Toxic/Abusive Relationships in Pop Culture 

The Problem We All Should Be Talking About

Cassidy Xiong, Staff Writer

Everyone can experience toxic relationships, and celebrities are no exception. Toxic/abusive relationships can be found all over pop culture, whether if it is in songs or movies, and even real-life celebrity relationships.   

There are many songs written about love, money, and hopes and dreams, but there are also many about toxic/abusive relationships. Some of these songs would include Love the Way You Lie by Eminem feat. Rihanna, Back to Black by Amy Winehouse, Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis, Please Don’t Leave Me by P!nk, and many more. 

Love the Way You Lie by Eminem feat. Rihanna shows an extreme case of a toxic relationship where both parties have a clear understanding of the toxicity in their relationship, however, they both chose to ignore it and even enjoy it, somewhat. In the song, Eminem raps, “I can’t breathe, but I still fight, while I can fight…High off of love drunk from my hate, It’s like I’m huffing paint and I love it the more that I suffer, I suffocate and right before I’m about to drown, She resuscitates me, she f*cking hates me…” showing that he doesn’t feel good in the relationship, however, he still continues on with it. Another lyric reads, “I feel so ashamed, I snapped, who’s that dude, I don’t even know his name, I laid hands on her, I’ll never stoop so low again, I guess I don’t know my own strength…” This is an example of a toxic relationship proceeding to an abusive relationship. 

Back to Black by Amy Winehouse talks about the inequality of a toxic relationship. The song talks about a relationship in which the other party does not care about you, regardless of your hope that it will work out. You try your best to keep the relationship while letting them gain all the power and taking you for granted. Amy Winehouse sings, “We only said goodbye with words, I died a hundred times, you go back to her, And I go back to us…” These lyrics show her dependency on the relationship and how she’ll wait for him, no matter how many times he decides to throw her away.   

Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis shows a different aspect of a toxic relationship: other people. This song is about how others criticize her and her relationship. From an outsider’s point of view, it is very easy to spot a toxic relationship, however, if you were the person in the relationship, it is much harder. This is what makes it hard for a partner to leave a toxic relationship. When the addiction is too strong, they’ll stay in the relationship to get the smallest piece of affection they call “love”. In the song, it reads, “Trying hard not to hear, but they talk so loud, Their piercing sounds fill my ears, try to fill me with doubt, Yet I know that their goal is to keep me from falling, But nothing’s greater than the risk that comes with your embrace, And in this world of loneliness, I see your face, Yet everyone around me thinks that I’m going crazy, Maybe, maybe, But I don’t care what they say, I’m in love with you, They try to pull me away, but they don’t know the truth, My heart’s crippled by the vein that I keep on closing, You cut me open and I, Keep bleeding…”  

Please Don’t Leave Me by P!nk also shows another side to a toxic relationship. Instead of being the “victim”, she is instead the one ruining the relationship. In the song, she blames her partner for making her act in a toxic way. Often, an abusive person feels afraid of their partner leaving them, so they’ll try anything to get them to stay. In the song, P!nk sings, “I don’t know if I can yell any louder, How many time I’ve kicked you outta here?, Or said something insulting? I can be so mean when I wanna be…Please don’t leave me, I’m always saying how I don’t need you, but it’s always gonna come right back to this, Please, don’t leave me…”   

Toxic/Abusive relationships can also be found in movies and television shows. Often in movies and television shows, toxic relationships are romanticized and shown to be the perfect relationship, when in actuality, it is the opposite. Examples of this would include Twilight’s Edward and Bella, A Star is Born’s Jackson and Ally, Friends’ Ross and Rachel, Sandy and Danny in Grease, etc.  

Edward and Bella in the Twilight Saga based on the novels of the same name by Stephanie Meyer are known as one of the best on-screen couples that created a romanticized tale based on abuse and an obsessive relationship. First, although he may look young, Edward is actually 100 years of age while Bella was only a 17-year-old high schooler when they met. And if that age gap was not creepy enough then the fact that Edward would sneak into Bella’s room in the middle of the night to watch her sleep would send chills down your spine. There’s also the fact that Bella would threaten to commit suicide when she couldn’t be with Edward and the fact that he was controlling. They get married when she’s 17 and then at 18, she gets pregnant. This is the opposite of a healthy and romantic relationship. All that their relationship is is a creepy and toxic one. 

A popular T.V. show couple would be Ross and Rachel from Friends. These two may seem like a comedic and perfect couple who always seem to find each other; however, they are both selfish, jealous, immature, and don’t have trust in each other. When either of them tries to move on with another person, they always end up trying to sabotage the relationship and Ross always seems to be dismissive of Rachel’s feelings throughout the show.   

