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VMA 2016: Rihanna and Drake's rom-com moment has a long, evasive history

The two stars have been teasing us — and each other — for 7 years and counting.

2016 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Drake and Rihanna, king and queen of the VMA prom.
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Drake and Rihanna have been in and out of each other’s orbits for years, but their encounter on the 2016 VMAs stage was in a league of its own.

Drake — who had missed accepting an award for his own win in the first hour of the show, due to getting stuck traffic(!) — managed to get himself together and into a tuxedo to present Rihanna with the Video Vanguard award, or the VMA version of a lifetime achievement honor.

Drake kicked off the speech by detailing the first time he met "Robyn Fenty" — her real name — and proceeded to gush over the accomplishments of "the iconic being that is Rihanna."

Meanwhile, Rihanna stood off to the side in her voluminous gown, smiling patiently but warmly.

If you don’t look at this picture and immediately think of [insert almost literally every romantic comedy here], there’s a good chance you don’t believe in love — or whatever the hell it is that Drake and Rihanna have got going on.

Drake so earnestly worships Rihanna that it’s impossible not to notice — especially at the 2016 VMAs

The VMAs aren’t exactly a formal event, so seeing Drake in the sharpest of tuxes was maybe even more jarring than if he had wandered onstage completely naked. It was a purposeful statement on Drake’s part: Rihanna is important to him, he takes this award seriously, and dammit, the moment calls for wearing something sharp — or taking out a congratulatory billboard, as he did the week before — to acknowledge the gravity of the honor.

The moment was so charged — or maybe more accurately, Drake had such incredibly obvious hearts in his eyes — that it seemed the next logical step would have been to get down on one knee and make himself the happiest man on earth.

(We hold these truths to be self-evident: that Drake loves Rihanna and she thinks he’s pretty okay.)

But it was all pretty tame in the end. Drake gave Rihanna the award, they had an endearing, if awkward, half-kiss moment, and she gave a heartfelt speech about how much the Vanguard award means to her as an evolving artist.

Unfortunately, that hardly mattered in the end. Everyone watching was already busy writing their Drake/Rihanna wish fulfillment fanfic, and there was no amount of polite side-stepping Rihanna could do to change it.

It doesn't help that Drake posted an incredibly couple-y photo of the two shortly after the VMAs ended, which only fueled the intrigue further.

And it certainly didn't calm the fan uproar when they were seen dining out together the day after — Rihanna wearing a belted men's dress shirt — nor when a countdown clock appeared on "DrakeandRihanna.com" on August 30. (For what it's worth, sources close to Rihanna tell Fader that it's fake.)

But neither Drake nor Rihanna is new to this particular story. In fact, they’ve been playing this game with us — and maybe each other — for years.

Rihanna and Drake have been shrugging off dating rumors almost as long as they’ve been stars

Thanks to their frequent(ly sexy) collaborations and Drake’s less-than-subtle gushing about Rihanna’s incredible beauty and talent, the two stars have always held a particular fascination for anyone even remotely into celebrity gossip. Neither has ever officially confirmed a relationship, but they’ve been circling each other since at least 2009.

In the middle of the "Rihanna’s trying to move on" part of the celebrity breakup news cycle — several months after Chris Brown assaulted her and started a firestorm that would follow both of them for years — Page Six reported that Drake and Rihanna were spotted making out, high school style, in Lucky Strike, a New York City bowling alley bar.

In 2010, Drake referenced that night in his song "Fireworks," saying that the night "always seems to trouble me" but that she didn’t seem to care. He even told the New York Times that Rihanna treated him like "a pawn."

That attitude didn’t last long, though. Just a couple weeks later, Drake told MTV that he had nothing but love for Ri, "an overwhelming and incredible person" who just has a gift for making him feel inadequate. "She made me feel nervous," he said. "It just put me back to the Acura in Toronto, feeling like Aubrey Graham [his real name], not Drake."

Rihanna, for her part, doesn’t bring up Drake nearly as much as the other way around. The scrutiny of her love life was so intense in 2009 thanks to Brown that she (understandably) was far less likely to address it, anyway.

From 2009 on, though, the two remained in each other’s lives, both personally and professionally. They made appearances on each other’s albums, first and most notably with 2010’s "What’s My Name?" (Rihanna ft. Drake):

Then there was 2012’s "Take Care" (Drake ft. Rihanna):

Their chemistry was — and remains — pretty damn electric.

Also: "Can't deny that I want you, but I'll lie if I have to"? Drake.

In 2016, they appeared on each other’s respective albums. Rihanna tapped in on Views for Drake’s latest single, "Too Good," in which the two alternate singing at each other, flirty and confused. "I’m too good to you," the chorus goes. "You take my love for granted, I just don’t understand it..."

And Drake guested on Rihanna’s "Work," from ANTI, complete with "his and hers"–style videos, i.e., two different concepts for the same song played back to back:

When Entertainment Weekly tried to get to the bottom of their scorching hot vibes in these videos, director Tim Erem admitted that "their chemistry is amazing" but that they’re "just friends."

Rihanna, meanwhile, was a little more coy with Vogue when asked how working with Drake is different from working with anyone else. "Drake has a lot to offer," she said. "Everything he does is so amazing. He’s so talented that you kind of just trust that it’ll be right."

It’s hardly a smoking gun. But it’s still enough to keep people interested — and they know it.

We may never know what’s up with Rihanna and Drake, and that’s okay!

It’s almost impossible to tell whether Drake and Rihanna are trying to be teases to each other, to us, or both — though the final option seems most likely. Let us consider the indisputable elements of this otherwise highly speculative relationship.

Exhibit A: Drake and Rihanna are huge celebrities with big public profiles, and the ability to keep people guessing is one of the most powerful publicity tools at their disposal.

Exhibit B: Drake and Rihanna are incredibly attractive humans who clearly enjoy each other’s company and respective faces.

Exhibit C: I just wrote a thousand words on whether a single minute of a three-hour awards show proved two strangers’ undying love for each other, and I do not have a definitive answer.

But isn’t that kind of the point? There’s no denying that Rihanna and Drake have a connection beyond the fact that their voices sound great together — but they’re not stupid, either. They know that every glance they throw each other’s way will get scrutinized and Snapchatted to death. They know that appearing on each other’s tours, dancing right up in each other’s space, will stoke the ever-volatile flames of fan curiosity — and that confirming anything one way or the other would extinguish them sooner rather than later.

So, no, we don’t know what’s up with Drake and Rihanna, nor is it likely that we will know what’s up with Drake and Rihanna anytime soon. As it stands right now, they’re just too good for us — and if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s exactly how we like it.

Updated to reflect Drake and Rihanna's post-VMA dinner and drakeandrihanna.com as further proof that these two are trying to kill us.

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