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How Love Island humanises influencers

For all of its controversy and trashy reality tv tropes, Love Island actually does a decent job of demonstrating vulnerability in its seemingly impeccable social media stars.

I’d never watched Love Island until this year. Over the last four summers I’ve gotten to know some of the personalities that have graced the villa thanks to social media hype, tabloid headlines, and general chat from friends.

This year I decided to actually give it a try. If so many people are tuning in, there must be something to pull me in, right?

So far we’re three episodes into the fifth series and, to be blunt, it’s every bit as gloriously trashy and trivial as I expected. Joe’s being pushed out of the love triangle between him, Lucie, and Tommy – gasp! – and a new girl is scheduled to enter today. Catch me in front of the TV at 9pm with a biscuit and a cup of tea to see how this all pans out.

I’m aware of the controversy that surrounds it, including mental health issues, problematic representation, and underwhelming diversity. There’s plenty of reasons to despise a show such as Love Island that, at its worst, highlights how superficial and self-serving human beings can be.

With that being said, though, there’s still a lot to enjoy when it comes to ITV2s flagship programme. Each summer we’re treated to a wave of memes, light-hearted catch-up chat with friends, and an excuse to stay cosily glued to the screen each night. And while the show does have its fair share of flaws, the insights into human attraction, genuine connection, and group dynamics are a testament to its reputation that I rarely see discussed.

Opening up on national television

As an outsider watching for the first time, there’s a unique, human quality to the interactions between these young and ridiculously fit people who’ve become famous overnight. In a time where follower counts take precedence and perfect online profiles are the norm, its oddly refreshing to see vulnerability and emotive conversation that isn’t always calculated.

Sure, it’s all a little contrived and over-dramatic. Joe tells his not-exactly-girlfriend Lucie that he ‘doesn’t trust her’ after only two days. Tommy’s swooped in and, essentially, caused the whole thing to kick off. But the messiness, indecision, selfishness, and constant back-and-forth chat is relatable for the everyday plebs like us. For a group so focused on their aesthetic and image, the inability to deal with a socially charged situation is reassuring.

Lucie, currently the most popular contestant on the show with the boys, has had to deal with some severe guilt-tripping and pressure from Joe after being picked by Tommy as a new couple. This has understandably lead to some emotional upset. Seeing her react to a difficult scenario in a way that most people reasonably would, feels genuine and far less ochestrated than her pristine, glamorous Instagram profile. It’s a reminder that we’re all normal, no matter how much it looks as though we’re always living our ‘best life’.

It may seem a little counterintuitive to describe a completely constructed reality series – in which every person on screen is hand-picked – as ‘real’ or authentic. Love Island is low-brow entertainment that knows where it stands and doesn’t really pretend to be anything else. But, strangely, removing social media influencers from their bubble of impressive Instagram tiles and Twitter posts leaves them on equal terms as normal people. They’re just as clumsy as everyone else – regardless of their social media clout.

I mean, just look at Joe’s face. The drama.

A sign of the times?

It may be a dystopian trope of the age we live in, but ITV 2’s hit show somehow injects a little humanity back into an era defined by follower numbers, which may be a bit concerning, depending on where you stand. There was once a time where the biggest reality TV shows, such as Big Brother, the X Factor, and Britain’s Got Talent, were criticised for promoting idealistic standards that were nearly impossible to meet.

Love Island still faces this backlash, of course. But its focus on one-to-one interaction and in-person chemistry is a stark contrast to the alternative, online options that many young people in the real-world use, such as Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge. We place more focus than ever before on our digital selves and the way we market our lives to other people, whether it be for our careers or our relationships.

The show’s structure, where people are forced to get to know each other solely offline, is probably considered unusual today, but it’s this close intimacy that makes these stars feel human. We see gorgeous people cry, argue, and laugh, and it reminds us of the petty drama we’ve all experienced for ourselves at some point in our lives.

It’s like looking in a mirror, except the reflection staring back at me looks way better in beach shorts than I ever could. I’ll be sure not to mention that in my Tinder profile.


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