“The Year of the Nepo Baby“, published on December 19th, explores Hollywood nepotism within various silos of the entertainment industry including acting, singing, modeling, and sports.
Featuring infographics and family trees for a long list of celebrities who had existing industry connections prior to securing their big break, the outlet has stirred intense debate over what constitutes a nepotism baby and if these connected stars truly deserve their success.
What does nepotism baby mean?
While there is a growing interest in the lives and careers of nepotism babies, there’s also a growing misunderstanding about what the term means.
Alongside sister duos with A-list parents like the Hadids, Jenners, and Apatows, Vulture included some controversial additions to their list that may or may not fall into the nepotism baby category — like singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, who is apparently the daughter of a set builder.
The misuse of the term “nepotism” has been a growing problem in recent years, especially on social media. By definition, nepotism is “the practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives, friends, or associates, especially by giving them jobs.”
While those who benefit from nepotism are undoubtedly privileged, those who are privileged do not always benefit from nepotism. This false equivalence runs rampant on TikTok, with many using the terms interchangeably and labeling those born to wealthy parents as “nepotism babies” to describe their privilege.
Why does Gen Z love to hate nepotism babies?
The Vulture piece has many disagreeing over which celebrities genuinely deserve this label. But if there’s one thing the internet stands united in, it’s that we love to hate (and hate to love) nepotism babies.
Though nepotism has been the blueprint for fame and other high-profile careers like politics, law, and medicine for centuries, there’s been a growing disdain for nepotism babies among youth audiences.
On TikTok, Gen Z has become obsessed with uncovering the familial lineage of their favourite celebrities. Trends like “my favorite nepotism babies” took over the platform this year and videos “exposing” secret nepotism babies and industry plants often go viral.
To the TikTok generation, it may feel like “everyone” in young Hollywood is a nepotism baby, but the rate at which information can now be shared with millions of people has made Gen Z significantly more aware of this reality than previous generations ever were.
As a result, it’s also made Gen Z significantly more critical of these celebrities and the advantages they’ve had— whether they are genuinely a nepotism baby or not.
In November of this year, Lily-Rose Depp— daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis— came under fire for dismissing her privilege in an interview for ELLE.
A 23-year-old model and actress, Lily-Rose is unquestionably a nepotism baby. She’s appeared on numerous magazine covers, starred in film and television roles, and modeled for some of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses. At the age of 18, she made her runway debut in Chanel’s gilded Parisian glamour pre-Fall show.
“The internet seems to care a lot about that kind of stuff. People are going to have preconceived ideas about you or how you got there, and I can definitely say that nothing is going to get you the part except for being right for the part,” she said. “The internet cares a lot more about who your family is than the people who are casting you in things. Maybe you get your foot in the door, but you still just have your foot in the door. There’s a lot of work that comes after that.”
“If somebody’s mom or dad is a doctor, and then the kid becomes a doctor, you’re not going to be like, ‘Well, you’re only a doctor because your parent is a doctor.’ It’s like, ‘No, I went to medical school and trained’, she added.
While there’s no doubt that Lily-Rose works incredibly hard, she had the privilege of being “born into” the right rooms because of her last name. Her comments angered both the modeling community and fans, contributing to the mounting contempt for nepotism babies.
In the wake of this week’s Vulture coverage, English Grammy-nominated artist Lily Allen— daughter of actor Keith Allen and film producer Alison Owen— faced similar criticism when she tweeted that “the nepo babies y’all should be worrying about are the ones working for legal firms, the ones working for banks, and the ones working in politics”.
Though she later acknowledged her privilege and said she “literally [deserves] nothing”, public outrage was exacerbated when model Lottie Moss— sister to Kate Moss— joined in the discourse.
“I’m so sick of people blaming nepotism for why they aren’t rich and famous or successful,” she tweeted. “Obviously it’s not fair that people who come from famous families are getting a leg up because of that But guess what? Life isn’t fair.”
“So instead of being negative about other people’s success go and try and create your own!” she finished.
The 24-year-old also posted a TikTok mocking the concept. Lottie deleted her tweets shortly after, but not before the internet had a chance to drag her.
Why do we get so upset about nepotism babies?
At surface level, our obsession with exposing nepotism babies appears to stem from a place of self-righteous joy in discovering that they don’t actually “deserve” their success. As Izzy Ampril writes for Buzzfeed: “It feels like amassing evidence against the lie of meritocracy. It feels triumphant: I knew that person wasn’t good enough to make it on their own.”
When we dig a bit deeper, however, we find that a primary reason that nepotism babies rub regular folk the wrong way is that their success goes against the capitalist beliefs we’ve been told our whole lives.
In speaking with The Face, Dr. Nilu Ahmed, a chartered psychologist and Lecturer in Social Sciences at The University of Bristol, explains that we often idolise celebrities as an example of the true capitalist dream— proving that with hard work, you can achieve anything. When we discover that a celebrity had a leg up on success, it challenges this belief system and shatters our hope. It underlines class disparity as a very real socioeconomic issue rather than a consequence of one’s actions, and this can be hard to grapple with.
“Through education systems and through the government, we are told that if you work hard enough, you can succeed and that’s something that is repeated in every workplace – that if you work hard for a promotion, you’ll get it,” she tells The Face. “There is something that we rely on as working class individuals: hope. Our hope is so important. We hope to be a music artist, an actor, a performer, an academic in my case. Now I want to become a professor, if I suddenly see that actually, most people in the industry are there through nepotism, that’s a real shock. It tells us that no matter how hard we work, we will never get there.”
When a celebrity defends that they worked for their success without acknowledging the opportunities they were given and the inequalities that others face, it dismisses genuine issues like classism and wealth distribution, highlighting the disparity between “us” and “them”.
“This is why celebrities should be open about their lineage and transparent about what they have access to,” Ahmed explains.
This transparency provides context as to how our career paths may differ from those we compare ourselves to.
Is Pheobe Bridgers really a nepo baby?
But in the case of Pheobe Bridgers being characterised as a “nepotism baby” (along with a few others on that list), this pursuit of transparency may have been misguided.
Phoebe has been open about her tumultuous relationship with her father in past interviews and throughout her music, leading some fans to rebuke this label. It is also unclear if her father had any industry connections that helped her career.
While critiquing Vulture‘s list, some have argued that most children raised in Los Angeles would have relevant connections, as entertainment is one of the city’s largest industries. However, this doesn’t make every child raised in L.A. a “nepotism baby” unless their friends or family held enough influence to directly impact the trajectory of their career.
Though a set builder may work in the entertainment industry, proximity to fame is not the same as nepotism.
Others have noted that any familial connections would be an advantage compared to those with no proximity to the entertainment industry at all, and thus could be considered “nepotism”.
As writer and TikTok personality Rayne Fisher-Quann notes, however, this is a fairly one-dimensional perspective that can easily result in misuse of the term.
Opinions about Phoebe’s status as a nepotism baby aside, this ongoing discourse spotlights the glaring lack of representation in Hollywood and other influential industries.
And it’s this lack of representation that so many nepotism babies seem to dismiss when faced with the hard truths about the merit of their success.
While nepotism in Hollywood certainly isn’t going anywhere, it does feel like the internet’s fascination with this category of celebrity might be coming to a close. After a year dedicated to nepo baby TikTok trends and salacious exposés on our favourite young stars, it feels like we’ve learned all we have to know about nepotism babies and the forces that raised them.
As we move into a new year and onto new internet trends, let’s be reminded of the bigger conversation around class disparity and wealth distribution that the nepotism baby discourse brought forward.