Who Is a "Nepo Baby" in Hollywood? Unpacking the Phrase of the Year
Have you ever watched a movie or TV show and wondered why an "up-and-coming" actor looks so familiar? Have you ever listened to an album and wondered why the musician sounds like you've heard them before? Part of this phenomenon can be explained in one phrase: "nepo baby."
The term "nepo baby" spawned a thousand Twitter memes, but now, the conversation has made a resurgence following the New York Magazine December 2022-January 2023 cover reveal about the phenomenon.
What does "nepo baby" actually mean? And who qualifies as a "nepo baby"? Keep reading for what you need to know.
What does "nepo baby" mean? It's short for "nepotism baby."
Arguably, the phrase "nepo baby" was coined after internet fans of Euphoria actress Maude Apatow realized she is the daughter of actress Leslie Mann and director Judd Apatow. Her character on the show, Lexi, is known for directing theatrically, something that Maude also seems to be pursuing in her father's footsteps. Since then, tweets of all sorts have sprung up, noting celebrities and their famous connections.
The phrase "nepotism baby" refers to an actor, actress, or musician who arguably received a start in the entertainment industry based on who their parents are. Actor Ben Stiller went on a Twitter tirade in 2021 arguing that he earned his way into the industry, despite having not one but two famous parents.
Following the release of the New York Magazine cover and article, which sorts "nepo babies" into categories based on their degree of nepotism, a new series of Twitter memes have sprung up: The first, to ridicule the ridiculousness of the nepotism categories (such as referring to Phoebe Bridgers as a "nepo baby" for having a set designer parent), and the second, to quantify fictional characters into the nepo baby categories created by the magazine.
The magazine's categories are as follows: On the Come Up (newly minted nepo babies), Booked and Busy (second-gen stars with big careers already), Almost Famous (have created or starred in one major project), Platinum-Grade (created/starred in multiple works on their own), Nepo-Baby Graduates (extremely famous in their own right/no one cares who their parents are anymore), and the Extended Universe, where multiple branches of the family tree are famous.
While memes are mostly for hilarity and lighthearted fun, a larger conversation about who has earned their way into the entertainment industry is unfolding. Being a "nepo baby" is generally regarded with a negative connotation, except for actors or musicians who acknowledge and accept their privilege (and, hopefully, use their privilege to make a change in the industry).
Actress Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of actress Janet Leigh and actor Tony Curtis, told The New Yorker in 2019 that she fully attributes her early success to her privilege as the child of two very famous actors.
Discussing Halloween, she said, "I auditioned many, many, many times ... I’m sure the fact that I was Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis’s daughter, and that my mother had been in Psycho — if you’re going to choose between this one and this one, choose the one whose mother was in Psycho. I’m never going to pretend that I just got that on my own, like I’m just a little girl from nowhere getting it. Clearly, I had a leg up."
Can nepotism in the entertainment industry be a good thing? Or will the recent attention to the phenomenon lead to a decline? Only time will tell.