Remember when those pictures of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston looking overjoyed to see each other at the Screen Actors Guild Awards surfaced, and everyone felt temporarily elated? The images alone were enough to spark mass excitement, giving the public a glimmer of hope that a long longed-for reunion might be on the cards.
That was in January 2020, before the world needed an excuse for elation, so it’s little surprise we’re now rooting for any kind of celebrity reunion with increased fervour. Even more so when it’s the OG noughties Hollywood power couple – we speak, of course, of the return of Bennifer.
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Bennifer 2.0 was first rumoured by the gossip site TMZ back in February, when reports that the pair had been exchanging emails emerged. Speculation swirled, provoked by various tantalising sightings: Ben was seen driven to J.Lo’s mansion in a white SUV; the pair were photographed together in Montana, allegedly on holiday à deux; former flame P Diddy posted a #tbt of himself and J.Lo holding hands… Wait, what? OK, the Diddy thing was a red herring, back to Bennifer.
Earlier this month, Ben went to a casino with J.Lo’s mum, then E! reported that J.Lo was moving to LA for a ‘fresh start with Ben’ and the internet was hooked for every. Single. Minute. On 14 June, with the hype at fever pitch, the reunion was confirmed in true Bennifer style: some frankly glorious PDA captured at Nobu Malibu and splashed across Page Six. Bennifer is officially back, folks.
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For the uninitiated (do such people exist?), a brief reminder. The pair originally started dating in 2002, having met on the set of notorious romcom flop, Gigli. Forerunners to Brangelina and Kimye, they epitomised contemporary super-coupledom, attracting press so persistent that they cited ‘excessive media attention’ as the reason for calling off their 2003 wedding (after scrapping a plan to distract the paparazzi with three decoy brides). Bennifer’s glistening apex was arguably the 2002 video for ‘Jenny from the Block’, which played on the surveillance-like attention of the media with Jen and Ben in a series of impossibly glamorous locations, including the former caressing the latter’s rightly famed posterior on a superyacht.
Theirs was an irresistible partnership, and it coincided with the peak of tabloid press domination and celebrity obsession. It also clashed, thrillingly, with the rise of internet culture, something J.Lo was already dominating; in a tale since enshrined into fashion folklore, the iconic green leaf-print Versace gown she wore to the 2000 Grammys (gloriously reprised in Donatella’s Spring 2020 collection) is said to have led to the creation of Google’s image search function.
The internet’s evolution has been dizzying enough to make that revolutionary image seem like a cave drawing, and the whole of Bennifer 1.0 seem like a moodboard for early noughties nostalgia. So why has their reunion captured the zeitgeist so emphatically once again? Gone is the reign of the tabloids, the omnipotence of the paparazzi, the golden hue of Hollywood, so isn’t it odd that we’re obsessed with the reprise of the couple that embodied it all, even in a post-MeToo age governed by Instagram and/or TikTok?
Well, not really. We’ve always been nostalgic for the couples of yore, especially those who seem to define a hallowed era, but the Bennifer 2.0 effect runs deeper than romanticised memories of a simpler time. ‘With less and less to grasp on to in a world spinning out of control, celebrity-worship offers a revival tent of belief. It soothes the faithful with reports of pink diamonds and jewel-encrusted toilet seats,’ claimed a Guardian piece entitled ‘Thanks Be To Bennifer’ back in 2003. ‘Maybe the monarchy is failing, and the GNP is ailing, but never fear, dear, Ben and Jen are here.’ With pandemic malaise, not to mention the Kimye bombshell and a summer of unexpected celebrity couplings (see Pete Davidson and Phoebe Dynevor), that ‘revival tent’ is even more inviting.
Then there’s the irresistibly hopeful, heartening, human quality of celebrities giving things another go. In doing so they satisfy our secret hope, enhanced by the false intimacy of social media, that they’re just like us – a little broken after a tumultuous year but still out here, looking for love in the same old places, emailing their exes after too much rosé. The pandemic certainly seems to have made us mere mortals willing to rekindle old flames; bolstered by the dearth of other options and a distanced world free of obstacles, the Ex Factor has never been stronger.
Sceptics will call it a publicity stunt, and maybe they’re right. Since the extremely well-documented rise and fall of Bennifer 1.0, each party has enjoyed moments of greatness, but also more than a few flops – professional and romantic. Together, Jen and Ben are more powerful, more relevant, than they are apart. Are they just out to maximise profit, enhance their public image and access the seemingly infinite cachet of celebrity super-coupledom?
Let’s hope not. In an interview with People in 2016, Lopez said the end of the Bennifer affair was largely down to tabloid pressure: ‘I think different time, different thing, who knows what could’ve happened, but there was a genuine love there.’ Now that they’re older, wiser, and have, we like to think, a relationship built on friendship and an acceptance of each other’s flaws, maybe that love will win out. Although probably not if we all keep obsessing over it...