One of the surest paths to success in show business is to be the child of an already famous and successful person.
These offspring are called nepo babies (nepo = nepotism), and they have not-so-secretly infiltrated countless beloved pop culture properties. Who was your favorite character from “Stranger Things”? Robin, was it? No baby. Your favorite feline anti-hero in “The Batman”? Yeah, she’s not a baby. If you favored the Riddler in that movie, news — his real-life partner is also restless.
That these famous and successful people were the 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 “nepo baby” is relatively new, a phrase that evokes feelings of guilt and anxiety in those it describes. The latest issue of New York magazine highlighted dozens of babies, even put a few of them back in diapers in a star-studded maternity hospital for her coverage.
This issue went off like a bombshell, shocking readers by laying out famous family lines and even including a surprise that didn’t help a kid or two. Some fans defended their idols; others applauded the magazine for its audacity to potentially alienate countless celebrities. Several of the aforementioned celebrities have signed up.
Nepo’s kids host beloved streaming series and receive award notices. They’ve starred on Broadway and fronted major fashion campaigns. Some are widely popular. Some are Chet Hanks.
Simply put, according to New York’s Nate Jones: “Nebaby is physical proof that meritocracy is a lie.”
A brief history of the child nepo
“Nepo baby” refers to the child of successful adults who 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,” babies don’t start out with an advantage—their parents’ connections—though many later claim their parentage is a burden when it comes to carving their own names.
There was no buzz this year after HBO’s controversial hit “Euphoria” aired its second season. Some young viewers were shocked to learn this 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”). “Euphoria” director Sam Levinson is a “non-child” himself – the son of successful director Barry Levinson, with whom he co-wrote HBO’s “The Wizard of Lies” before directing “Euphoria.”
The connections surprised some young users on TikTok, who began investigating other relatively under-the-radar babies. (Many of the most famous babies peaked in terms of fame before Gen Z was old enough to remember them.) These videos popularized the term “nepo baby.”
The no-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 Sam Levinson’s series, dismissed the term in an interview with Elle: “The Internet cares a lot more about who your family is than people who throw you into things. You might get your foot in the door, but you still only have your foot in the door. After that comes a lot of work.”
Critics, including rising supermodel Vittoria Ceretti, who has worked for fashion houses such as Chanel (and for whom Depp has modeled since her teens), pounced on them. “I have many friends that I respect, but I can’t stand hearing you compare me,” Ceretti said in an Instagram story. “I wasn’t born on a comfy sexy pillow with a view. I know it’s not your fault, but please appreciate and know where you came from.”
All of which inspired New York magazine’s pop culture vertical, Vulture, to launch a year-end series on non-starters that included an exhaustive taxonomy of famous children (and lesser-known children of über-famous parents).
Who’s who in nepo baby verse
Vulture’s spread made it clear that the universe of non-beginnings is vast and potentially infinite. There are young stars: Maya Hawke is the offspring of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and indie darling Riley Keough is Elvis’ granddaughter. There are also plenty of long-established babes like Zoë Kravitz (Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet), Kate Hudson (Goldie Hawn and stepfather Kurt Russell) and Gwyneth Paltrow (Blythe Danner, directed by Bruce Paltrow).
A few items on the list were surprising: Two of the three members of “Please Don’t Destroy,” the NYU grads who create digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” are the sons of “SNL” producers. Sisters Rooney and Kate Mara are members of two of the NFL’s founding families. And Fantastic Beasts actress Katherine Waterston is the British-accented daughter of Sam Waterston, recently of Grace and Frankie.
And then there are those who are so talented and/or established that their badass reputation doesn’t really matter anymore. Jamie Lee Curtis is the daughter of Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. Dakota Johnson’s bonafides go back generations: She’s the granddaughter of “The Birds” icon Tippi Hedren and the daughter of “Working Girl” Melanie Griffith and “Miami Vice” Don Johnson. And an Oscar winner /gay icon Laura Dern is the daughter of two Oscar nominees, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
Vulture also found some interesting baby 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 babies starred in HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” which also starred Alexander Skarsgård of the Skarsgårds. (HBO, which shares parent company Warner Bros. Discovery with CNN, is apparently a major employer of babies.)
Readers were surprised, outraged and delighted
The stars’ “stances” that Vulture highlighted have reliably supported their idols, defended them for exploiting their fame, and criticized the magazine for pointing out their Google-able family history. (Note: “Stan” is another term for “die-hard fan” popularized by Eminem, whose daughter Hailie is also included on Vulture’s list; he hosts a podcast.)
Eve Hewson, actress (“Bad Sisters,” “The Knick”) and Bono’s daughter, he tweeted mockingly about the article several times. “Goals 2023: to be successful enough to be recognized as a failed child,” she wrote before realizing she was mentioned in an infographic.
AND then: “Omg please can all the Nepo babies unite and dress up as giant babies for Halloween.”
The article recalled some of the responses of some of the mentioned nepou 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 a huge advantage in this life” and while “you get free chances … the chances aren’t going to be endless.” Maude Apatow, meanwhile, said she was “saddened” by the label but that she tries to “not let it get to (her) because (she) obviously understands that (she’s) in such a fortunate position.”
Some critics have pointed out that several inclusions in Vulture’s compilation were a stretch: For example, Phoebe Bridgers ranks among the “industry babies” as the “set builder’s daughter” alongside young Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, whose dad is a director and whose grandfather was an HBO executive. On some from Bridgers’ fansit seemed incongruous to compare the industry connections of these two stars.
Most of Vulture’s chosen babies did not respond to the spread or brouhaha it caused. After all, many of them are so famous that they are able to avoid such trends altogether.
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