By Riley Dauber
Pop star Demi Lovato’s new song “29” is the third single off her album “Holy Fvck,” and many fans have speculated that the song is about Lovato’s former relationship with “That 70’s Show” actor Wilmer Valderrama. Although she did not confirm these rumors, the lyrics serve as clues for the main inspiration behind the song.
“Finally twenty-nine / funny, just like you were at the time,” Lovato wrote, hinting at the age gap between her and Valderrama. When the two met, she was 17, and he was 29.
The song started trending on TikTok, where many users have posted videos with the sound exposing their own past relationships. Many change the lyrics to the specific age they were when they were in the relationship with an older person.
“Scrolling through the videos is jarring, with pictures of baby-faced teenage girls contrasted with photos of grown men. But for the people who have taken part in the TikTok trend, they’ve found solace in the fact that they’re not alone,” Fortesa Latifi wrote in an article for Teen Vogue.
After posting their own versions of the trend, many TikTok users said they were able to reflect on the relationships they maintained with older men when they were younger.
The main issue with these age gap relationships, especially when it involves two celebrities, is the public’s general acceptance of them.
The influx of articles that praise the relationships are astounding, with many using the “age is just a number” phrase in either the headline or the body of the article. They seem to assume that there’s nothing the public can do about these relationships, and if the couple is seemingly happy, then there isn’t a problem.
Although a relationship between a minor and an adult is clearly a legal issue, relationships between two people over 18 may be viewed differently.
A popular phrase that many people use to ignore these relationships is, “Well, they’re both adults.”
This phrase should not be applied to relationships where one person is still a teenager, or if the two people met when one was a teenager and one was much older.
Some celebrity relationships fall into these categories. With the rerelease of her album “Red,” singer-songwriter Taylor Swift calls out her ex-boyfriend Jake Gyllenhaal in the track “All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version).” She was 20 and he was 29 when they dated.
“You said if we had been closer in age maybe it would have been fine / And that made me want to die,” she wrote.
Another example is actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He’s 32, while his wife, Sam Taylor-Johnson, is 55. The two married in 2012 when Aaron Taylor-Johnson was only 22 years old.
Their relationship has been the subject of many internet discourses, with TikTok users calling out the large age gap.
According to a Parade blog post, which includes the problematic phrase “age ain’t nothing but a number” in the headline, by Jessica Sager, “Aaron Taylor-Johnson met his now-wife in 2009 on the set of the John Lennon biopic ‘Nowhere Boy,’ in which Sam Taylor-Wood (as she was then known) was his director.” It is determined that he was 18 or 19 at the time of the audition.
Although Aaron Taylor-Johnson was of legal age when they met, he was still a teenager, and the fact that they met for an audition where Sam Taylor-Johnson was in a position of power is worrying.
Similar to Taylor-Johnson, Lovato met Valderrama when she was seventeen, but the two only started dating when she was eighteen.
Age gap relationships become an issue of concern when the older individual met the younger individual when they were still a minor. These situations can lead to grooming.
Thanks to the TikTok trend, people are speaking up about the issue and providing it with a much-needed platform, since relationships where grooming and power dynamics are present may be overlooked.
“Grooming often occurs with an adult predator and child or underage victim,” Latifi writes. “Other videos describe relationships that may not technically fit the definition of grooming, but feel ethically wrong or, because of age, have an inherent power imbalance.”
“Statistics on grooming and age-inappropriate relationships can be difficult to come by as consent laws vary from state-to-state and many relationships are not reported,” Latifi writes.
The public can finally see how damaging these relationships are thanks to Lovato and other TikTok users.