors (seriously, there are a lot of young Taylors). They come from different genres of music, which gives them a “worlds colliding” appeal; their breakups were fairly high-profile; and their rebound relationship suggests that love after divorce is possible — or, at least, a hot new fling is possible. Isn’t that very premise what drives the plot of dozens of mediocre movies?
And finally, of course, we get to see them flirt! Or, at least, those of us who watch The Voice do. Just as human beings like to scrutinize other couples and decide what makes them work or why they are superior or inferior to other couples, we also enjoy dissecting the chemistry or lack thereof between celebs. And The Voice has been particularly adept at turning its celebrity judges into participants in a low-grade middle-school soap opera: “Christina and Adam love to tease and annoy each other!” “Blake and Adam are bros who go drinking!” “Cee-Lo is an accused rapist… erm, let’s forget about Cee-Lo for a minute — look over there, are Usher and Adam also bros?” But nothing is better than a new romance for upping the stakes and the ratings, as a September WaPo article assuring us that these two were definitely not a real item reminds us:
A lot of times, you’ll see this as the new TV season is starting: Shelton and Stefani are the perfect example, with their respective recent high-profile divorces meaning there’s focus on their dating lives. In this case, NBC is hoping you’ll tune in to watch the show, and pay extra close attention on the season premiere when Stefani compliments Shelton wearing Pharrell’s hat. While the other judges mock, she pipes up with, “I actually think it looks cute on him!”
It’s rare that we can truly understand the inner workings of another couple who we know in real life, so it seems safe to assume that we really have no idea what goes on inside a celebrity marriage — even years later, when one of them writes a tell-all book. No publicly rendered opinion on whether Blake is good for Gwen or Gwake/Blen is good for America can actually be supported by genuine knowledge of their relationship. We are talking about personas, constructed characters whose inner lives are sealed off from us. They are essentially fictional characters played by real people with the same names, and the tantalizing glimpses of what may be their “reality” are the bait that keeps us hooked.