The Hailey Bieber ‘Drama’ Is Actually Just Cyberbullying, and We’re All Complicit

This article contains a reference to self-harm.

Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber are at the center of a rabid social media drama that consists of persistent (and persuasive) theories about their apparent dislike for each other. And it's getting out of hand. 

Footage from Justin Bieber's surprise performance at Rolling Loud festival over the weekend shows fans chanting, “Fuck Hailey.” It's estimated that Hailey has lost more than 1 million Instagram followers, and Gomez has pleaded with her TikTok followers, “Please, please be kinder and consider others mental health. My heart has been heavy and I only want good for everyone. All my love.”

Before getting lost in one of the many explainers about their alleged feud, I believed I had little time for such pettiness. But hang on; you're saying Hailey Bieber posted a TikTok to the popular sound, “I'm not saying she deserved it, but God's timing is always rIIIIIght,” immediately after Gomez opened up about her weight gain? Suddenly, I'm invested. 

Nevermind that Bieber clarified that the post wasn't “directed at anyone” or that Gomez appeared to discourage fans from engaging in theories, commenting, “It’s OK! I don’t let these things get me down! Be nice to everyone!” on a viral fan video. The narrative that the two celebs are sworn enemies has already been created—and it's irresistible, not to mention incredibly problematic. 

Our appetite for salacious celebrity gossip has clearly never been stronger regardless of the impact it has on said celebrities' well-being. But is something darker fueling our obsession with female celebrity feuds? 

As a teenager, I struggled with self-harm. My attempts to disguise the meek wounds on my wrist—paper towel, anyone?—often drew further attention to them, resulting in a steady alienation from my teachers and classmates. What does this have to do with Bieber and Gomez? Bear with me.

For my 13th birthday, I organized a house party. It was Alice in Wonderland–themed; I spent months carefully planning the logistics of the event, from the topsy-turvy birthday cake to the croquet setup in the garden. A week before the party, I printed out invitations and handed them out to everyone in my school year, including the “popular” girls, which—believe me—took a lot of courage. 

“The discourse surrounding Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber’s alleged feud has tapped into my preteen insecurities about mean girls.”

My invitations were warmly received, resulting in a well-attended, reasonably fun party. After all the guests had been picked up by their parents, I jumped on Facebook to review all the photos that had been posted, desperate to see that my hard work had paid off.

A gluey feeling lodged in my throat as I settled on a photo that one of the popular girls had uploaded. She and her friends stood in my garden next to the croquet set, their faces contorted into cartoonish pouts typical of the ’00s. They posed with bread knives, taken from my kitchen, held provocatively against their wrists. 

This was my Carrie moment, my version of being told to “Plug it up” by the mean girls. To this day, it's one of the worst memories of my life. 

Moving swiftly back to the present, I believe the discourse surrounding Selena Gomez and Hailey Bieber's alleged feud has tapped into my preteen insecurities about popularity, bullying, and—most specifically—mean girls. 

In the latest installment of Hailey versus Selena, the latter posted a video revealing that she'd accidentally overlaminated her brows. TikTok sleuths soon spotted that Kylie Jenner (one of Bieber's best friends) posted a close-up of Bieber's brows with the caption “This was an accident???” deducing that the pair were throwing shade at Gomez's brows. 

Jenner immediately quashed the rumor, 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, a.k.a. known bestie of Selena Gomez. The TikTok included the text “This is real Hailey Bieber,” 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.

“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’s taking a break from social media for the sake of her mental health and Bieber’s 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 like 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-size scraps of information from 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 University, 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,” Valencia says. 

The TikTokification of celebrity feuds makes it easier for us to identify with our perceived heroine (in this case, Selena Gomez) while villainizing Bieber—just as though we're watching a film or TV show. 

And, as Bogutskaya argues, we're so good at hating mean girl characters because they transport us back to the world of our own teenage insecurities, which might partially explain why the Gomez-Beiber discourse sent me spiraling down a rabbit hole of my own traumatic encounters with mean girls. 

If we can recognize ourselves—our traumas, our vulnerabilities, our insecurities—within these celebrity dramas, we can hopefully stop giving them so much oxygen; I reckon we might just be happier for it. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, call or text the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) helpline at 800-950-6264.

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