The 2010s gave us plenty of new couples to follow. (Harry and Meghan, George and Amal, Emma Watson and herself.) But the ones who broke up were even more revealing of our times.
With Brangelina’s demise, we no longer have a First Couple of Hollywood. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin were so agreeable about their goodbyes, they made the rest of us look like jerks. YouTubers created viral content out of their break-ups. Marriage equality has meant divorce equality, too.
Here are the biggest break-ups of the decade.
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie
Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s 12-year relationship was a series of high-stakes situations. It started with their scandalous courtship, which began while Pitt was still married to Jennifer Aniston. Then they officially confirmed they were a couple when Jolie announced she was pregnant with Pitt’s baby. Finally, they went through an ugly divorce in 2016 after two years of marriage, with reports of a custody battle over their six kids.
Brangelina was our culture’s last A-list movie star couple. Sure, some superstar celebrity relationships are still out there. (Looking at you, Beyonce and Jay Z, Kim and Kanye.) But it’s tough to find a pair of actors where each person is on the same plane of superstardom and intrigue as Jolie and Pitt.
Not only is it a loss for the celebrity gossip ecosystem, it’s a perfect showcase for how fame has changed since Pitt and Jolie first got together in 2005, because of social media and the fracturing of the entertainment industry. For the most part, dramatic A-list break-ups have been replaced by drama from reality-TV show couples and influencers who cater to their specific fan bases. Although Pitt and Jolie would probably prefer you remember them for their acting and humanitarian work, there’s no denying that their relationship marked the end of a Hollywood era.
Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow
“Conscious uncoupling.” You probably think Gwyneth Paltrow coined that term, which she famously used in 2014 when announcing her separation from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin. It was actually Katherine Woodward Thomas, a psychotherapist and relationship expert, who created it to describe a harmonious split where each person takes responsibility for how they’ve contributed to the breakdown of a relationship. While the un-couple faced backlash for using the term, it forever changed the way we talk about divorce, casting it in a more positive light.
Paltrow and Martin have remained friendly as co-parents. After she married TV producer Brad Falchuk in 2018, the newly-weds went on what Paltrow called “a very modern honeymoon,” which included Martin, their kids and Falchuk’s children. Harper’s Bazaar has deemed Paltrow and Martin’s break-up “one of the most civilised splits in Hollywood” — and it’s perhaps one of the most civilised of the decade as well.
Sofia Vergara and Nick Loeb
Actress Sofia Vergara and businessman Nick Loeb have spent more time fighting than they spent as a couple. They dated for two years, got engaged in 2012 and broke up in 2014. In the five years since, they’ve been in a public fight over the remains of their relationship: embryos they created when they were engaged. At the time, they reportedly signed a contract stating that no action could be taken on the embryos without both of them agreeing.
And they have not agreed. Loeb wants a surrogate to carry the embryos to term, which he says he’ll parent full time; Vergara wants them to remain frozen.
Loeb has written a New York Times op-ed, pleading his case. He’s filed lawsuits to gain custody of the embryos; the most recent attempt was dismissed in October. Meanwhile, Vergara has spoken out on Howard Stern’s radio show and on ‘Good Morning America.’ And she’s moved on: Vergara married actor Joe Manganiello in 2015.
Americans are well-acquainted with battles over custody of children. Vergara and Loeb are the first high-profile example of a nasty fight over embryos. In a country that’s bitterly divided over when life begins, while also grateful for the possibilities that fertility technology can provide, there’s nothing more modern than a break-up dispute over custody of the unborn.
Liza Koshy and David Dobrik
Being famous these days doesn’t mean that everybody knows your name. Liza Koshy and David Dobrik are famous — at least on YouTube, where their channels have tens of millions of subscribers, each. In YouTube land, the Dobrik-Koshy break-up was huge. They’d been together for two years and announced the split in a 2018 video that is at times serious and joking, and has more than 59 million views.
“Liza broke up with me six months ago,” Dobrik says.
“Oh that sucks, why’d she do that,” Koshy quips.
The gist was: We’re young, we need to work on ourselves, and we’re still best friends.
Dobrik and Koshy’s video is two things at the same time. One is a look into the end of a relationship between two people in their early 20s who still are learning how to be themselves. Their eyes are red from crying; their jokes punctuate moments of relatable realness. But the video is also the creation of two online celebrities who are extremely good at making content for the internet. Dobrik and Koshy’s fans are deeply invested in their personal lives, so the exes know they need to craft an explanation for a change in their relationship that will go viral — and leave neither of them the villain.
Daniel Craig and James Bond
Is anything more annoying than that constantly fighting couple who repeatedly breaks up only to passionately reunite like a romantic version of Sisyphus? Well, someone should tell Daniel Craig and the Bond franchise, whose tumultuous relationship produced some terrifically dramatic moments but has grown tired as of late.
The pair got together for 2006’s ‘Casino Royale,’ a film that reinvented the beloved franchise as a darker, more intense property. Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes and legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins joined the relationship to make 2012’s masterpiece ‘Skyfall.’ By the next movie, though, Craig had had enough. When asked by Time Out London in 2015 if he’d consider reprising the role, Craig said, “I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists.”
However, the following year, at the New Yorker Festival, Craig claimed those comments were born from exhaustion. “There is no other job like it ... and if I were to stop doing it, just saying, I would miss it terribly,” he said. Craig has confirmed that 2020s ‘No Time to Die,’ the franchise’s 25th film, will be his last — but we’re not holding our breath.
Jay Z and Kanye West
“What’s up with you and Jay, man? Are y’all OK, man?” Kanye West rapped in 2005. Good question. West and Jay Z’s friendship hasn’t seemed stable since the star helped produce Jay Z’s breakout ‘The Blueprint’ in 2001. It was petty squabbling at first: Kanye wanted to rap, but Jay Z didn’t think he was street enough. Then the former blew up and turned a cold shoulder to his mentor. By 2007, they seemed to make nice, Kanye even sweetly rapping in tribute to their friendship. “If you admire somebody you should go on ‘head tell ‘em / People never get the flowers while they can still smell ‘em.” Four years later, they rapped as equals on the album ‘Watch the Throne.’ So all’s well, right?
Not even a little. As Kanye’s public behaviour grew more erratic — including a long rant at a 2016 California concert in which he insulted Jay Z, just before he was hospitalised for “exhaustion” — the two grew increasingly distant. Kanye even pulled his music from Jay Z’s streaming service, Tidal. Still, “We’re beyond friends. My little brother is Kanye,” Jay Z insisted in a 2018 interview with David Letterman.
Even after Kanye began donning a red MAGA hat and championing President Donald Trump, the elder hip hop statesman rapped “don’t Michael and Prince me and Ye,” a reference to the supposed rivalry between the music titans. Perhaps the two are simply on a break. Let’s hope they patch things up soon.