KathNiel and the biggest love teams that fluttered—and broke—our hearts

A chronicle of past love teams and what KathNiel’s breakup means for the current generation of pairings.

The Philippines is collectively mourning the breakup of longtime reel-to-real love team Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla—KathNiel, as we know it. 

Celebrities and die-hard fans have posted their messages of love and support toward the two. Fan pages and even meme accounts have been more transparent with their frustrations. And within my personal circles and social media accounts, I’ve been seeing reactions from people that I didn’t know were KathNiel fans.

Kathryn Bernardo’s public statement.
While posted in jest, fans are visibly distraught by the breakup, so much so that they are calling for a holiday to recover from the split’s devastating effects.

That people treat the split as a matter of national concern isn’t exactly unfounded. As Kathryn penned in her breakup letter on Instagram, “[she] has been in showbiz for 21 years now, 12 years as the one-half of KathNiel, and 11 years as someone who loved Deej (Daniel) even behind the camera.” Daniel also referred to these 11 years in his own post, ending it by saying: “ang pagmamahal ko sayo ay walang hanggan at walang katapusan” (My love for you knows no limits and endings.) 

So if you do the math, there’s an entire generation of twenty and thirty-somethings now who were teenagers alongside KathNiel and faced the challenges of adulthood parallel to the couple. I can imagine this age group getting hurt the most—aside from Kathryn, Daniel, and their loved ones, of course. 

In consolation, both parties have expressed their love and support for each other moving forward, and even Kathryn has stated that “[she] won’t be entertaining questions regarding [the breakup] anymore.” Kathryn’s breakup post in particular has drawn praise from people, not only for how mature she is in handling the situation, but also for how well-written and heartfelt her message was.  

Netizens have praised Kathryn for her handling of the breakup, as penned in her breakup post. Screenshots from Facebook.

It’s interesting that Kathryn chose to separate the 12 years of KathNiel (the love team) and 11 years of loving Deej (Kathryn and Daniel behind the scenes). There is an implicit recognition of the “manufactured” aspect of the love team—something that celebrities, most notably Liza Soberano, have spoken candidly about. 

Chemistry tests

Once part of the “LizQuen” loveteam with boyfriend and on-screen partner Enrique Gil, Liza has granted several interviews locally and abroad about the creation of love teams. She revealed details about “chemistry tests” between potential couples for projects and how management influences how they lead their personal and professional lives for fan service. She even boldly claimed that the love team route seems to be the only way for actors in the Philippines to make it big. 

Granted, throughout the history of Philippine entertainment, several memorable couples have gone on to become successful stars because and in spite of their love team setup. There’s Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III (or “Guy and Pip”) of the late ‘60s till the ‘80s, another reel-to-real relationship that ended with Nora and Tirso marrying other people. Another reel-to-real example is Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion, whose wedding in 1984 drew millions of fans to the Manila Cathedral. The former love team held a concert, aptly named “Dear Heart” (named after the movie that first paired them in 1981), with their daughter KC Concepcion, alongside thousands of die-hard Sharon-Gabby fans in attendance. 

Nora Aunor and Tirso Cruz III were all the rage back in the ’60s ’till the ’80s. Photo from IMDb.
42 years after their first onscreen pairing, Sharon Cuneta and Gabby Concepcion still enjoy a steady following, even if the two have since parted ways and led separate personal and professional lives. Photo from Instagram/Sharon Cuneta.

Other love teams or pairings took off even without the reel-to-real aspect. Oft-quoted till now are Popoy and Basha’s lines from One More Chance, starring one of the most popular love teams of the late 2000s: John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo. The latter has already stated for the record that they never got romantically involved with each other; post-One More Chance, both John Lloyd and Bea have moved on to other major projects and have established their respective romantic relationships as well, with Bea recently getting engaged to actor Dominic Roque.  

Delusional fans

Then there’s the unconventional yet blockbuster AlDub love team that was borne not out from a film, but from a segment in a noontime show, Eat Bulaga. While it was made clear that Alden Richards and Maine Mendoza (who played “Yaya Dub” in the Kalyeserye) were playing the love team role (as opposed to living it as well), such was the craze surrounding the pairing that they faced (and continue to face) certain hindrances even after the “end” of AlDub. Maine had previously admitted to an interview in 2022 that she herself had to shut down “delusional” fans who still believed in the Alden-Maine pairing, going as far as dismissing her relationship and eventual marriage to real-life partner Arjo Atayde. 

