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When this Instagram couple has vicious fights, millions of people tune in

A social media relationship that feels real

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Relationships make for some of the worst social media content: either people hate the saccharine clichés that come along with public displays of togetherness, or they hate being reminded that they are utterly alone. Nobody wants to see your hand outstretched, holding another arm that’s partially out of the frame. They don’t want to see your proposal slideshow or your anniversary dinner selfies. There’s something about these carefully curated images that feels fake — and the truth of relationships, even happy ones, are not always Instagram-worthy. Real relationships grapple with things like jealousy, possessiveness, and insecurities, all of which seem to have no place on a social media site where everything can be filtered and cropped.

This is how we arrive at @chicklet.hf, an Instagram account that has accumulated millions of fans by embracing everything you’re not supposed to be on social media. Initially started by a Brooklyn-born comedian named after the Spanish gum, the account blew up, thanks to a hilarious short where a man tries his best to fake a good time only to get demolished by his girlfriend. “What the fuck is you doing?” the woman filming asks as the man tries to refill an empty D’Ussé bottle with tea. “Trying to look lit for the ‘gram,” he pleads, noting that he doesn’t have enough money to buy the real thing and that people “expect” it from him. “No one gives a fuck about that shit!” she jabs. The two bicker about whether or not the ruse even looks believable. Then the man starts blasting “Bodak Yellow” and presses record on his own phone. “FUCK OUTTA HERE, THAT’S ICED TEA, YOU BUM ASS N*GGA,” the woman screams in the background, completely ruining the man’s Instagram.

It’s hilarious on multiple levels: the skewering of “do it for the ‘gram” culture, the complete and utter roasting of the dude, the messiness of it all. The way the camera is framed — close and yet off-center, wobbling, and grainy — makes the whole thing feel real, as if you’re standing in the same room as the fight unfolds. The imperfection is the exact thing that makes it good.

Since then, @chicklet.hf has blown up; the duo has amassed 1.7 million followers and even launched their own Tidal show focused on their relationship. Everyone tunes in to see the dynamic unfold between Chicklet, the boyish and optimistic Puerto Rican who gets repeatedly owned by his razor-sharp girlfriend, Maleni Cruz. Chicklet almost makes it easy for her: for one, the couple still lives in his parents’ house, much to Maleni’s annoyance. Chicklet (the character, anyway) doesn’t know how to take care of himself and presents as a full-grown man-baby that she has to clean up after. He’s also incapable of fending for himself, often relying on his mom to get what he needs. Maleni is the breadwinner in the relationship — not that this dissuades Chicklet from fronting to the ‘gram with hundreds that don’t even belong to him.

The two have made a career out of highlighting Chicket’s many, many failures, and part of what makes the page so compelling is that the two love to subvert displays of machismo. (Though, on occasion, the jokes can go too far: one now-deleted Instagram, Chicklet insinuates that men with fanny packs are too feminine.) In one recent Instagram, for example, Chicklet begins instructing his “fellas” that they should make their girls wash the dishes, only for Maleni to lose it and physically force her boyfriend to do them instead. “Make sure that shit clean,” she bellows, “because you had the wrong one. Ladies, look, have your man on check like this.”

In one of my favorite videos, Chicklet and Maleni are having an outrageous fight where the full context is unclear. It starts in media res, almost as if the camera was turned on mid-argument. Chicklet’s eyes are watering because he’s not afraid to cry during these videos. “She wanted to choke me,” he says to the side of the camera. “The birth control, she had to get off that shit!” he says, though, as the viewer, you still don’t really know what’s going on. Did Maleni get emotional after going off her birth control? Did an argument get physical? Are we talking about a sex thing?

Whatever the case, this is where Mama Chicklet barges into the fight. “If you believe that, you a dumbass n*gga,” she retorts, adding that Maleni’s need to stop using birth control for sex “sounds like a crock of shit.” Chicklet looks side to side helplessly as the two main women in his life go at each other’s throats.

