The evolution of the heartthrobs from our childhood

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Draco TikTok has steadily taken over the screens of all of Gen Z. #POV videos of super fans editing clips of the devastatingly charming Cedric Diggory (Robert Pattinson) along with the fan-favorite bad boy Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) have dominated the For You pages of many. So it sure isn’t surprising that the Harry Potter franchise is receiving a resurgence of attention right now. But it seems that this reemergence of overwhelming media attention has followed Pattinson over to the Twilight franchise as well, which also has an endless amount of iconic yet extremely cringey Bella (Kristen Stewart) and Edward (Robert Pattinson) moments. You may know it as Kristen Stewart’s overly criticized portrayal of Bella Swan in the first Twilight installment with the incessant head shaking and lip biting, which not to mention has also been compared to Debby Ryan’s hair-tucking-behind-ear moment in “Radio Rebel” that too has gone viral on TikTok. 

But this has transformed from playful mockery into a full-blown trend. Cue the one and only “Bella’s Lullaby” Twilight piano theme music. That song will forever be etched into our brains. From the popular TikTok dance — you know the one — created by Vine/TikTok star Issa Twaimz all the way to background music for casual memes, the song has spread everywhere.

Now, although addicting and fun, TikTok has merely been the source that has brought back the media craze for past heartthrob Robert Pattinson in his roles of the prince-like Cedric Diggory and extremely sexy-but-also-high-key-creepy-vampire-boyfriend Edward Cullen. And that’s the thing. Past

*spoilers ahead on “The Devil All The Time”*

Robert Pattinson has not stopped acting and is still a very well-known name in Hollywood. However, some of the roles he has taken on have been more than a little bit questionable. I’ll admit, when I heard he was starring in Antonino Campos’s psychological thriller “The Devil All The Time” (released on Sept. 13, 2020) that centers around a town infested with corrupt and even murderous individuals, I was very intrigued. British Rob cranking out an American Southern accent in a drama alongside other promising actors of our century like Bill Skarsgård, Sebastian Stan, Mia Wasikowska and my all-time favorite Tom Holland? YES PLEASE. To say the least, I was disappointed. Not only does he belt out in a strangely forced southern accent (DELUSIONS! If you know, you know.), but his character is also a slimy preacher that preys on young girls. EW. Let’s just hope his approach to Batman isn’t as revolting.

This is not the first time Pattinson has strove for the unlikable, grungy male role. You may recognize him as The Dauphin from “The King,” the foolish Prince of France constantly laughing at the English King Henry, who is portrayed by young, up-and-coming star Timothée Chalamet. Fun fact: Many argue that Pattinson looks more like a vampire here than he does in “Twilight!” You may have also seen him in other more serious movies like “The Lighthouse,” “Good Time” and “Cosmopolis.” All of the characters he portrays are wildly different. And that’s the point. It almost seems as if Pattinson has been itching to prove to the public that he is a multi-dimensional actor with depth that goes beyond the classic teen (but not really) vampire that everyone is so obsessively in love and familiar with.

It makes me wonder. 

Is the decline of all our favorite male heartthrobs inevitable? 

Think about all of your childhood male celebrity crushes, and then think about how all of the characters they’ve played have evolved. 

Take Zac Efron, for example. He captured the hearts of a generation that grew up adoring the High School Musical movie franchise. Naturally, it was easy to fall for the fun-loving passionate Troy Bolton, part-time basketball champion and part-time theater star. But what has Efron been up to since? To say he outgrew Disney would be a huge understatement. Efron has since graduated to Rated-R comedies like “Neighbors,” “Bad Grandpa” and “Baywatch.” Efron even veered off on a more serious route when he played the American serial killer Ted Bundy in “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.” Contrary to popular opinion, I much preferred seeing Efron as the innocent, sweet jock of East High as opposed to the wild bad-boy character he has taken on in recent years. Petition to bring back Troy Bolton. Who’s with me?

And it wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t mention Leonardo DiCaprio. No hate to Leo, but isn’t everyone these days always clarifying how their celebrity crush is the young Leo? Just a thought.

There are certainly many actors who still woo hearts today, even long after the role that defined them as a “heartthrob.” But interestingly enough, they’ve seemed to stick to playing that familiar role that brought them to fame. From Ian Somerhalder who gained media attention from the iconic bad-boy vampire role of Damon Salvatore in “The Vampire Diaries” and recently starred in a similar vampiresque series called “V-Wars” to Ryan Gosling who played the passionate and charming Noah in “The Notebook” and went on to play the lovable male lead in other rom-coms and action movies, it almost seems as if they have been suspended in time, stuck in their original roles. Well at least in the eyes of the public. So maybe the decline of these heartthrobs truly isn’t inevitable. Maybe it just comes down to picking the right roles and hoping the public agrees with those choices. With the rise of social media, it has become easier for the public to pick away at actors with intense criticism, leaving actors to simply cross their fingers and hope the public either appreciate their efforts to expand their genre choices in films or, better yet, leave them alone.

At the end of the day, we should remember that acting is still a form of art, and we should show our love and support to our amazingly talented celebrity crushes. No matter what new artistic vision or route they decide to take on. Marilyn Monroe — an absolute queen I might add — once said, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best.” And she summarizes my views on watching young acting stars’ retreat to less praiseworthy roles perfectly.

Perhaps the hard truth is that our favorite male heartthrobs have outgrown the role of the stereotypical heart-swooning male protagonist. It’s fans like me that are still so desperately grasping for every connection or remembrance we can of their heartthrob glory days. Cole Sprouse, former Disney Channel star, is another prime example of this. Sprouse has had his fair share of the media poking into his day to day business, from growing up in the Hollywood limelight on the Disney Channel show “Suite Life on Deck” to having media constantly probing around with his past relationship with “Riverdale” co-star Lili Reinhart. Would Cole ever return to Disney Channel? No. Would Cole ever agree to a “Suite Life” reboot? No. Sprouse has not been shy in making disdainful remarks about his time with Disney Channel in countless interviews, and he even mentioned while appearing as a guest star on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon that if there were ever a reboot, there would be “a huge potential to kind of demolish that perfect little golden memory of a program if you go back and you revive it.” 

Or in more direct, less-polite words: I’m an actor. I play different roles. It was good in the moment. But I’ve moved on. So although this next quote wasn’t by Sprouse himself as he gave these lines while portraying Jughead Jones in Season 1 of “Riverdale,” it almost seems as if Sprouse is truly just projecting at super fans to let go of their preconceptions of who he is and which roles he should take on in film and television. And it could even be interpreted as the collective stance of all the heartthrobs who are ready to move on from the initial roles that brought them fame.

 “In case you haven’t noticed, I’M WEIRD. I’m a weirdo. I don’t fit in, and I don’t WANT to fit in.”

Maybe it’s time we listened.

Contact Emma Y Wang at emmaywang ‘at’ stanford.edu

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