Going back to Kathryn, many KathNiel and AlDub fans initially resisted the Alden-Kathryn pairing for the movie Hello, Love, Goodbye in 2019. This was also the same year that Kathryn and Daniel decided to pursue separate projects, but they reassured their fans that they would still keep supporting each other. Hello, Love, Goodbye would later become the highest-grossing film of all time in the Philippines—a statement of success slapped in the face of naysayers. 

Hello, Love, Goodbye was definitive proof that Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards could thrive and succeed outside of their respective love teams. Photo from IMDb.

Going by some of the biggest love teams in recent memory, it is easy and understandable to believe the implications of Liza’s words: that outside of a love team, artists get to thrive in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue, whether within or without entertainment. Liza herself did some projects geared toward a Hollywood career and explored opportunities in South Korea; Kathryn starred alongside BAFTA and Golden Globe-nominated actress Dolly de Leon in A Very Good Girl, which garnered critical and commercial acclaim. 

This isn’t to say that the love team is already a tired formula. One only needs to look at DonBelle—Donny Pangilinan and Belle Mariano—and do a quick search on how they always trend on social media (particularly on X, formerly Twitter) whenever details about their upcoming projects are teased or released. Tracing their careers, however, confirms what Liza points toward with “chemistry tests” and management intervention: Donny and Belle have had their respective projects, fan bases, and other pairings before being casted for He’s Into Her, which aired on iWantTFC in the middle of the pandemic back in 2021. 

The success of GMA’s Maria Clara and Ibarra also launched the Barbie Forteza-David Licauco love team, which has gone on to spawn several fan accounts, meme pages, and countless entertainment articles—all these, even if it’s also public knowledge that Barbie is in a relationship with fellow actor Jak Roberto. The shipping has gotten so strong that the trio have repeatedly reminded fans about the professional nature of the Barbie-David pairing and to respect Jak and Barbie’s relationship.  

Several brands and magazines have prominently featured Barbie Forteza and David Licauco (or #BarDa, as some call it) together. Forteza is currently in a relationship with fellow actor Jak Roberto.

Marketing a love team

Carlo Cannu, a TV director for GMA Network, still believes in the efficacy of the love team, but with a few caveats. “It’s good to see on-screen partners, and we can’t help it when fans ship them and [wish for them] to become real-life couples. While marketing and other business forces might box these couples, I think it’s really up to the artists and their respective management to graph their growth as an artist,” he says. “You have to consider so many factors when creating love teams, from monetizing their brand as a couple to molding them as actors, both collectively and individually.”

“I think it’s the love team and their management’s task to prepare their fans, [should the actors in the love team] want to have solo projects or to be partnered with other actors. [At the end of the day,] a love team is effective for me if, collectively and individually, they can come up with projects that will hone their crafts as artists,” Cannu adds. 

Film critic Jason Liwag also points out that love teams have been around for as long as the Filipino silent film era, so he doesn’t see it dying out soon. “Mary Walter and Gregorio Fernandez [were the] first love team [way back in the 1920s.] It would be foolish to think that [love teams] would die out so simply!”

He adds: “As long as there are people that will hope for the idea of a perfect and persistent love between two people in an environment as hostile as the entertainment industry, I think the love team will persist, and many of the stars in the Philippines who were from those love teams will continue to be powerful.”

Daniel’s parting message.

I might risk drawing the ire of some fans here, but the KathNiel split seemed to have a more massive ripple effect than the other love teams that have dissolved in recent years. On a personal note, writing this piece in response to the split somehow speaks volumes of how I—and I’m not exactly the most ardent follower—got affected by the breakup. 

I guess it all goes back to that phrase beautifully constructed by Kathryn: “[In] showbiz for 21 years now, 12 years as the one-half of KathNiel, and 11 years as someone who loved Deej.” The numbers underscore the depth and dedication toward a professional contract and a genuine, loving relationship.

Further on in her message, Kathryn underscored how she has always made it a point to never lose herself in the entertainment industry, to stay authentic, and to ultimately make choices for herself and by herself, “even [and] especially when it comes to love—” even when this choice would parting with the one she loves the most.

The love teams of the future (it seems that they’re still bound to stay, and there will be more) ought to take notes and understand how Kathryn is handling this presumably “double” break-up with grace and maturity. 

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