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What’s the big deal about ‘nepo babies?’

Being the child of a famous and successful person is one of the surest paths to success in show business.

These offspring are known as nepo babies (nepo = nepotism), and they have infiltrated a slew of beloved pop culture properties. Who was your favourite “Stranger Things” character? Was that you, Robin? Baby Nepo. What is your favourite feline anti-hero from “The Batman”? Yes, she is a nepotism baby. If you liked the Riddler in that movie, good news: his real-life partner is also a nepo baby.

It’s no surprise that these famous and successful people are the children or relatives of other famous and successful people: it’s difficult to forget who Maya Hawke and Zo Kravitz are related to when they look like spitting images of their famous parents.

However, the term “nepo baby” is relatively new, and it has caused guilt and anxiety among those it describes. The cover of the latest issue of New York magazine featured dozens of nepo babies, even putting a few of them back in diapers in a star-studded maternity ward.

The issue exploded, shocking readers by revealing famous lineages and even including a surprise nepo baby or two. Some fans defended their idols, while others praised the magazine for having the audacity to potentially alienate a large number of celebrities. Several of the celebrities mentioned spoke up.

Nepo babies star in popular streaming series and win awards. They’ve appeared on Broadway and in major fashion campaigns. Some are well-liked by many people. Some people are Chet Hanks.

A synopsis of the nepo baby’s history
The term “nepo baby” refers to the child of a successful adult who has benefited from nepotism in industries such as entertainment or related fields (fashion and media are two of the other big ones). Unlike bootstrappers and naturally talented “nobodies,” nepo babies begin with an advantage – their parents’ connections – though many of them later claim their parentage is a burden when it comes to making their own names.

This year’s nepo baby craze began after the second season of HBO’s controversial smash “Euphoria” aired. Some young viewers were taken aback when they discovered that cast member Maude Apatow is the daughter of director Judd Apatow (“Knocked Up,” “This is 40”) and actress Leslie Mann (also “Knocked Up,” “This is 40”). Sam Levinson, the director of “Euphoria,” is a “nepo-baby” himself, the son of successful director Barry Levinson, with whom he co-wrote the HBO film “The Wizard of Lies” before directing “Euphoria.”

These connections astounded some young TikTok users, who launched investigations into other relatively unknown nepo babies. (Many of the most well-known nepo babies achieved celebrity before Generation Z was old enough to remember them.) The term “nepo baby” became popular as a result of these videos.

In November, Lily Rose Depp, the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis who is also set to star in a Sam Levinson series, rejected the term in an interview with Elle: “The internet cares a lot more about who your family is than who is casting you in things. You may get your foot in the door, but it is still just a foot in the door. There will be a lot of work to do after that.”

Critics pounced, including rising supermodel Vittoria Ceretti, who has worked for Chanel (and for whom Depp has modelled since her teens). “I have many nepo baby friends whom I respect, but I can’t stand hearing you compare yourself to me,” Ceretti wrote on Instagram. “I was not born on a sexy, comfortable pillow with a view. I know it’s not your fault, but please remember and appreciate where you came from.”

All of this prompted New York magazine’s pop culture vertical, Vulture, to launch a year-end series on nepo babies, complete with an exhaustive taxonomy of famous children (as well as the less-famous children of famous parents).

Who is who in the nepo baby world?
The spread of Vulture demonstrated that the universe of nepo babies is vast and potentially infinite. There are the newcomers: Maya Hawke is the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and Riley Keough is Elvis’ granddaughter. There are also plenty of well-known nepo babies, such as Zoe Kravitz (Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), Kate Hudson (Goldie Hawn and stepfather Kurt Russell), and Gwyneth Paltrow (Blythe Danner, director Bruce Paltrow).

Several entries on the list were unexpected: Two of the three members of “Please Don’t Destroy,” a group of NYU graduates who make digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” are the sons of “SNL” producers. Rooney and Kate Mara come from two NFL founding families. And “Fantastic Beasts” actress Katherine Waterston is the British-accented daughter of “Grace and Frankie” actor Sam Waterston.

Then there are those who are so talented and/or well-established that their nepo-baby reputation no longer matters. Jamie Lee Curtis is Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’s daughter. Dakota Johnson is the granddaughter of “The Birds” icon Tippi Hedren and the daughter of “Working Girl” Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson of “Miami Vice.” Laura Dern, an Oscar winner and gay icon, is the daughter of two Oscar nominees, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.

Vulture discovered some intriguing nepo baby trends as well: Eight of them appeared in Quentin Tarantinto’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood,” according to the outlet. Meryl Streep’s three daughters are all actresses who have appeared on HBO. Several other nepo babies appeared in HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” as did Alexander Skarsgrd of the Skarsgrds. (According to reports, HBO, which shares parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with CNN, is a major employer of nepo babies.)

Readers were taken aback, outraged, and delighted.
The “fans” of the stars Vulture profiled came out in support of their idols, defending them for leveraging their celebrity and criticising the magazine for bringing up their Google-able family history. (Note: “Stan” is another term for “diehard fan” popularised by Eminem’s daughter Hailie, who is also on Vulture’s list and hosts a podcast.)

Eve Hewson, Bono’s daughter and actress (“Bad Sisters,” “The Knick”), mocked the article on Twitter several times. “2023 Objectives: be successful enough to be recognised as a nepo baby,” she wrote before realising she’d been mentioned in an infographic.

“Omg, please can all the Nepo babies band together and dress up as giant babies for Halloween?”

The article reminded me of some of the responses of the mentioned nepo babies when asked about their privilege. Maya Hawke told Rolling Stone earlier this year that her ancestry “definitely gives you massive advantages in this life,” and that while “you will get chances for free… the chances will not be infinite.” Meanwhile, Maude Apatow said the label made her “sad,” but she tries not to “let it get to (her) because (she) obviously understand(s) that (she) is in such a fortunate position.”

Some critics pointed out that some of the inclusions in Vulture’s compilation were a stretch: Phoebe Bridgers, for example, was listed as the “daughter of a set builder” alongside young Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, whose father is a director and grandfather was an HBO executive. Some Bridgers fans found it strange to compare the two stars’ industry connections.

The majority of Vulture’s chosen nepo babies have not reacted to the spread or the uproar it has caused. After all, many of them are famous enough to avoid participating in such trends entirely.

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