Billie Eilish and Jesse Rutherford Know Their Relationship Is Controversial

Photography by Getty Images

The internet is divided over the 11-year age gap between the two musicians, but the contentious couple doesn’t seem to care.

Natalie Michie

Date November 7, 2022

Turns out, a blanket can make for quite a risqué red carpet look. Case in point: at the LACMA Art & Film Gala on November 5, social media went ablaze when a logo-emblazoned cloak was donned by the most divisive couple du jour: Billie Eilish and singer Jesse Rutherford.

Wearing matching Gucci sleep sets, the giggling pair stood cuddled up under a large duvet for their red carpet debut. With this loudly unified ensemble, the couple only added fuel to the fire concerning their 11-year age gap. But, in all fairness, subtlety is practically impossible at this point.

From their matching red carpet appearance to a questionable Halloween costume choice, Billie Eilish, 20, and Jesse Rutherford, 31, are not flying under the radar with their relationship. But they haven’t exactly had a choice. For weeks before they appeared at public events together, dating rumours surrounding the couple were fraught with social media commentary. In mid-October, paparazzi pictures first showed them kissing on an outing in Los Angeles. And as news about this courtship developed, so did the criticism.

Many took issue that the two artists have reportedly known each other since Eilish was a teen. The duo are seen smiling together in one widely circulated picture that was reportedly taken in 2017,  when Rutherford was 26 and Eilish was 16. The Happier Than Ever singer has also since spoken of Rutherford’s band, The Neighborhood, as a longtime inspiration, sharing that theirs was the first live concert she ever attended.

“I feel like that power imbalance of her idolizing him since she’s been young is just… I find it really gross,” said TikTok creator Hannah Zook (@hannahzookpop) on October 15.

But amid the growing backlash, the pair doubled down on their partnership with a getup that further emphasized their age gap. To celebrate Halloween 2022, Billie Eilish donned a baby costume while Jesse Rutherford dressed up as an old man. Eilish later made their relationship Instagram-official with a picture of the cheeky ensembles. Not everyone found this funny.

Their bold outfits sparked a myriad of viral, angry tweets, mainly aimed at Billie Eilish herself. Some said the look was “embarrassing” and she would soon regret it. Others suggested the costume was “making fun of grooming.” One user went as far as to say that “every adult in Billie Eilish’s life has failed her.”

But amid the widespread condemnation, there are also calls for more nuance than short-form social media platforms generally allow. Because Billie Eilish has arguably been more commercially successful than Jesse Rutherford, some argue there is, in fact, no power imbalance in his favour. Others point out that regardless of whether we deem their relationship problematic, publicly chastising Eilish is neither helpful nor productive, but actually a “parasocial invasion of privacy.”

In a segment on Shameless Podcast, host Michelle Andrews suggests it’s anti-feminist to criticize the 20-year-old’s romantic choices. “She’s not a child,” says Andrews. “And I find it very patronizing for people to be talking down to her or commenting online like she’s in an abusive dynamic. Like, we don’t know.”

In the midst of endless hot takes, TikTok creator Link Lauren (@itslinklauren) put their stance plainly: “Let Billie have her fun, fall in love [and] do what normal 20-year-olds do.” It would seem regardless of the intense backlash, she’s doing just that.

After their relationship was first revealed through invasive paparazzi photo-ops, the pair have been using orchestrated appearances to speak out on the scrutiny they’re facing. One thing’s for sure: Billie Eilish and Jesse Rutherford know their relationship is a trending topic of discussion. But rather than speaking on it verbally, they’re letting their highly publicized outings and coordinating outfits do the talking. Through these sartorial statements, the two seem to be revelling in their critics’ rage.

The controversy surrounding this couple will likely continue to grow. And though they’re not speaking on the situation, their organized outings are telling us all we need to know.

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