Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Quickfire
22 December 2022

Defensiveness doesn’t suit Nepo Babies

Nepotism is often forgiven when people admit their privilege.

By Marc Burrows

Nepotism is having a moment. Obviously you could argue that nepotism is always having a moment – people have never shied away from giving their loved ones a helping boost up the ladder of life. But a New York magazine front cover charting the rise of the “Nepo Baby” (an eternity aflame awaits whoever came up with that hellish abbreviation) has sent the subject to the top of the trends. The piece investigates the merry-go-round of stars on Hollywood’s fast-track, apparently riding on Mummy and Daddy’s influence. From Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) to Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) to Lily Collins (daughter of Phil) to Harley Quinn Smith (daughter of Kevin), the super-famous have installed a new generation to carry their torches.

The nepo babies themselves are not happy. Lottie Moss, younger half sister of modelling royalty Kate, tweeted that she was “so sick of people blaming nepotism for why they aren’t rich and famous”, before admitting that, yes, privilege can help, but ultimately “life’s not fair”. (Confusingly, she also thinks that “if you put your mind to something you can accomplish anything”.) Lily Allen, daughter of Keith, never one to shy away from an argument, weighed in with a more nuanced take, saying that she was “more than happy to disclose what a privileged upbringing I’ve had and how that has created so many opportunities for me” but did feel that “nepo babies are being scapegoated”. 

You can see why the stars are a bit narked – we’re essentially telling them that they don’t deserve their success. But then nepotism is immensely frustrating when you spot it. It confirms a view which often prevails, that the only way into creative success is via “who you know”.

It feels unfair to discount actual ability, though. Many of the nepo babies called out in the New York piece have proven themselves solidly talented. Maya Hawke is one of the best things about Stranger Things and is making genuinely interesting music on the side. Billie Lourd, a nepo baby squared as the granddaughter of Debbie Reynolds and daughter of Carrie Fisher, has made a career out of playing eye-catching, soulful oddballs. You can only get so far on goodwill. Besides, would we really expect the children of charismatic and talented stars not to have inherited some of that charisma and talent?

Perhaps ultimately, as the writer Jason Okundaye points out, it’s about grace under fire. We’re often prepared to forgive a nepo baby if they stay humble and admit their privilege. That can’t be easy. For many the weight is heavy (imagine being Sean Lennon or Dhani Harrison, fine musicians forever trapped under the shadow of their Beatle fathers), and if you complain about it then you’ll be torn to shreds. It doesn’t seem wholly fair.

Select and enter your email address Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

But then, for those looking on while lesser talents get a boost up the ladder, it’s difficult not to feel bitter. Life, as Kate Moss’s sister told us, is not fair.

Content from our partners
Harnessing breakthrough thinking
Are we there yet with electric cars? The EV story – with Wejo
Sherif Tawfik: The Middle East and Africa are ready to lead on the climate

[See also: The psychology of why we celebrate Christmas]

Topics in this article : ,