Image from @maudeapatow on Instagram

What TikTok’s obsession with nepotism babies says about class

Ever Googled your fave, only to find their success involves family connections? Unearthing nepo babies online is teaching fans about privilege faster than you can say “started from the bottom”.

There was a time when 20-year-old Daisy* idolised Billie Eilish. She’s still a fan and enjoys her music today. But a few years ago, when Eilish debuted her album When we all fall asleep, where do we go?, Daisy’s bedroom walls could barely be seen for all the Billie posters, merch and pinned up t‑shirts. I absolutely loved her,” she says. It wasn’t just about the music or the branding, but the way she seemed like a normal girl who fought for her career.”

When Billie won a pile of Grammys in 2021, she dedicated one of them to the children making music in her bedrooms hoping to be something one day,” Daisy continues. Billie has always made it a part of her brand that she came from nothing and just built her career by posting music on Soundcloud, hoping for the best.”

After reading a now-deleted Twitter thread exposing Eilish’s nepotistic links, Daisy realised this wasn’t true. As it happens, Eilish’s mother, Maggie Baird, was a teacher at a prestigious film school in California, as well as an actress and screenwriter, during Eilish’s career buildup. The thread also alleged that she had connections with Chanel, who custom-designed Billie’s distinct look before she debuted.

Something changed when I realised that,” says Daisy. “[As a working-class fan], it made me feel a bit dirty that she’d weaponised this struggle’ to sell her image, while loads of us are out here actually struggling. But I also know she’s young… Maybe it wasn’t all intentional?”

Eilish isn’t the only artist exaggerating a glamourised rags-to-riches story as part of their personal brand. And Daisy certainly isn’t the only working class fan to feel the sting of discovering that their favourite artist has benefitted from nepotism to achieve success.

In fact, there’s a whole community of working class fans on TikTok exposing famous people who turn out to be a nepotism baby”, a term coined by Gen Zers to describe celebs who, put simply, are only celebs because their family members are in the biz too.

Recently, Daisy Edgar-Jones, star of Normal People and Fresh, was the subject of a nepotism baby” video on TikTok. The video explains that, while she’s clearly a brilliant actress, it’s difficult to go along with the breakout” narrative that was attached to her debut role in Normal People when her father is the head of entertainment and director of Sky Arts – undeniable connections, then.

The comments below the video illustrate how disappointed fans feel when they find out their fave is a nepo baby. I’m more interested to hear [about] who isn’t a nepo baby, because it seems all celebs are to an extent,” one comment reads. I swear recently the majority of new rising stars are nepotism babies. I don’t have anything against them personally, but there should be more backlash,” says another.

The trend for unearthing the cultural heritages of nepotism babies has been on the rise for a while. It’s long been a running, repeatedly viral joke on Twitter that every time a new artist breaks out”, they turn out to have blue links on their family wiki”. Or, at least it seems that way. For the unfamiliar, the blue links” badge is awarded when an artist is such a nepotism baby, that the family members” section of their Wikipedia page is lit up blue with all the hyperlinks, leading to their relatives’ own biographies.

Although this viral trend is still young, nepotism is certainly nothing new. While there are no concrete statistics on how many musicians enter the industry through family members’ connections, it’s hard to find an artist who doesn’t have those blue link family members”. Stories of nepotism are surprisingly common outside of the celebrity sphere, too. A study by the Debrett’s Foundation found seven in 10 young people from ages 16 to 25 have used family connections to get their first job.

Family connections have always been the real blueprint to fame and success, beyond the rags-to-riches stories peddled in the media. This is perhaps why YouTube, Soundcloud and now TikTok are popular avenues for working-class artists to get their foot in the door. The algorithms – as far as we know – don’t care who’s dad the uploader is. It’s also perhaps why, in the early to mid noughties, reality talent shows like The X Factor and American Idol were so popular. They gave normal people without connections a shot at fame and success.

TikTok users in this community also produce videos that sort famous children of famous people into good” and bad” nepotism babies based on a rigid criteria. What makes a good nepotism baby? According to these TikTokers, it depends on whether they are honest about their privileges and connections, and how they give back, whether it be through charity, philanthropy, grassroots activism engagements, or a plain old humble and grateful attitude.

Maude Apatow [Judd Apatow’s daughter] is my favourite nepotism baby,” is the top comment on one video of Apatow shooting a scene for one of her father Judd Apatow’s film sets. Emma Roberts [Julia Roberts’ niece] is my fave nepo baby,” says another. The community seems to gravitate towards these two nepo babies in particular, because they are genuinely talented and have proven their worth. Apatow receives frequent praise for her performance in Euphoria. Meanwhile, Emma Roberts has always remained open about the connections she had access to because of her aunt, often speaking in interviews about visiting Julia on set and speaking to directors from a young age. Her nepotism isn’t hidden, so these TikTokers find it easier to digest. By contrast, this preference for transparency around privilege is made clear in another comment, reading my least favourite [nepotism baby] is Kendall Jenner – the whole clan pretends they came from nothing.”

Why do working class fans get so upset about nepotism babies? Dr Nilu Ahmed, a chartered psychologist and Lecturer in Social Sciences at The University of Bristol, says it’s because it goes against a message we are told throughout our lives: that hard work is what gains us rewards.

