Billie Eilish is one of those celebrities who genuinely can be called a wunderkind. At 20 years old, the artist has two chart-topping albums, multiple Grammys, an Oscar, several Nike collabs, and a very nice-smelling perfume. She’s also got some extremely dedicated fans; my Instagram Explore page is made up almost entirely of Eilish stan accounts, which share every single photo of Eilish in existence and sometimes Photoshop her face onto other people. (I don’t follow these people and did not ask for this to happen to me, I swear.)
Those same fans weren’t so stoked about the latest photos Eilish posted, however. Over Halloween weekend, Eilish went to a party—dressed as a baby. This was not in the apparent spirit of Taylor Swift’s “sexy baby,” mind you; Eilish was a diaper-donning, bib-and-bonnet-wearing infant. Well, to be precise, her costume was more “baby doll” than “poopy diaper baby,” thanks to her over-the-top makeup. In other words, the costume was bold, but nowhere on the level of Heidi Klum’s hauntingly realistic worm costume or anything. And who am I, a woman whose annual Halloween costume is a skull-print shirt, to judge?
I leave the judgment to the Eilish diehards instead, who saw the costume as not just a choice, but a choice. It wasn’t just that 20-year-old Eilish was owning her youth with an on-the-noise costume. It was that her date, The Neighborhood frontman Jesse Rutherford, was dressed like an old man—a seemingly pointed, brutal nose-thumbing at critics of their romantic relationship.
Rutherford, who at 31, is 11 years older than Eilish. (Math!) The costumes could easily be read as a cheeky middle-finger to backlash over that age difference, which the singer probably—and correctly—expected to happen once the couple made their official Instagram debut. Cue the internet uproar.
Eilish’s dating history has always been a thing of interest, because she’s a female celebrity, and that is female celebrities’ lot in life. Take one of the newsier bits from The World’s a Little Blurry, a 2021 Apple TV+ doc about Eilish. Her relationship—and breakup—with rapper Brandon “Q” Adams unfolded just slightly off-camera, giving context for some of Eilish’s more emotional performances and lyrics.
But over the last 18 months, public scrutiny against Eilish’s choice of boyfriends has ramped up. Last year, she was spotted with then-29-year-old Matthew Tyler Vorce; you don’t know who he is, and neither do I. But pics of the pair holding hands alighted Eilish’s protective fanbase, especially when they found out the pair had a 10-year age difference. Considering 2021’s Happier Than Ever powerfully contends with the pervasiveness of grooming in the music industry, the cruelty of heartbreak, and the discomfort of getting older, fans were worried. Was Eilish unwittingly committing to the same kind of relationship and potential pain that she sang so vulnerably about?
That is not for us to know, especially since the pair have broken up and Vorce has been neither seen nor heard from since. Eilish and her new boyfriend, meanwhile, are considerably more public. There have been paparazzi photos of she and Rutherford holding hands, getting pasta, and kissing outside restaurants over the last few weeks. Fans have pieced together Instagram stories from across Eilish’s friend group to deduce whether the pair were hanging out together. And with Eilish’s latest post, she and Rutherford have become Instagram official.
Next to Baby Billie is a guy dressed as an old man—that guy is Rutherford, as the signature neck tattoos give away immediately. Not that we needed to guess; Eilish posted a photo of Rutherford pre-costume in the same grid post. Yes, they’re dating! No, they’re not afraid to admit it!
But fans have been afraid of this moment, ever since those initial photos of the pair leaked. At age 31, Rutherford is, again, 11 years Eilish’s senior. While it may seem like a good sign that he’s best bros with Eilish’s brother/songwriting partner, Finneas O’Connell, fans cried foul when they dredged up a four-year-old photo of Rutherford and Eilish together. Rutherford has known Eilish since she was a wee babe, the argument goes; now he’s dating her? Is that not … weird? Maybe even a little inappropriate?
billie eilish dressed as a baby and her old ass boyfriend dressing up as an elderly man is.. pic.twitter.com/o7w3ae5wHl
— Jayleen (@jayssafetynet) October 31, 2022
idk if jesse rutherford realizes this but dressing up in a costume that makes fun of his grooming accusations is exactly what a groomer would do https://t.co/nD8sLXwC0y
— juls 🌹 (@liljulsie) October 31, 2022
Billie is grown enough to know how weird and creepy this is btw https://t.co/S7LnaFQYgw
— 🤍 L (@flowralpeach) October 31, 2022
billie eilish and jesse rutherford think they are edgy with their Halloween costumes, but it's so embarrassing.. I know she's gonna regret it in a few years 😭
— S1 (@se230rs) October 31, 2022
Eilish and her new boo have clearly heard that claim. Not only are they leaning into their age gap with their matching costumes, but publicly nodding to it as well. To the fans who claim to idolize Eilish, care for her well-being, or both, that’s an act of betrayal.
The Eilish fanbase, particularly fans older than she is, see the artist for what she frankly is: a young woman, whom they wish to keep safe from adult ills for as long as possible. Eilish is outspoken about avoiding such adult temptations as drugs and alcohol; she is so pure, she doesn’t even eat meat. Fans admire her for these personal morals, which have established her as more stable and seemingly mature than other stars in her age group. They also want to preserve Eilish’s innocence, shedding a tear with every painful lyric and cheering for every level-headed decision she makes.
But Eilish also drops enough F-bombs to make your mother blush, has posed in form-fitting gowns, spoken openly about a porn addiction, and has more money than every single person reading this combined. Eilish at 20 is not the same as the average woman at 20; she’s not a college student making college-student mistakes, working summer jobs, and praying that she passes her finals.
Famous people are forced to grow up faster, spending time around people much older than they are, handling high-stakes professional and financial concerns most of us can’t even imagine. Add in that Eilish’s best friend is her older brother, and it’s obvious that she’s more likely to meet and fall for a guy like Rutherford than someone her own age.
I’ll admit that I’m one of those fans who calls Billie her “daughter,” who side-eyes some of her choices like a den mother. I too felt a twinge of annoyance when Billie and Jesse appeared on my Instagram feed, dressed like granddaughter and grandpa. But I’ll also admit that we fans should reevaluate our collective delusion that Billie is a little girl we need to protect.
Grooming is a serious, widespread, endemic problem in music, and it hurts to watch our favorite artist both sing about its ills and perhaps fall victim to it. We can only privately hope for the best, and accept that her choices are hers alone to make—and that our commentary isn’t going to do a damn thing to change that.