On January 6, Hailey Bieber wore a T-shirt printed with two words: "Nepo Baby." Bieber's shirt is a naked acknowledgement of the current fervor over the phrase, which is currently as inescapable as the people it describes. But the ouroboros effect of a nepo baby wearing a nepo baby T-shirt adds a new wrinkle: like death and taxes, the nepo baby is inevitable.
"Nepo baby" is very much the ad hominem of 2022. It's clearly the most punishing nickname us regular folks can give privileged people born into wealth and access, though some nepo babies bristle at the phrase.
Some have justifiably pointed out that the term "nepo baby" isn't inherently nuanced and that's fair. But few buzzwords ever really are.
What is a nepo baby, by the way? Simply put, it's a famous and/or wealthy person's child who presumably found comparatively easy success through their powerful parent's connections.
Nepo babies don't have to be anything in particular but, as explained in New York Magazine's comprehensive exploration, they all share one inarguable element of privilege: "Try, and if at first you don’t succeed, remember you’re still a celebrity’s child, so try, try again."
Hence why so many tweets and TikToks gleefully attempted to "expose" the rich parents of nepo babies across 2022. For their part, nepo babies universally railed against the charges.
A year later, the babies have embraced the nepo.
Hailey Bieber's nepo baby T-shirt is obviously riffing on the ongoing discourse but it's also indicative of her growing comfort with the term.
Bieber, the daughter of youngest Baldwin brother Stephen, told Gwyneth Paltrow, daughter of producer Bruce and Emmy-winning actress Blythe Danner, that she loathed the term "nepo baby."
"People are ready to pull you down," Bieber complained, and phrases like "nepo baby" only give those people ammo.
But, having spent 2022 bemoaning the phrase, nepo babies may spend 2023 owning their status. Familiarity breeds contempt but it also breeds... familiarity. And, thus, the power of the term wanes.
There's nothing inherently wrong with being a nepo baby, to be sure, just like there's nothing inherently wrong with being rich (hell, who wouldn't wanna be rich?).
There are plenty of talented nepo babies, for instance, including actors Zoë Kravitz (daughter of Lenny), Paul Giamatti (son of MLB Commissioner A. Bartlett), and Tracee Ellis Ross (daughter of Diana Ross and a music exec), to name a few.
Some nepo babies even put their wealth to good use, relatively speaking. The identically-named son of famous director John Hughes put out plenty of excellent indie musicians with his now-defunct Hefty Records (one of my personal favorite labels) and Travis Knight, son of billionaire Nike co-founder Phil, is the CEO of stop-motion animation studio Laika, using his father's funds to produce a challenging, expensive form of animation (Phil Knight's relationship with Laika is more complicated than mere platitudes, admittedly, but, for his part, Travis is reportedly a passionate student of animation).
Even on this very site, we've covered and even praised the style of nepo babies aplenty, even Hailey Bieber herself; partially because it's interesting and partially because, well, that's how traffic in the digital age works.
The nepo baby discourse is less about chastising celebrities for having access and more about social media users filling in the blanks for inherently privileged people who are rarely forthcoming about acknowledging their privilege.
All it takes to weather the nepo baby conversation is to say, "Hey, I'm lucky enough to be born well-off and enjoy the privileges that come with it." These tweets and TikToks mostly just ask the famous subjects to have some self-awareness, really it doesn't even necessarily discredit any talent they may have,
But with her graphic T-shirt, Bieber gets to "wade into the discourse," as various headlines proclaimed, without really saying much about it.
Too bad: we don't need nepo babies reclaiming the moniker as much as we'd like to see them simply come to terms with it.