Our Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber obsession is fuelled by insecurity

Jenner immediately quashed the rumour, accusing fans of “making something out of nothing,” while Gomez agreed, replying to her comment, “Agreed @kyliejenner It’s all unnecessary.” 

If this weren’t exhausting enough, one TikTok user unearthed an old clip of Hailey Bieber appearing to gag at the mention of Taylor Swift, AKA known bestie of Selena Gomez. The TikTok included the text, “Thiss is real Hailey Bieber [sic],” calling her a “mean girl” and a “bully.” Gomez reportedly commented on the clip, “So sorry, my best friend is and continues to be one of the best in the game,” although this appears to have been deleted (via US Weekly). 

“Gomez and Bieber are asking fans to give it a rest, so what’s actually driving our urge to pick a side?”

Many fans have jumped on this clip as evidence of Bieber being a “mean girl” despite the fact it’s clearly taken out of context. In turn, this has emboldened some social media users to launch further character attacks on Bieber, calling her “jealous” and “talentless” as well as gleefully posting clips that somehow prove her husband, Justin Bieber, doesn’t actually “love” her. Brutal, or what? 

Gomez taking a break from social media for the sake of her mental health and Bieber speaking out about trolls’ impact on her mental health haven’t deterred people (including me) from lapping up content about the feud – invariably coming out as #TeamSelena. Even Gomez and Bieber are asking fans to give it a rest, so what’s actually driving our urge to pick a side? 

In her new book Unlikeable Female Characters, film critic Anna Bogutskaya devotes a chapter to unpacking the ‘Mean Girl’ trope in popular culture. 

Using the likes of Regina George as a reference point, Bogutskaya argues that such characters are intentionally crafted to be one-dimensional, devoid of any meaningful inner life or vulnerability. They exist solely for external validation – boys, appearance, and status – while the film’s heroine is capable of broader human qualities – ambition, friendship, and belonging. In this way, we’re taught to see ourselves within the heroine, positioning us in direct conflict with our antiheroine: the mean girl. 

Unlike previous celebrity feuds – see Kim Cattrall and Sarah Jessica Parker, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, and Kylie Jenner and Jordyn Woods – the majority of the discourse surrounding Gomez and Bieber has taken place almost entirely on TikTok, which is the perfect breeding ground for fan theories.

We consume TikTok content in much the same way we consume TV shows on Netflix. But as opposed to the (generally) well-researched documentaries commissioned by streaming giants, TikTok empowers amateur content creators to compile bite-sized scraps of information – out-of-context screenshots and clips – to construct their own compelling narratives for our enjoyment. 

Dr. Louie Dean Valencia, an Associate Professor of Digital History at Texas State, points out that these narratives are appealing even if you aren’t part of a fandom: “They can get invested in a feud because there is something fun about getting gossip – to know the inside scoop.” 

He also highlights an element of “schadenfreude” – pleasure in others’ misfortune – that is present in our consumption of celebrity feuds: “celebrities can be petty, vulnerable, angry – and people take joy from seeing them as flawed.”