Through education systems and through the government, we are told that if you work hard enough, you can succeed and that’s something that is repeated in every workplace – that if you work hard for a promotion, you’ll get it,” Ahmed explains. But the very existence of nepotism – especially in extreme cases, where individuals are able to become famous millionaires thanks to family connections – throws that message into question.

When you see that you can’t reach your goals, while nepotism babies thrive off connections alone – no hard work necessary – it feels like our entire lives are built on a lie. This is why celebrities should be open about their lineage and transparent about what they have access to. And use their birth-given platforms to showcase other emerging artists or to shout out the people who may not have exposure.”

Ahmed notes that there’s real damage to be made when famous faces, as well as people in our day-to-day lives, make an effort to conceal how nepotism benefited their career trajectories. Often, working class fans idolise the supposed trajectories of celebrities as a symbol that hard work can achieve anything – if they can do it, anyone can.

There is something that we rely on as working class individuals: hope. Our hope is so important. We hope to be a music artist, an actor, a performer, an academic in my case. Now I want to become a professor, if I suddenly see that actually, most people in the industry are there through nepotism, that’s a real shock,” Ahmed explains. It tells us that no matter how hard we work, we will never get there.”

That’s what the pain is about. When you come from a disadvantaged socioeconomic background, you look for pathways out and try to spot routes that have been taken before. That’s why it’s such a huge let down to find out someone – celebrity or not – has lied about the journey you’ve pinned your hopes and dreams on.

@ynesmusic “FAKE WHAT YOUR MAMA GAVE YA” is out May 20th!!!! Presave link in bio hehe #nepotismbaby #workingclass #indiemusic #diy ♬ original sound - YNES

Indie musician and TikToker Ynes knows this poignant realisation all too well and has made her own videos for the nepotism baby discourse on TikTok. In one video, she confesses she’s the kind of person who checks Wikipedia for blue links when a debut artist catches her eye to make sure they didn’t go to private school.” The 25-year-old tells THE FACE: It’s really easy as a working class artist to feel dejected, after a gig that you break even (or even lose money) on, [to realise] that the industry is so full of nepotism.” It grinds her down, she says, especially when she’s booking unpaid days off her 9 – 5 to play gigs. It’s easy to start wondering whether you cut your losses, because it feels as though you’ll never win if you’re self-funded without connections.”

The singer has even written a song about the nepotism she’s come across while trying to work her way up in the music industry, and the bands who went to private school but pretend to be working class to sell records, aptly titled fake what your momma gave ya.

The need for privileged people to conceal nepotism is also often based on a false myth of meritocracy”, as Ahmed explains. People who benefit from nepotism, or any kind of privilege, tell themselves that they worked really hard for this and that their success is down to that alone.”

A plain example of this is housing advisor and daughter of a 6th Baron Kirstie Allsopp. In The Independent earlier this year, she penned a now-deleted, clumsy opinion piece about young people not being able to get a house. The crux of it: young people just need to work harder, like she did. She omitted the fact that her father had made that possible for her and had huge amounts of support, “ Ahmed explains. I think Kirstie and others like her genuinely don’t think to disclose [nepostic support and financial privilege]. Very often people who live in these circles of privilege assume their resources are the same as everyone else’s. They don’t see nepotistic links as a privilege, just a given.”

@con..coco I look disgusting but heres my thoughts on the whole nepotism kids debate #nepotismbaby #nepotism #fyp ♬ Money Coming In - Mello Will

We’ve seen the same myth mirrored in the likes of Kim Kardashian, who recently thanked her hard work” for her success and said people just don’t want to work these days” (I don’t need to tell you who her family is). Her half-sister, Kylie Jenner, was described by Forbes as the youngest self-made billionaire”. Meanwhile, former Love Islander Molly-Mae Hague received backlash earlier this year for telling Steven Bartlett we all have the same 24 hours in a day” when discussing her work ethic and success, despite her undeniable privileges.

It might not seem like it matters what celebs and artists are up to while we potter about trying to make ends meet, but as one TikToker puts it, It’s important to have raw people, who were brought up in working class families, [creating] art. Imagine what TV will be with only sheltered rich people creating [it].”

If anything, the nepotism babies TikTok trend builds a strong case for working class representation. And it’s not just about the TV, film and music industries. Nepotism affects who becomes our teachers, who owns our homes and who works in our government. And we know that’s not gone very well so far. While not technically a nepotism baby, having billionaire Rishi Sunak in charge of the country’s money while not knowing how to use a contactless card because he’s never done his own shopping clearly doesn’t serve the average citizen. And the Conservative Party’s history of hiring mates, led by PM Boris Johnson? That’s how working class people end up buried at the bottom of the priority list.

This backlash is not about wanting nepotism babies to disappear forever – most of us understand that it will always be around. What those without nepotistic links want from nepo babies is for them to be honest and budge up a bit so we can have a seat at the table too.

The nepotism babies community on TikTok is more than just a digital fad, and is part of a wider trend,” explains Ahmed. Of social justice, which has been going on since the beginning of the millennium. Young people have had enough of an unlevel playing field”.

That’s why they’re writing their own rules, applying justice to a system that was created without them. They’re asking questions and exposing inequality. So, nepotism babies, get your class in line. Stop pretending to be hard done by, start communicating financial privileges and save a spot for your future working class colleagues.

*Name has been changed for anonymity

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