It's a love story - are Taylor Swift and Tom Hiddleston the real deal?
Are Taylor and Tom a true romance, or have we been had by another celebrity showmance
The love lives of celebrities have long been tabloid fodder, but in this age of social media and online discourse, that itch to know the intricate details of the lives of the rich and famous is now generally scratched by gossip blogs and entertainment websites. Yet sometimes, a celeb story is big enough news to make the front page of a daily newspaper and "break the internet", all at the same time.
This is what happened this week, when 'The Sun' newspaper published exclusive photos of US pop superstar Taylor Swift canoodling on the rocks by the seashore with British actor Tom Hiddleston. A remarkable coup for a lucky photographer - right?
It was a multimedia pop culture bombshell, up there with Kim Kardashian's bottom on the cover of 'Paper' magazine and Caitlyn Jenner's big reveal on 'Vanity Fair'. Why is there that nagging doubt that somehow, we've been had?
Swift and Hiddleston became the subject of an internet meme six weeks ago when a video of them dancing together at the Met Gala went viral - an event from which Swift's then boyfriend, Scottish DJ Calvin Harris, was absent. The sexual tension wasn't exactly palpable - it was more like 'dad dancing' than dirty dancing - but fans online started "shipping" them, which is popular parlance for wishing they'd get together.
Now, mere weeks later, their make-out session is front page news, and cynics are quick to point out just how convenient a relationship this is for both parties.
Hiddleston is a popular actor often referred to as 'the internet's boyfriend' due to the fact that there are so many blogs dedicated to him. Yet his appeal is still niche - as Loki in Marvel's 'Avengers' franchise he won lots of sci-fi and comic book fans, and as a Shakespearean stage actor even more.
Viewers here may have come to know him through the acclaimed BBC's adaptation of John Le Carré's 'The Night Manager'. More recently he has been widely touted to be in the running to be the next James Bond. Sure, he's funny on chat shows, self-deprecating in interviews and not bad to look at, but he hasn't reached total heart-throb and household name status yet.
Some say that an alliance with one of the world's most famous singers - known for her relationships - could only be a good thing for Tom's profile worldwide.
Swift, for her part, has just exited a high-profile relationship with Harris. She is a 26-year-old singer-songwriter who's sold millions of records around the world. She came of age in the era of social media, a tool she utilises effectively to shape her image.
A former country music starlet, her transition to mainstream pop royalty is quite remarkable, but due largely in part to the "blind item" nature of her very catchy songs. She's famous for using her songs to reference past relationships with other high-profile stars, such as One Direction's Harry Styles, adding an air of insider info (and gossip gold) to her music.
Then she began romancing Harris (real name Adam Wiles) in 2015 and became surprisingly reticent on the subject of love. They sat together at awards shows, posted on Instagram about one another and were spotted out partying, but there was no duet, no photoshoot and no lyrics about her new man. When they announced their relationship was over last month, no shocking revelations followed.
The potential scandal comes to light now though, with Swift having been spied locking lips with Hiddleston, 35. Harris has blocked Swift on every platform, and she's deleted him from her social media life.
Yes, Swift and Hiddleston could just be two people who met at a star-studded party, had a boogie and felt the spark. But the perfectly posed photographs taken on Swift's own private beach in Rhode Island do come with a major question mark attached. Is it a romance that just happens to be mutually beneficial, or is it a PR-managed "showmance" designed to grab headlines and pique interest? Some fans have cried, "but what's in it for Taylor?" Well, it certainly doesn't do Swift's reputation any harm to be linked to a sophisticated older man whose career is about to go stellar.
The internet was ablaze when the news broke, with Twitter users squabbling over what to call this new couple - Swiddleston, Hiddleswift or my personal favourite, Tiddles - no bad thing for Swift's record sales and general popularity.
Showmance or not, the concept of a mutually beneficial relationship is nothing new in pop culture. David and Victoria Beckham built an empire out of their coupling, getting engaged when his popularity as a footballer and hers as a Spice Girl was at an all-time high. They've since cultivated 'brand Beckham' and despite several instances where it seemed things might all fall apart, they're still going strong 16 years later.
Other famous couples just capture the public's imagination. Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton; Kim Kardashian and Kanye West; Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, have all been big news, stronger together than apart. And of course, sometimes the attention about a new relationship is fabricated or unwarranted - Irish TV presenter Laura Whitmore is linked to almost every man she interviews, and was annoyed by headlines insinuating that she was dating Leonardo DiCaprio after meeting at the Baftas. Both she and fellow Irishwoman Vogue Williams have been linked to the rapper Professor Green just this week, as they hang out in the same circle in London.
As for Taylor and Tom, it's certainly got people talking, and perhaps Barbara Broccoli will pay more attention to this English gent when deciding on her next 007. Or perhaps it will all fizzle out in the glare of the spotlight, and we'll await Taylor's next album with baited breath.