“She’s trying to trap you, my n*gga,” the mom says, to Chicklet’s complete shock. He hadn’t considered this possibility, but Maleni is not having it. Would she really try to make a “bum” like Chicklet stay with her through a baby? “Oh the bum that you with,” mama Chicklet fires back at her. Suddenly, both Chicklet and his mom are teaming up against Maleni because how dare she insinuate that her boyfriend ain’t shit? Mom is always in Chicklet’s corner like this. In a different video where the couple argues about moving out, the mom comes to the rescue to explain why her baby boy isn’t going anywhere. “We two grown-ass people who need to move out,” Maleni argues as she looks up apartments for rent. “There’s enough fuckin’ space here for both of y’all here,” Mama Chicklet insists. “You good, my n*gga,” the mom insists to Maleni.

Things like this account can’t possibly all be legit: the camera can’t be rolling in the middle of every argument. While some videos show the couple acting surprised that their paramour is suddenly recording, Chicklet has admitted that some videos are re-creations of real moments. Still, the sheer rawness of it all blurs the line between reality and comedy sketch. Voices break, faces get red, curses fly left and right, sometimes even blows are exchanged. It never feels like acting, and that’s because the couple captures the spirit of what it’s like to be in a relationship: even when staged, it all feels authentic. As the viewer, you stop caring about the artifice of it all and just grab some popcorn instead.

In another video that was recorded in a car, Chicklet gets distracted in the middle of singing a song. Something has caught his eye, and he cranes his neck to get a better view. Maleni notices and starts grilling him: what in the world was he looking at? “What you just broke your neck for,” she demands. You can see the panic set in Chicket’s face. He denies he was looking at anything. It was just a dude with sneakers, he insists. “PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD. YOU’RE DRIVING,” he deflects. Maleni asks him if he saw a “fat ass,” and if so, why didn’t he tell her about it? “I wanna see it,” Maleni says. Chicklet lets his guard down and reveals that yes, he was totally looking at a girl. Maleni repays him by smacking him upside the head. “You played yourself,” she growls, swatting at him again, this time more playfully.

It’s ugly, sure, but I’ve definitely felt insecure after a boyfriend went out of his way to look at another woman on the street in the past. They’ve depicted the digital equivalent, too. There’s a video where she chastises him for faving the pictures of “big booty bitches” and another one where she demands to know why he knows so much about what his exes are doing online. Where most media depictions try to intellectualize such points of friction through incredulous think pieces, Chicklet captures the sloppiness of what it’s actually like to go through it, camera shakes and all.

You stop caring about the artifice of it all and just grab some popcorn instead

It would be easy to watch something like this and call it borderline abusive, especially when they get physical with one another. The constant insults would break most couples, but this is how it’s always been for the pair. From the moment they met each other, Chicklet and Maleni didn’t fully get along.

As Chicklet tells it, Maleni was a friend of a friend. One day, she tells this friend that a party somewhere is lit, so Chicklet and company come through. Turns out the party is completely dead; Chicklet was so mad at her that they immediately started bickering, ultimately resolving to stop speaking to one another. It would be years before the two finally got together, and when it happened, it was far from a perfect union. You get the feeling that the two love each other because of how much they butt heads. In front of the camera, at least, there’s never a question of where the other one stands. They let it all out, no matter the outcome.

If I need to suspend my disbelief to enjoy the spirit of the videos, I don’t have to consider the fuller scope of their relationship. While their most popular content tends to be fights, there are also plenty of tender moments.

There’s the one where he raps about how much he loves her, warning thirsty women to stay away from him. There’s one where he watches her get ready in the bathroom, reminding the camera that she’s the finest thing he’s ever seen, or the one where he pretends to be a puppy to wake her up because he really misses her. And who can forget the Insta where they’re in the middle of a club and Chicklet does nothing but hold Maleni’s butt up close?

The two run hot. I’ve met couples like this before. They are my friends, my family, people who often don’t get depicted in mainstream media. It may not be aspirational or pretty, but it always feels real. Plus, they’re so, so funny. I’ve never seen anyone capture the weird meta-language you develop as a couple, the in-jokes that make you love someone as hard as these two do. It’s no wonder that even Drake, the rap king of relationship drama, follows them.