The fantasy of Instagram is perfectly pressed sheets and plants with leaves that are never curling towards death. It is a lie, and nowhere is it worse than in celebrity uploads. Perhaps that is what makes the mysterious and messy London flat where Suki Waterhouse and Robert Pattinson have been seeing out the pandemic together so fascinating.
It is difficult to say with any certainty when the couple moved in together, but the palatial house in West London, paid for by the studio behind The Batman, the film in which Pattinson will play the caped crusader, has featured on Waterhouse's Instagram account since early April when the city was in lockdown.
Weeks later, the same heavy, sand-coloured curtains and geometric wooden floor appeared in a photoshoot and interview of Pattinson in which he confirmed he had been isolating with his girlfriend.
'Say hi to Rob!' 'did Rob take this?' 'where is Rob??!' continually read the (now deactivated) comments underneath Waterhouse's breadcrumb trail of images, which showed her eating cartons of takeaway, dressing up with a blanket and a black tie as a deranged sort of suit, and sliding into the bath with her AirPods still in.
The pictures are only ever of her, but when you know only one other person has been allowed inside the house, the intrigue about the person behind the camera has become a cat-and-mouse game between subject and audience. Social media is naturally voyeuristic, but here we know we're watching something that's being watched from someone we can't see; a one-way mirror where the other side is hidden from view. 'Is Rob like pizza?' desperately asked one comment underneath Waterhouse holding a takeaway box while in the elevator. Food for thought.
The pandemic has changed the nature of celebrity news as famous people are forced to retreat inside. They have, for the most part, wrestled with whether uploading photographs of their sprawling mansions is appropriate for a moment when people are losing their jobs and family members. The snatches of famous people in the wild are now mostly limited to Ana de Armas and Ben Affleck on their militant iced coffee runs or the ultra hi-res selfies from inside the the sparse ashrams the Kardashians call home.
The shots from Robert and Suki's secret house feel different, like catching glimpses of a den they've made to play house in; the fantasy of a couple who moved in together because of lockdown and are now surviving on bottles of Ribena Light and Juul pods. The backdrops aren't curated, instead iPhone cables snake across the carpet and guitars are left leaning against the wall.
The new Instagram aesthetic, the successor to the saturated era of millennial pink and avocado toast, is about purposefully showing imperfection. As Taylor Lorenz wrote in an article for The Atlantic in 2019 titled 'The Instagram Aesthetic is Over', "Many teens are going out of their way to make their photos look worse."
There is an intimacy to the disorder of Robert and Suki's house that feels jarring on a celebrity feed – like seeing Tom Hardy's pile of laundry or Beyoncé's dirty toothbrush. The images are more like we're watching one of the hyper-realistic films by the Safdie brothers – the directors behind Pattinson's excellent thriller Good Time – playing out on Instagram rather than a series of shots which have been agonised over.
The house that Instagram are so desperate to see inside gives us as much a window into the couple as into the excitement of a new relationship. It is the fantasy of taking over a beautiful house while young and in love, eating takeaway on an expensive carpet and leaving the house only to buy cereal in your pyjamas before walking home in the dark laughing.
The deception of the new Instagram aesthetic is the idea that this fantasy hasn't been curated in its own way, but it's a much nicer thing to believe in than a perfectly made bed.
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