On Tuesday, a tweet appeared on Harry Styles’ Twitter account that caused fans around the world to lose their minds. To understand why, we’re going to have to go deep into the psyche of the One Direction fandom. The tweet contained a link to a website, two photographs and a caption. It was deleted within moments of being posted, but that was enough time for 30,000 hyper-alert fans to ‘like’ it, retweet it and screenshot it for posterity.
Here is that tweet. The photographs are of fellow former 1D member Louis Tomlinson, having a milkshake at different times in his life. The link is to some erotic fan fiction written about Styles and Tomlinson.
Styles, by all accounts, was in rehearsals for his upcoming Saturday Night Live performance at the time. While he was joking on set with this week’s host, Jimmy Fallon, fans the world over were celebrating the apparent confirmation of a long-held fantasy: That Styles and Tomlinson are in a homosexual relationship. It’s extremely likely that Styles’ account was hacked by someone, and the tweet was removed by his social media team. It could conceivably be an accident. That hasn’t stopped people from flipping out. You see, the popular theory is that Styles posted the link on purpose to finally expose his love for Tomlinson.
Now, let me jump in here and explain that hashtag you can see in this picture. That hashtag is the key to this whole homoerotic conspiracy. “Larry Tomlinson” – shortened here simply to #Larry – is the couple name given to Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson. In much the same way as Brad Pitt and Angelina used to be “Brangelina” or Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez used to be “Bennifer”, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson are “Larry Stylinson”. There are hundreds of thousands of words of erotic fan fiction written about Larry Stylinson on Tumblr and fan sites across the Internet. There are countless Tweets analysing their body language towards each other. This is a phenomenon known as “shipping”. To “ship” two people is to publicly wish for them to be in a relationship. It usually involves writing fan fiction, vigilant surveillance of photographs and the development of detailed conspiracy theories.
The Larry Stylinson movement online is kept alive by teenagers, 1D fans and, funnily enough, Mumsnet. It’s gained so much traction over the years that the boys have had to publicly deny the romance and fans noticed they started to sit apart in interviews and stop interacting as much on stage. They didn’t casually sling their arms around one another, fist-pump or whisper to each other as much as they used to, apparently because they wanted to put a stop to the Larry rumours. But they did not stop. They didn’t stop when Harry Styles dated Taylor Swift or Kendall Jenner. They didn’t stop when Louis Tomlinson became a father or reunited with his girlfriend Eleanor Caldor. They didn’t stop when the boys released entire albums of songs containing lyrics explicitly about heterosexual love. And they will not stop now that Harry Styles has accidentally linked to Larry porn on his Twitter account.
The question is: why do so many straight female fans fantasise about Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson being in a secret gay relationship? What do they get out of it – sexual gratification, excitement, that type of bonding that only happens when you collude in a conspiracy theory? Kai Arne Hansen, PhD candidate in the Department of Musicology at the University of Oslo, Norway, suggests that it’s a reaction to the boy band members’ otherwise innocent images.
“Boy bands are generally viewed as non-threatening, which relates to their largely innocent images: even their “rebellious acts” are usually curbed by charm and humour,” she says. “In light of this, it is very likely that many [straight female] fans find boy band fandom to be a suitable arena for “safely” exploring sexual or romantic fantasies. At the same time, shipping should not be reduced to its sexual aspects, given that the sexual is only one of many meaningful elements of most relationships – fictional as well as factual.” Fans of all ages, sexes, sexual preferences, ethnicities and nationalities delight in the romantic, clandestine aspects of this fantasy too. It’s an adaptation of an old trope: two star-crossed lovers who cannot be together because society won’t let them. To project this narrative onto two pop idols without their permission is surely thrilling, and definitely helpful for escapism.
Craig Jennex, PhDcandidate from the Graduate Program in Gender Studies and Feminist Research at McMaster University says that boy bands are inherently homoerotic and that’s part of their lasting appeal. “Homoeroticism is an under-recognised element of boy band performance - but maybe this is becoming more and more overt. It’s not just that there are four attractive young dudes singing and dancing together, or that they often direct their love at a gender-ambiguous “you," it’s also in how the music works: because there are no female voices, it is easy to hear the lyrics of these love songs as directed at the other male singers. For young gay dudes, who have had to learn to over-interpret cultural texts to make queer love possible, it isn’t difficult to hear this type of performance as homoerotic.”
To keep the homoerotic fantasy alive, fans have had to over-interpret every gesture between Styles and Tomlinson. As someone who is not invested in the Larry Stylinson conspiracy theory, Styles and Tomlinson simply look like very good mates. They used to live together in London, they worked together for years and they became stupidly famous teenagers together. Of course they’re close. The question is, does the #Larry movement prove that we are fundamentally uncomfortable with male friendship? That we encourage gay relationships? Or that we simply have too much time on our hands to develop intricate romance where there is none?
Nearly 4 million people have watched this video, a montage of moments caught on camera between Styles and Tomlinson. It’s the best possible insight into the Larry movement you can get. Enjoy.