One of the surest roads to success in showbiz is to be the child of an already famous and successful person.
These progeny are called nepo babies (nepo = nepotism), and they have not-so-secretly infiltrated countless beloved pop culture properties. Who was your favorite character on “Stranger Things”? Robin, was it? Nepo baby. Your favorite feline anti-hero in “The Batman”? Yeah, she’s a nepo baby. If you preferred the Riddler in that film, some news – his real-life partner is a nepo baby, too.
That these famous and successful folks were the children or relatives of other famous and successful folks isn’t a 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 a relatively new one, a phrase that’s inspired guilt and anxiety among those it describes. The latest issue of New York magazine highlighted dozens of nepo babies, even putting a few of them back in diapers in a star-studded maternity ward for its cover.
The issue went off like a bomb, shocking readers by laying out famous lineages 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. A few of those celebs mentioned chimed in.
Nepo babies lead beloved streaming series and earn awards notice. They’ve starred on Broadway and have fronted major fashion campaigns. Some are widely beloved. Some are Chet Hanks.
Put simply, per New York’s Nate Jones: “A nepo baby is physical proof that meritocracy is a lie.”
A brief history of the nepo baby
“Nepo baby” refers to the kid of successful adults who’s benefited from nepotism in industries like entertainment or adjacent fields (fashion and media are two of the other big ones). Unlike bootstrappers and naturally talented “nobodies,” nepo babies start off with an advantage – their parents’ connections – although many of them later claim their parentage is a burden when it comes to carving out their own names.
The nepo baby buzz this year kicked off after HBO’s controversial smash “Euphoria” aired its second season. Some young viewers were shocked to learn 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”). “Euphoria” director Sam Levinson is a “nepo-baby” himself – he’s the son of successful director Barry Levinson, with whom he co-wrote the HBO film “The Wizard of Lies” before helming “Euphoria.”
These connections surprised some young users on TikTok, who launched investigations into other relatively under-the-radar nepo babies. (Many of the most well-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’s 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 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.”
Critics pounced, including rising supermodel Vittoria Ceretti, who’s worked for fashion houses like Chanel (and for whom Depp has modeled since her teens). “I have many nepo baby friends whom I respect, but I can’t stand listening to you compare yourself to me,” Ceretti said in an Instagram story. “I was not born on a comfy sexy pillow with a view. I know it’s not your fault, but please, appreciate and know the place you came from.”
All this inspired New York magazine’s pop culture vertical, Vulture, to launch a year-end series on nepo babies, which included an exhaustive taxonomy of famous kids (and the less-famous kids of über-famous parents).
Who’s who in the nepo baby-verse
Vulture’s spread made clear that the universe of nepo babies is vast and potentially endless. There are the young stars: Maya Hawke is the progeny of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and indie darling Riley Keough is Elvis’ granddaughter. There are plenty of long-established nepo babies, 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).
A few entries on the list were surprising: Two of the three members of “Please Don’t Destroy,” NYU alums who create digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live,” are the sons of “SNL” producers. Sisters Rooney and Kate Mara are members of two NFL 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 nepo-baby 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 daughter of “Working Girl” Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson of “Miami Vice.” And Oscar winner/gay icon Laura Dern is the daughter of two Oscar nominees, Diane Ladd and Bruce Dern.
Vulture found some interesting nepo baby trends, too: Eight of them appeared in Quentin Tarantinto’s “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” according to the outlet. All three of Meryl Streep’s daughters are actresses who’ve 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 leveraging their fame and criticizing the magazine for pointing out their Google-able family history. (Note: “Stan” is another term for “diehard fan” popularized by Eminem, whose daughter Hailie is also included in Vulture’s list; she hosts a podcast.)
Eve Hewson, an actress (“Bad Sisters,” “The Knick”) and Bono’s daughter, tweeted derisively several times about the article. “2023 Goals: be successful enough to get recognised as a nepo baby,” she wrote before she realized she’d been mentioned in an infographic.
And then: “Omg please can all the Nepo babies unite and dress up as giant babies for Halloween.”
The article reminded some of some of the mentioned nepo babies’ responses when asked about their privilege. Maya Hawke told Rolling Stone earlier this year that when it comes to the “nepotism thing,” she recognized that her lineage “definitely gives you massive advantages in this life” and while “you will get chances for free … the chances will not be infinite.” Maude Apatow, meanwhile, said the label made her “sad” but that she tries not to “let it get to (her) because (she) obviously understand(s) that (she’s) in such a lucky position.”
Some critics pointed out that a few of the inclusions in Vulture’s compilation were a stretch: Phoebe Bridgers, for example, was included among “industry babies” as the “daughter of a set builder” next to young Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, whose dad is a director and whose grandpa was an executive at HBO. To some of Bridgers’ fans, it seemed incongruous to compare the two stars’ industry connections.
Most of Vulture’s chosen nepo babies have not responded to the spread or the brouhaha it raised. After all, many of them are so famous that they’re able to avoid engaging in trends like these altogether.