What is a nepo baby, and why do they make everyone so mad?

By Alma Fabiani

Published Apr 13, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

In an era where social media magnifies every facet of celebrity culture, a new term has captured the public’s fascination and strong criticism: the nepo baby. Short for nepotism baby, this term refers to individuals who have gained a foothold in their careers thanks to family connections rather than through the traditional avenues of hard work and merit. But is the nepo baby phenomenon as straightforward as it seems, or is there more to the story?

What is a nepo baby?

At its core, a nepo baby is someone who benefits from nepotism, especially prevalent in industries like entertainment, fashion, and business. The term doesn’t merely denote someone with a famous parent; it implies a certain level of unearned privilege and access. For example, being cast in a blockbuster movie because your parent is a Hollywood mogul, or landing a prestigious fashion campaign thanks to family connections, are classic nepo baby scenarios.

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The controversy surrounding nepo babies

Why they are criticised

Critics argue that nepo babies represent an unfair advantage, taking opportunities that could have gone to those who lack such connections but might possess equal if not greater talent. This perception of unearned success can lead to backlash, both from industry peers and the public. The main criticism lies in the undermining of meritocracy, where talent and hard work are overshadowed by familial ties.

For instance, when Hailey Bieber swiftly ascended in the modelling world or Brooklyn Beckham secured a photography book deal, many questioned if their paths would have been as smooth without their famous surnames.

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In defence of nepo babies

On the flip side, some argue that nepo babies did not choose their circumstances and face unique pressures and expectations. Being constantly compared to their successful relatives, they must work harder to prove themselves beyond their last name.

Advocates argue that nepotism may open the first door, but talent and hard work are required to open the rest. Furthermore, nepo babies, like anyone else, deserve the chance to pursue their passions without being perennially shadowed by their lineage.

Famous nepo babies: a closer look

Highly criticised nepo babies

Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Lily Collins, Hailey Bieber, and Brooklyn Beckham have each faced their share of scrutiny under the nepotism microscope. Paltrow, the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and producer Bruce Paltrow, has been a focal point in discussions about Hollywood nepotism, despite her Oscar win and successful lifestyle brand, Goop. Critics often argue that her career benefitted significantly from her family connections.

Lily Collins, with her father Phil Collins’ legacy in the music industry, has also navigated the nepotism debate. Despite earning acclaim for her acting roles, some wonder if her path was smoothed by her familial ties.

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Some of the worst, out of touch things nepo babies have said #kendalljenner #kyliejenner #bellahadid #irelandbaldwin

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Hailey Bieber, emerging from the Baldwin dynasty, swiftly ascended in the modelling world, leading to questions about the impact of her surname on her career trajectory. Similarly, Brooklyn Beckham, with parents like soccer icon David Beckham and fashion designer Victoria Beckham, has ventured into photography and cooking, sparking debates about whether his opportunities stem from skill or his family’s fame.

These individuals stand at the heart of the nepo baby debate, illustrating a broader industry issue where certain careers are seemingly propelled more by familial clout than by proven skill or talent. This reality fuels the argument that the entertainment and fashion industries, in particular, can sometimes prioritise lineage over genuine artistic or creative merit, casting a shadow over the concept of meritocracy.

Widely liked nepo babies

Celebrities like Zoë Kravitz, Dakota Johnson, and Lily-Rose Depp, have found favour with both the public and critics, navigating their illustrious lineage with grace and proving their mettle in their respective fields. Kravitz, for instance, has been lauded for her multifaceted talent in acting and music, transcending her parents’ legacies to establish a distinct identity. Johnson, too, has captivated audiences with her performances, demonstrating a depth and versatility that has firmly established her as a talent in her own right. Depp’s foray into acting and modelling has been marked by a subtle yet unmistakable charisma, echoing her parents’ artistic sensibilities while carving out her own niche.

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#RileyKeough on being "nepo babies" with ZoeKravitz. #KristenStewart #DakotaFanning #JoanJett

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This positive reception is not merely a consequence of their famous surnames but a testament to their hard work, dedication, and the unique attributes they bring to their projects. They embody the idea that, while nepotism might open the first door, it’s their individual efforts and talents that pave the rest of the way.

While the spotlight often falls on nepo babies within the realms of film, fashion, and music, nepotism extends its reach into various sectors, affecting dynamics in technology, politics, and business. In Silicon Valley, for instance, family connections have been known to influence hiring decisions and startup funding, echoing the patterns seen in Hollywood. Similarly, political dynasties across the globe exemplify how familial ties can shape leadership roles and political power, often sparking debates about meritocracy and governance.

In the corporate world, legacy admissions in prestigious universities and the grooming of heirs for leadership positions in family-owned enterprises highlight how nepotism can influence career trajectories and opportunities. This broader view underscores nepotism as a universal issue, prompting a critical examination of how societies value merit, talent, and the fairness of opportunity across all industries.

The debate over nepo babies is a complex one, intertwining issues of fairness, privilege, and the nature of success in highly competitive industries. While the advantages of nepotism are undeniable, so too is the reality that many nepo babies have worked hard to forge their paths and prove their worth. As the conversation around nepotism and meritocracy continues online, it’s clear that the stories of nepo babies are as varied and nuanced as the individuals themselves.

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