A straight Star Wars pairing topped Tumblr's overwhelmingly queer 2020 relationship list

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  • Tumblr released its annual Year in Review report Monday, which tracks engagement around topics, media, and fandom on the platform.
  • It revealed the top 100 ships (i.e. relationships between fictional characters, whether solidified in media or not) on the platform, and out of the top ten, nine were LGBTQ relationships.
  • The number one ship on the platform in 2020 was “Reylo” — Kylo Ren and Rey from Star Wars — and it was the only heterosexual ship in the top 10.
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Tumblr, the fandom-favorite microblogging platform, has historically been known for hosting a robust queer community, and the platform’s 2020 Year In Review doesn’t seem to indicate that anything has changed. Out of the top 10 “ships” – romantic pairings between characters, whether they’re part of the main series canon or not – nine were queer relationships.

Surprisingly, “Reylo” – the name that signifies the relationship between Rey and Kylo Ren from the latest Star Wars trilogy – topped the list and was the only ship between a man and woman.

Even though Tumblr – and fandom writ large – has always been most fixated on “slash” ships (i.e. ones between two men), Reylo’s positioning can simply be explained by the fact that it’s been one of the most polarizing ships in recent memory.

Tumblr’s data doesn’t account for sentiment in its rankings

Amanda Brennan, Tumblr’s Head of Editorial and resident meme librarian, explained to Insider that this year’s Year in Review covers data from October 21, 2019 through October 20, 2020, a range that helps the platform account for data in December. Given that “The Rise of Skywalker” came out in December 2019, Reylo’s dominance makes sense.

Tumblr’s data also doesn’t account for sentiment (whether posts are positive or negative), so any discussion that uses a particular tag – in this case, #Reylo – gets taken into account. Given Reylo’s contentious reputation, the amount of discourse about it makes sense. Labeled as “toxic” by some fans, even diehard shippers may have found themselves disappointed by the couple’s moment in “The Rise of Skywalker” when Rey and Kylo Ren (or rather, Ben Solo), kiss.

“[Reylo] is such a polarizing ship. You either really, really love it or really, really hate it,” Brennan told Insider. “When you’re looking through the tag, it is both of those of this at once. It’s very chaotic.”

It’s also been a year of reflection, with people both on Tumblr, and in culture writ large, returning to their favorites, both old and new.  When it came to Reylo specifically, Brennan said that she thinks of Star Wars as more of a prescriptive fandom that’s concerned with canon details, observing that fans have been re-evaluating their own relationship with the ship and breaking down its details.

“We as a culture have come to rethink ‘cringe’ culture,” Brennan said. “Just being like, ‘You know what? The world’s melting down, I’m going to like what I want to.’ I think Reylo was a little bit of that.”

Furthermore, Star Wars is a major cultural phenomenon that’s everywhere in the mainstream. Even if you weren’t a part of the fandom, Brennan said, it’s likely that “The Rise of Skywalker” and Reylo were likely still on your radar.

Every other ship in the top 10 was queer

Aside from Reylo, every other top 10 ship was queer. Catra and Adora from “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” came in at number two, with Richie Tozier and Eddie Kaspbrak from “It” at number three.

The rest of the top 10 list includes Geralt of Rivia and Jaskier from “The Witcher” (number four); Aziraphale and Crowley from “Good Omens” (number five); Zuko and Sokka from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” (number six); Luz Noceda and Amity Blight from “The Owl House” (number seven); Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor from “Supergirl” (number eight); Park Jimin and Jeon Jungkook from BTS (number nine); and Dean Winchester and Castiel from “Supernatural” (number 10).

That falls in line both with historical trends on Tumblr, and also with fandom writ large – “slash,” or ships that pair two men together, has a storied fandom history, particularly when it comes to female writers and fans. “Femslash,” ships that pair two women together have also been increasing in prevalence on Tumblr in recent years, representing 15% of the ships on the full list compared to 6% in 2013.

Brennan also said that 48% of Tumblr’s userbase is Gen Z, which lends further insight into why the list is so queer. One 2018 study from Ipsos Mori estimated that only two-thirds of Gen Z identify as exclusively heterosexual, and many young people eschew binary notions of gender and sexuality.  

That shows through in the appearance of “Zukka” – Zuko and Sokka from “Avatar: The Last Airbender” – in the top 10 of the ship list. While much of the shipping debate around the series used to focus on “Zutara” (Zuko and Katara) and “Kataang” (Katara and Aang), “Zukka” was the one to skyrocket up Tumblr’s rankings as people watched the show with new eyes – “and maybe a little bit of a queer lens,” as Brennan said – in 2020.

Tumblr’s ship list reflects both modern fandom and pop culture

Reylo’s position at the top of the ship list is indicative of its overall pop culture impact – it even clocked in at number 16 on Tumblr’s overall Top 20 of 2020 list (“The Rise of Skywalker” was at number five). 

The other ships on the list speak to some of the other biggest fictional properties of the past year like “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power” or “The Witcher.” They signify landmark moments in LGBTQ representation, like Amity’s crush on Luz in “The Owl House” on Disney Channel, or renewed fascination with old series like “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” They include Tumblr fixtures like “Destiel” from Supernatural or “Ineffable Husbands,” the “Good Omens” ship of angel Aziraphale and demon Crowley. 

On Tumblr, a bastion of fandom, people can discuss, adore, and create transformative content about media, whether fictional or real.

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