From Lily Allen to Hailey Bieber, what exactly makes a “good” nepo baby?

Written by Charley Ross

The success of high-profile actors’ offspring is not a new, or particularly popular, fairytale. But how can nepo babies best own their identity? Charley Ross investigates. 

Privilege, and the opportunities that come with it, is something that has been discussed keenly in the last few years. It spans race, class, gender – you name it.

But there’s a group of privileged people whose existence has been storming the internet this year, across TikTok and, most recently, the cover of New York Magazine. “Nepo babies” is the term that has been assigned to any child of a celebrity who has then gone on to be successful in Hollywood or other high-flying careers, partially (or completely) due to their high-profile parents’ reach. And New York Magazine has called 2022 the year of, you guessed it, the nepo baby.

This week, the US publication’s front page was emblazoned with the faces of many well-known nepo babies, including Dakota Johnson, Maya Hawke and Zoë Kravitz. Johnson’s parents are members of Hollywood royalty, Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith; Hawke’s are Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and Kravitz’s are none other than Lenny himself and Lisa Bonet. Talk about winning the genetic lottery.

The very existence of nepo babies has been argued by some as “a symbol of our broken meritocracy”, and you know what? It probably is. But what counts isn’t mindlessly calling these people out for being born with what model Vittoria Ceretti has called “a comfy, sexy pillow with a view”.

What counts is identifying whether or not the members of this privileged bubble are acting with acknowledgment and compassion, or denial and defensiveness.

This month, we’ve heard Prince Harry talk about checking his own privilege and the mistakes he’s made in that area on the Duke and Duchess’s Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan. If arguably one of the most privileged men in the world can acknowledge this – and talk about the steps he’s making to remedy it – surely the children of Hollywood’s finest can too?

After all, any failure to acknowledge privilege in a way that is compassionate towards those who were not born as lucky is enough to put anyone’s teeth on edge.   

Both Hailey Bieber – née Baldwin, daughter of American actor Stephen Baldwin – and Zoë Kravitz have answered questions about their identities as nepo babies by referring to their role in “the family business” and how normal it is for children to enter into the same business as their parents. 

While this is true across many industries, what is missing here is the acknowledgment that said “business” is incredibly exclusive, racist, sexist, sizeist – and a huge advantage like family connection is far from normal and a huge privilege.

Chanel model and brand ambassador Lily-Rose Depp also had some choice things to say about being called a nepo baby, including that “it just doesn’t make any sense”. In an interview with Elle US, the daughter Of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis downplayed her Hollywood family connections and insisted that the most relevant factor was being “trained”, like those who apply to medical school.

“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,’” she said. “It’s like, ‘No, I went to medical school and trained.’”

This warped perspective of meritocracy – that working hard is what counts, over who can use their connections to get you through the door in the first place – is the biggest issue with nepo babies, and anyone with a modicum of privilege. 

If you have this attitude it makes you a bad nepo baby, I’m afraid.

In comparison, Stranger Things and Do Revenge star Maya Hawke responded with frankness and gratitude when asked about her Hollywood familial connections. “I’m very grateful for the fact that they made it so easy for me to do the thing that I love,” she told People. “I think I’ll get a couple chances on their name and then if I suck, I’ll get kicked out of the kingdom. And that’s what should happen. So I’m just going to try not to suck.”

Destry Spielberg, daughter of none other than Steven Spielberg himself, has also spoken about owning the advantages she’s been given, as well as paying it forward and helping others.

“I acknowledge that I was born with privilege! I own that through and through! I make it my mission to bring new talent into the industry and give opportunities to artists of all backgrounds,” she tweeted back in 2021.

Something as all-encompassing as privilege is too significant to deny when it comes to success, so it’s always best to acknowledge it, wherever nepotism might present itself in your life.

Lily Allen has been quick to point out the complexities of the nepo baby identity, being one herself (she is the daughter of actor Keith Allen and film producer Alison Owen). She has implored us to focus on nepotism in other areas of the world outside Hollywood – because, after all, it’s rife in many industries.

“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,” she tweeted. “If we’re talking about real world consequences and robbing people of opportunity. BUT that’s none of my business.”

Allen also made an interesting observation – from her own personal experience – about why nepo babies may not be able to see their own privilege, and therefore acknowledge it.

“Many of the nepo babies are starved of these basic things in childhood [stability, love, nurturing] as their parents are probably narcissistic,” she continues. “It can be hard to see one’s own privilege when you’re still processing childhood trauma, and a lot of these kids haven’t figured that out yet.”

Acknowledging your own privilege – as well as the complexity that comes with other people’s, if you ever feel like you’re not doing well enough in life – is paramount in navigating nepotism in all areas of the world, not just Hollywood.

Being offered a foot through any door is a gift – and the graciousness and understanding with which you step through any doorway means everything. 

  • Do acknowledge the ways in which having powerful, wealthy and/or well-connected parents might have given you advantages in life
  • Don’t overfocus on your own hard work as the reason for your success, it’s not the only factor at play
  • Do think of ways you can help others who might not have the same connections as you
  • Don’t hide or try to mystify your privilege and its impact. Be direct and clear about it
  • Do practice gratitude for the blessings being a nepo baby has given you
  • Don’t downplay the opportunities you’ve been given in perilously exclusive industries and social circles
  • Do be talented. Actually being good at your job goes a long way

Images: Getty

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