A generation loses its golden couple.
Breakups are bad enough, but Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart are in a very peculiar situation. While they're reportedly no longer together, they happen to work together and are on the cover of W Magazine's latest issue together, which makes for an, um, interesting situation. (Of course, those rumors of an "inevitable" reconciliation only serve to complicate things even more.)
The end of #sprousehart, as the couple was known to fans, marked a major milestone: A generation lost its first real It couple. Comparisons to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are in order, since both couples worked together, kept the details of their private life on the DL, and had a very public relationship and separation. Why were the Gen Z kids so obsessed with Sprouse and Reinhart? The same reasons Brangelina ruled the Us Weekly set for so long: They're just out of reach enough to feel at once relatable and also aspirational. (It also helps that they're beautiful.)
Writer David Amsden, who interviewed the then-couple for the new feature in W, noted that he had "suspicions" that something was going on between Sprouse and Reinhart before news of the breakup made the rounds this week. Both actors — who were interviewed separately — spoke on the peculiarities of being consistently lumped together, saying that they respected each other and wanted to be seen as two different entities, not fanfic fodder for the internet.
"We're not fighting with the idea that people group us together, but we are paired up a lot," Reinhart said. "We're acknowledging that we’re in a relationship, but it's a small part of who we are as people. We want our own separate identities."
That internet fervor is part of what has surrounded the couple since day one. Together, they star in Riverdale, the CW's noir take on Archie comics, and brought their on-screen relationship into real life, much like Pitt and Jolie did when working together on Mr. & Mrs. Smith back in 2005. However, thanks to social media, Sprouse and Reinhart became internet darlings, sharing intimate moments without much context and letting fans fill in the blanks. While they were a very public couple, they kept the details of their relationship secret, which Reinhart explains was by design. She told Amsden that the privacy that she and Sprouse nurtured throughout their relationship was part of what kept them together so long. Nobody, she said, knew how they fell in love or when they started dating.
There are hundreds of thousands of tweets using the hashtag #Sprousehart and even more using the portmanteau of their Riverdale characters, #Bughead (Betty and Jughead). The show's popularity with the internet age could be why the actors' relationship was such a big deal. W notes that "in 2018, #Riverdale became the third most followed hashtag globally." Neither Pitt nor Jolie had to deal with numbers like that. Instead, their relationship played out on the covers of Us Weekly and People. Today, the kids have taken things online.
Brangelina was together for more than a decade. Pitt and Jolie dated for 10 years and were married for 2 after that. Throughout the beginning of their relationship, they were quiet about details, setting a mold for Reinhart and Sprouse's two-year coupling. Later, when they became more public, they attended events together and shared more and more.
Sprouse and Reinhart made their Met Gala debut this year, cementing the relationship in a very Brangelina way. The two couples also controlled the media with expertise. Big-time events like the Met Gala gave fans exactly what they needed to keep the fandom alive. Personal moments let those same fans feel like they were getting an inside look at love.
Reinhart sprinkled her social media feed with snapshots of Sprouse for Valentine's Day and other occasions, as did Sprouse. To fans, everything was picture-perfect. That's why many are scratching their heads in the aftermath of the breakup. However, the W interview makes it very clear that it was a long time coming.
Fans of Riverdale know that the fictional pairing of Betty and Jughead are still very much together. If and when art imitates life and the two decide to break it off on-screen, things could get a little weird. Sprouse said as much, saying that as an actor, there are things he has to deal with that seem outlandish to anyone not in the industry.
"If and when we break up on the show, I don't know. It's weird being with an actor," he said. "You deal with shit no one has to deal with."
Sprouse knows that fans are as into their relationship off-screen as they are the fictional one they see on TV. He acknowledged the surreal situation of balancing real life and roles, saying that it was interesting, but noting that his and Reinhart's happiness comes first, before the fans and before the romance of Riverdale.
"I think part of the fun that the audience had, and still has, is going: What's up with them right now? It's interesting!" he said. "But in all honesty, my own happiness and her happiness come before caring about what people are saying."
Following the W Magazine interview, both Sprouse and Reinhart left their fans with even more "interesting" ambiguous text to decipher — all while taking a major dig at "reliable sources" that have been fueling the breakup drama. Sprouse posted the cover with the cryptic caption: "UNPRECEDENTED: Cole Sprouse and Lili Reinhart consume the flesh of ‘reliable sources’ to fuel their bacchanalian sex cult." In a follow up post from the shoot, he wrote that it was "An incredible pleasure to shake all of your beliefs in tabloid media."
Keeping with their tradition of leaving fans partially in the dark (and therefore only thirstier for more information), Reinhart captioned her post, "BREAKING: A reliable source has confirmed that none of you know shit."