They sounded incredible when they performed their Fifty Shades song, For You, at the BRIT Awards on Wednesday night.
But viewers noted that Rita Ora, 27, kept her distance from Liam Payne, 24, on stage out of respect for his girlfriend Cheryl, 34, who was watching from the audience, after they had battled split rumours.
The show was in stark contrast to the VERY raunchy duet they performed on Jimmy Fallon‘s US talk show a fortnight before, which saw them end on a kiss, rather than the high five they gave each other at the BRITs.
‘From smooching to a friendly high-five’: Fans noticed Rita Ora didn’t perform her usual sexy Fifty Shades routine with Liam Payne at Wednesday’s BRITs in front of girlfriend Cheryl (left)… compared with (right) on the Jimmy Fallon show a the start of month
Out of respect? While their previous performance saw them locking lips and holding onto one another, this time, they barely got close
Awkward: The space between the pair on stage this time was clear to see compared with the close moment on Fallon
Twitter went wild over the reserved performance and couldn’t help but speculate that it was because of Cheryl’s presence there.
They wrote: ‘Did that performance between Rita Ora and Liam Payne look mega awkward? it’s as if Cheryl told him not to go near her #BRITs2018 #BRITS.’
‘Liam and Rita looked a bit awkward on stage, probs because Cheryl was there nonetheless she looked fit #brits.’
‘Rita and Liam had zero connection on stage between each other. Also that hug was ridiculously awkward lol. #BRITs.
They’re back! Cheryl and Liam put on a show of unity at Wednesday night’s BRIT Awards, but body language expert Judi James told MailOnline that having one hand in his pocket signalled the singer’s ‘desire to hide’ and a ‘lack of self-assurance’
At the BRITs, Liam looked down at the floor, while Rita looked into the crowd (left), while on the Fallon show, (right), they didn’t take their eyes off one another
Divided: While lots of people loved the performance of the hit song, For You, others noted that it lacked ‘chemistry’
Cheers mate! At the end of the song, Liam gave Rita a friendly pat on the back at the BRITs compared to the sexy neck nuzzle he gave Rita on Fallon
Miles between them: Rita and Liam were rarely by one another’s side during the performance at the BRITs
Contrast: Yet on the Fallon show, they were so close, the sexual tension (for stage purposes only) was palpable
‘Liam and rita have been close in EVERY OTHER performance of #ForYou and at the #BRITs they were miles apart and didn’t do their usual routine (cheryl c***blocked lol).’
‘Rita Ora and Liam Payne keeping far apart because Cheryl is watching #brits.’
‘Me thinks Cheryl has Liam under thumb after that uncomfortable performance he just gave with Rita Ora #awks #BRITs.’
‘Liam and Rita look so fake there’s no chemistry lol #BRITs.’
However, loads of viewers loved the incredible vocals on the night, as well as Rita’s sexy ensemble.
They wrote: ‘Great performance Liam and Rita.So proud of you and Rita looked amazing, as did Cheryl.’
‘TBH when Liam Payne and Rita Ora performed I was so happy because this was the best performance ever!!’
‘Good morning Rita loved your performance at the Brits with Liam have a great day xxx.’
Cheryl and Liam put on a united front at the BRITs following split rumours, looking super close.
But Judi James, author of The Body Language Bible told MailOnline that while they looked loved-up, there were some tell-tale signs that things are a little awkward.
She said: ‘The very loving, flirty and even fun-style poses between Cheryl and Liam at the Brits were clearly designed to show they’re still a close team, with Cheryl there to show open support for her man for the awards night.
Something to say: Viewers of the BRITs went wild over Liam and Rita’s Fifty Shades performance which was awkwardly performed in front of Cheryl
‘But there were also several moments of more awkward-looking body language from a couple who have often been rather private and less inclined to the normal red carpet PDAs.’
She said: ‘Their red carpet smiles looked a little over-congruent at times and Liam’s seemed to receive a re-boot after some intimate-looking whispering from Cheryl.
‘She face-checked Liam, throwing him a couple of adoring upward glances while Liam posed with one hand in his pocket in what looked like a less assured way and which can signal a desire to hide.’
A little different: Cheryl herself performed a very raunchy routine with ex boyfriend Derek Hough back in December 2009, when she appeared on her own TV show on ITV
Jack Whitehall’s chat, in which he asked them about their ‘safe word’ and Cheryl said, ‘Don’t stop!’
Judi said: ‘This threw up body language from the couple that ranged from signals suggesting awkward embarrassment to hints of tension and possible anxiety.
‘Cheryl’s smile and upright posture was at odds with some less confident hand gestures as she fiddled and picked her own fingers in what is normally a self-comfort ritual.
‘Her hands rose into a barrier gesture as the chat went on and although Liam leaned away form the source of the gags he also reeled away from Cheryl with one hand on his chest after her Fifty Shades ‘safe word’ joke.
They’ve spotted it: Fans went wild over the performance, noting how distanced this once was compared to past ones
The songstress took to Twitter to vehemently deny that their red carpet PDA and backstage posts were anything but real, despite much speculation that their romance is in trouble less than a year after they welcomed their first child.
Posting to her 6.4million followers, she wrote: ‘Oh stop no one cares who’s been speculatively arguing or not in their relationship use your platform to put something productive in your columns.
‘I opened a centre this week that could help thousands of youth!!!!’
Adding: ‘…Oh and your “stunt” theories are just ludicrous and a bit weird’.
‘Loved your performance’: Lots of fans of the song tweeted about how much they loved the duet
Wisdom: Judi James, author of The Body Language Bible has spoken to MailOnline about Cheryl and Liam’s ‘awkwardness’
Cheryl’s furious tweet comes after she and Liam set more than a few tongues wagging with their loved-up display at the BRITs and at the BRITs Universal Music after-party in London.
Though their overzealous behaviour – amid claims that the two-year romance would be over ‘within weeks’ – cast some doubt on the relationship again, when friends told The Sun that the love-fest was ‘just a stunt’.
Cheryl is thought to be spending much of her time at home on her own with Bear, because she would rather stay in watching TV than go out to showbiz parties.
The source said: ‘Cheryl basically went into hibernation when she got pregnant and has made the decision to be a stay at home mother with no nanny and is looking after Bear herself. She doesn’t like going out much as she used to.’
While another friend close to the couple added: ‘The fact of the matter is, like most young couple’s with busy work lives and the demands of an infant they have been struggling to spend time together.
‘There are the very real strains of trying to adapt to parenthood whilst being in the spotlight and having to appear as though everything is rosy all of the time.
‘It is not real life and is not the life Cheryl and Liam are currently living as a couple.’
Judi James said of Liam and Cheryl: ‘Their night threw up body language from the couple that ranged from signals suggesting awkward embarrassment to hints of tension and possible anxiety’
It had been reported by The Sun that Liam has spoken to lawyers to see what a split would mean for their shared assets and the care of their son – with Liam holding an estimated £54million fortune, and Cheryl around £20million.
However, the Fight For This Love hitmaker was quick to hit back at the split rumours as she launched Cheryl’s Trust Centre on Tuesday.
Following days of speculation, BBC presenter Dan Walker touched upon her love life life at the launch, but a slightly frosty Cheryl appeared keen to deflect discussion away from her relationship.
She said: ‘(Talk of my personal life) is not frustrating. It doesn’t bother me at all as my focus is solely on this and I’ve waited seven years and none of that matters – this is most important to me.
Speaking out: She shared the tweet with her 6.4million followers