“There’s nothing worse than a bully you b***h,” one TikTok user recently commented on a video of the 26-year-old model Hailey Bieber (née Baldwin). It seems that this user hated bullying so much that they wrote the same message, accompanied by a plethora of other similarly imaginative insults, beneath nearly everything Hailey has ever posted, going back years. The comments are written without a hint of irony or self-awareness—instead, this user truly believes they’re in the right. And it’s all done, according to them, in defense of their “queen”: the 30-year-old pop star Selena Gomez.
Over the last few weeks, the Internet has been abuzz with people proudly labeling themselves as either “Team Selena” or, in the clear minority, “Team Hailey.” (#TeamSelena has 1.8 billion views on TikTok, while #TeamHailey has just about 10 percent of that.) If you’re not up to date on the drama between these two women, lucky you. Now let me fill you in.
The feud centers around the 29-year-old pop star Justin Bieber, currently Hailey’s husband and formerly Selena’s boyfriend. Before marrying Hailey, in 2018, Justin was one half of an adorable power couple—both Justin and Selena reached stardom in their early teens—that their fans thought would last forever. Justin and Selena were repeatedly on again, off again—as were Justin and Hailey, who bonded over their Christianity and ended up in a whirlwind engagement that shocked seemingly everyone. In one of Selena’s songs following the announcement, she included the lyric, “In two months, you replaced us like it was easy.”
For Selena’s fans, Hailey has the reputation of “the other woman.” And though there’s no evidence that any cheating occurred, the hatred toward her is so brutal that at events she has attended in the past, crowds of bystanders could be heard booing.
In the last month, the vilification of Hailey has become much more extreme, and the catalyst is where things get interesting. If you didn’t know the reason for this feud suddenly blowing up, you might imagine it was some leaked D.M.’s, revelations of a sordid affair, maybe a physical altercation between the pair. Whatever your guess, I doubt it’s as trivial as eyebrows and lip syncs—or as significant as the followers and even big-name brands who have fanned the flames of this fight to no end.
The details are ridiculous. It all started when Hailey Bieber posted a video on TikTok of her and her friends lip-synching to a popular sound that has the lyrics “I’m not saying she deserves it, but God’s timing is always right.” The Internet decided that the video must be in response to Selena’s being fat-shamed in recent paparazzi photos, at which point Hailey deleted the video and clarified it was not directed at anyone.
Then, after Selena shared on her Instagram story that she had over-laminated her eyebrows, Kylie Jenner, the 25-year-old billionaire and youngest of the Kardashian clan, posted a FaceTime screenshot with her friend Hailey that showed just their eyes and eyebrows. Again backlash ensued, and Kylie clarified that the post had nothing to do with Selena. (Selena agreed, saying she loved Kylie.)
That’s it. That was the huge drama that caused legions of people to grab electronic pitchforks and pick sides. Which brings us to the subject of fans and brands.
Selena Gomez has 405 million followers on Instagram. That’s more than the population of the United States. Justin and Hailey Bieber have 283 million and 49.5 million followers, respectively. And though the numbers aren’t public, we can assume that the majority of these followers are young, like the stars themselves—people who grew up with social media, who spend a lot of time on social media. Now imagine putting 737.5 million people in a room together and closing the door. This is what’s happening on the Internet right now.
At most a series of very slight digs, more likely ill-timed coincidences, got so much bigger than Hailey and Selena, and so much more toxic, so fast that Selena (not for the first time) begged her followers not to spread hate on her behalf, and Hailey posted a very long public thank-you to Selena.
And it’s not just naïve teenagers. Big companies are getting involved, too, with brands like SunnyD and Whataburger tweeting that they are Team Selena, and Duolingo and Facetune creating their own videos on the subject. “Brands will use trending Internet ‘drama’ within content as it will boost their engagement,” Mya Ridgway, a senior executive at the Carrie-Ann Sudlow digital-marketing consultancy, tells me. “If they are discussing a highly searched topic, they will rank highly within social algorithms. They would also do this to make the brand appear relevant.”
And while fans and brands on social media are treating these two women like opposing sports teams to be cheered for or demonized, the irony is that their bullying far exceeds anything they’ve accused either woman of doing.
When we look back at the magazine spreads of the 90s that shamed women for some reason or another, or at how the media treated Britney Spears or Monica Lewinsky, we cringe. We convince ourselves we’ve evolved.
But, in reality, we haven’t changed at all. Now people just pretend they’re acting “in defense” of others to add a rose-tinted veneer of kindness to abusive actions that are just the same.
Flora Gill is a London-based writer