Why is everyone talking about ‘nepo babies’?

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One of the surest paths to success in show business is to be the child of an already famous and successful person.

These progeny are called nepo babies (nepo = nepotism), and they’ve not-so-secretly infiltrated countless beloved pop culture properties. Who was your favorite character in “Stranger Things”? Robin, right? Baby Nepo. Your favorite feline antihero in “The Batman”? Yes, she’s a nepo baby. If you preferred the Riddler in that movie, some news: his real-life partner is also a baby nepo.

That these famous and successful people were children or relatives of other famous and successful people is no surprise: it’s hard to forget who Maya Hawke and Zoë Kravitz are related to when they look like the spitting image of their famous parents.

But the term “baby nepo” is relatively new, a phrase that inspires guilt and anxiety among those it describes. The latest issue of New York magazine highlighted dozens of nepo babies, including put some of them back in diapers in a maternity ward studded with stars for its cover.

The issue went off like a bombshell, surprising readers by introducing famous bloodlines and even including a surprise nepo baby or two. Some fans defended their idols; others applauded the magazine for its audacity to potentially alienate countless celebrities. Some of the aforementioned celebrities weighed in.

Nepo babies lead beloved streaming series and get awards notice. They have starred on Broadway and have starred in major fashion campaigns. Some are very dear. Some are Chet Hanks.

Simply put, according to New York’s Nate Jones: “A baby nepo is physical proof that meritocracy is a lie.”

A Brief History of Baby Nepo

“Nepo baby” refers to the child of successful adults who has benefited from nepotism in industries like entertainment or adjacent fields (fashion and media being two of the other big boys). Unlike naturally talented novices and “nobodies,” nepo babies start out with an advantage: their parents’ connections, though many of them later claim their ancestry is a burden when it comes to forging their own names.

The baby nepo buzz this year began after HBO’s controversial hit “Euphoria” aired its second season. Some the young viewers were shocked to learn that cast member Maude Apatow is the daughter of director Judd Apatow (“Pregnant Mess,” “This Is 40”) and actress Leslie Mann (also “Pregnant Mess,” “This Is 40”). “Euphoria” director Sam Levinson, a “nepo-baby” himself, is the son of successful director Barry Levinson, with whom he co-wrote the HBO movie “The Wizard of Lies” before directing “Euphoria.”

These connections surprised some young users on TikTok, who launched investigations into other relatively hidden baby nepos. (Many of the best-known nepo babies peaked in terms of fame before Gen Z was old enough to remember them.) These videos popularized the term “nepo baby.”

The nepo baby debate reached new heights in November when Lily Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, who is also set to star in a Sam Levinson series, pushed back on the term in an interview with Elle: “The internet cares a lot more about who your family is more than the people who are getting you into things. You might get your foot in the door, but you still have your foot in the door. There’s a lot of work that comes after that.”

Critics swooped in, including rising supermodel Vittoria Ceretti, who has worked for fashion houses like Chanel (and for whom Depp has modeled since his teens). “I have a lot of baby nepo friends who I respect, but I can’t stand hearing you compare yourself to me,” Ceretti said in an Instagram story. “I wasn’t born on a sexy comfy pillow with a view. I know it’s not your fault, but please appreciate and know where you came from.”

All of this inspired New York magazine’s pop culture vertical, Vulture, to launch an end-of-year series on nepo babies, which included an exhaustive taxonomy of famous children (and the less famous children of super-famous parents).

Who’s who in the nepo baby-verse

The spread of the Vulture made it clear that the universe of nepo babies is vast and potentially infinite. There are the young stars: Maya Hawke is the offspring of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and indie darling Riley Keough is Elvis’s granddaughter. There are plenty of long-established baby nepos, too, like Zoë Kravitz (Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), Kate Hudson (Goldie Hawn and stepdad Kurt Russell), and Gwyneth Paltrow (Blythe Danner, director Bruce Paltrow).

Some entries on the list were surprising: Two of the three members of “Please Don’t Destroy,” New York University alumni who create digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” are the children of “SNL” producers. Sisters Rooney and Kate Mara are members of two founding families of the NFL. And “Fantastic Beasts” actress Katherine Waterston is the British-accented daughter of Sam Waterston, recently from “Grace and Frankie.”

And then there are those who are so talented and/or established that their baby nepo reputation no longer matters. Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. Dakota Johnson’s bona fides go back generations: She’s the granddaughter of “The Birds” icon Tippi Hedren and the daughter of “Working Girl” Melanie Griffith and “Miami Vice”‘s Don Johnson. And Oscar winner/homosexual icon Laura Dern is the daughter of two Oscar nominees, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.

Vulture also found some interesting baby nepo trends: Eight of them appeared in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood,” according to the outlet. All three of Meryl Streep’s daughters are actresses who have appeared on HBO. Several other nepo babies starred in HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” which also featured Alexander Skarsgård of the Skarsgårds. (HBO, which shares parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with CNN, is apparently a major employer of nepo babies.)

Readers were surprised, outraged and delighted.

Reliably, the “stans” of the stars Vulture highlighted came out to support their idols, defending them for cashing in on their fame and criticizing the magazine for pointing out their Google-friendly family history. (Note: “Stan” is another term for “die-hard fan” popularized by Eminem, whose daughter Hailie is also Vulture-listed; she hosts a podcast.)

Eve Hewson, actress (“Bad Sisters,” “The Knick”) and daughter of Bono, tweeted mockingly several times about the article. “Goals for 2023: Be successful enough to be recognized as a baby nepo,” she wrote before realizing she had been mentioned in an infographic.

Y after: “OMG, can all the Nepo babies come together and dress up as giant babies for Halloween?”.

The article recalled some of the responses from the aforementioned nepo babies when asked about their privilege. Maya Hawke told Rolling Stone earlier this year that when it comes to “the nepotism thing,” she acknowledged that her lineage “definitely gives you great advantages in this life” and while “you’re going to get free chances… chances aren’t be infinite”. Meanwhile, Maude Apatow said the label made her “sad” but that she tries not to “let it get to her because (she) obviously understands (s) that she (she) is in such a lucky position.”

Some critics pointed out that some of the inclusions on the Vulture compilation were a to stretch: Phoebe Bridgers, for example, was listed among the “industry babies” as the “daughter of a set builder” alongside young Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, whose father is a director and whose grandfather was an executive at HBO. A Some of the bridges fansit seemed incongruous to compare the industrial connections of the two stars.

Most of the nepo babies chosen by the Vulture have not responded to the spread or the ruckus it generated. After all, many of them are so famous that they can avoid getting involved in trends like these altogether.


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