In pop culture, even celebrities get a taste of toxic relationships. Some of these celebrities include the infamous Selena Gomez and Justin Bieber, etc. 

In November 2015, Justin Bieber told Access Hollywood that he will always love Selena Gomez, however, this changed when he and Hailey Baldwin got married in 2019. Sometimes when you are younger, you believe that you will love the same person forever, however, when you mature and get older, you’ll realize that maybe that person was not for you. In toxic relationships, the other party may not take consideration into your own feelings, like Justin did Selena, and got tempted, cheating on her. This resulted in their breakup in 2014. Later, Selena Gomez released The Heart Wants What It Wants. This was the first song she released that shed some light on the toxic relationship they both had. With lines like “…But I’m not alive until you call…” shows how dependent Selena is on Justin Bieber, indicating the beginnings of a toxic relationship. When one person is investing their 100% into the other person and is solely dependent on them, they no longer care about their well-being. With the lines, “Save your advice cause I won’t hear, You might be right but I don’t care, There’s a million reasons why I should give you up, But the heart wants what it wants…” shows that other people are telling her to leave and she knows they are right, however, she still wants to be in a relationship where there is no future. She still wants to hold on to the hope that he might reciprocate the feelings that she has.  

Justin Bieber’s comeback into the pop industry included multiple songs about Selena Gomez. In his new single with Skrillex and Diplo, he left many clues that the song was about Selena, including having her name in the video. With the lyrics, “See I gave you faith turned your doubt into hoping, can’t deny it…” it shows that Justin Bieber knew he was giving her false hope, but he didn’t do anything about it and just let her cling onto the hope that their relationship would work out. His other lines of the song included, “When you broke down I didn’t leave ya, I was by your side, So where are you now that I need ya?” this shows that Justin was there for Selena’s hard moments and he was aware that she had health issues, so he stayed with her during those times. Both singers had their own perspectives on their relationships, but they were both hurt and suffering in the relationship and maybe it was best that they move on separately.  

Later, Justin Bieber admits that three of his popular songs were about Selena Gomez and their relationship. The first of the three songs, “Sorry” was Justin Bieber asking for forgiveness from his mistakes to Selena Gomez, with the lines, “I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice, By once or twice I mean maybe a couple of hundred times, So let me, oh let me redeem, oh redeem, oh myself tonight, Cause I just need one more shot at second chances” but the song had an upbeat music and a fun tone. Was he serious in this apology? In his previous song, “Where are you know?” he had emotions along with the beat in the music to show his hurting, but with “Sorry,” it seems as if he doesn’t mean it. In “What Do You Mean,” he sang lines that said, “You’re so indecisive, what I’m saying… Don’t know if you’re happy, or complaining, don’t want for us to end, where do I start?” this represents the bipolar feelings Selena has and Justin’s confusion of what she means. He seems to want to keep the relationship, but her attitude seems to be making it hard for him. In his last song, “Mark My Words” Justin sang the lines, “So you heard it all before, Falling in and out of trust, Trying to rekindle us, Only to lose yourself, But I won’t let me lose you…” showing that he wants the relationship to work, no matter how hard it is and no matter how toxic. He knows that the relationship is tearing Selena apart, yet he still wants to hold on to it. Selena knows the relationship is no good for her, but she also wants to keep it. Since the relationship began when they were teenagers, it had a huge impact on them and followed them as they turned into adults. Toxic relationships can really take a toll on people, especially teenagers. 

In 2019, after reconciling with his ex, Justin Bieber got married to Hailey Balwin after three months of dating and are a happily married couple. Selena Gomez came out with two songs, “Lose You to Love Me” and “Look at Her Now” which showed her moving on from their relationship and her breaking away from the toxic relationship. In her first song, she sang, “In two months, you replaced us, Like it was easy, Made me think I deserved it, In the thick of healing, yeah…” showing that she blamed him for leaving her quickly for Hailey when she was finally healing. But the lines she sang, “I needed to hate you to love me…I needed to lose you to love me…” shows that although she blames him, she blames herself the most and in order to find love for herself again, she needed to move on from him and forget him. In her next song, she wrote, “Of course she was sad, but now she’s glad she dodged a bullet…” which shows her being empowered and glad that she finally moved on from a relationship that tore her apart. It’s always best to move away from toxic relationships and find someone who’ll truly be there for you. 

Toxic/abusive relationships can be experienced by anyone of any age and can even affect pop culture. These were examples of toxic relationships found in music, movies/television shows, and celebrity couples.