From King Princess to Clairo, these nepo baby musicians have proven themselves worthy of their place in the spotlight, even if it’s being shone by their parents.
While the actual results of Merriam-Webster’s 2022 word of the year might’ve proved otherwise, there’s little doubt in the internet’s collective consciousness as to last year’s true reigning buzzword: the so-called ‘nepo baby’.
Used in reference to any celebrity with equally starry relatives, the term all but exploded into the discourse in late 2022, when New York Magazine published a scathing taxonomy of Hollywood’s “nepo baby boom”. Sure, we understand the buzzword, but what is nepo privilege and who exactly is on this nepo baby list? Welcome to nepotism baby.
While not exactly household names, Lily Allen’s parents are notable enough to warrant their own Wikipedia pages. The pop star’s mother, Alison Owen, is an Emmy-award winning film producer, and her father Keith has a long list of movie credits to his name. While it’s enough to allow a foothold into show business, Allen’s fame is more a result of her distinct musical voice and witty lyricism than a tangential relation to the spotlight.
So forthright is Allen’s intent to carve a standalone music career that many fans might be unaware of her famous surname. Chiming in on the nepo baby debate last year, the Grammy Award-nominee acknowledged the “privileged upbringing … that has created so many opportunities for [her],” displaying a level of self-awareness that mitigates much of the chatter around undeserved success. Allen’s debut lead single, 2006’s Smile, established the singer’s standalone merit right out of the gate.
And before you come at me for being a nepo baby myself, I will be the first to tell you that I literally deserve nothing. https://t.co/tnrz8v8OsF
— Lily A (@lilyallen) December 19, 2022
The daughter of one of the most famous actors in Hollywood history, WILLOW has worked hard to delineate herself from her parents Jada Pinkett and Will Smith. However, this task may seem near impossible, given she is at the front of virtually every nepo baby chart out there. However, major kudos to her talent as nowhere is the 22-year-old’s distinct voice more worthy of standalone recognition than on her 2022 album, Coping Mechanism, which all-but spearheaded the music industry’s current pop-punk era.
Since debuting onto the scene in 2010 with clamorous single Whip My Hair, WILLOW has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Tame Impala, Avril Lavigne, Tierra Whack, and Blink-182’s Travis Barker, bringing her distinct vocals to each appearance. Anyone who counts Australia’s own Hiatus Kaiyote as one of their favourite music acts is worthy of all the studio time, even if their father can’t take a joke.
There’s no denying that Miley Cyrus — daughter of Billy Ray and goddaughter of Dolly Parton — comes from a lineage of certified rock royalty. While Cyrus’ start in the industry was ushered along by her Hall of Famer family tree, the pop star has since become a household name in her own right; releasing 13 top ten singles on the Billboard Charts and orchestrating multiple stunts now ingrained in the pop cultural discourse.
Cryus’ consistent homage to elements of rock, blues, and folk within her seven-album catalogue makes her worthy of that inheritance, with a list of collaborators to prove it. Cyrus’ latest rock-indebted album Plastic Hearts, for example, enlists guest verses from the likes of Billy Idol, Joan Jett, and Stevie Nicks, all but instating her name among that list of legends.
When you’re the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke (aka Hollywood nobility) it can be difficult to make a name for yourself, but Maya Hawke did just that with her first-ever album Blush. The 2020 record saw the Stranger Things castmate thwart the traditional pop avenues taken by lesser actress-turned-musicians, instead opting for a quieter debut with what Happy Mag described as “a thoughtful, tender folk-rock album.”
King Princess’ father, Oliver Strauss, is a known recording engineer, and owner of the Mission Sound recording studio in Brooklyn. For a lesser musician, that kind of access could result in an overlong discography of quantity over quality, but the opposite is true for King Princess. With only two albums to her name, King Princess is more interested in sonic consistency than maxing out her father’s studio.
Granted, Strauss did release several of King Princess’ songs under her former moniker of Mikaela Straus, but the singer has since enlisted a broader array of producers to define her sound. On the 2022 sophomore effort Hold On Baby, whose singles included Cursed and the Taylor Hawkins-assisted Let us Die, Princess collaborated with the likes of Mark Ronson, and drew comparisons to pop icon Robyn.
The second child of slapper/actor Will Smith has been steadfast in his intent to stray from the family tree. Indeed, Jaden Smith’s extensive and often divisive discography — which encompasses three albums, three mixtapes, and three EPs — is evidence of the rapper’s consistent efforts to find his own sonic voice.
Collaborators Justin Bieber, Childish Gambino, Kid Cudi, and Tyler, The Creator have each seen beyond Jaden’s starry surname. Speaking of his intent on making a name for himself in a 2020 interview with Happy Mag, Jaden Smith said: “The biggest thing for me… was just realising that I am good enough, you know? And that I’ve always been good enough, and talented enough.”
Clairo has been clever in mostly avoiding the ‘nepo baby’ label, but perhaps that’s due to the fact that her father is master marketer Geoff Cotrrill. While inheriting a marketing machine might go some way in furthering one’s music career, it’s the raw talent beneath all the viral campaigns and TikTok ads that makes a true star, which is certainly the case for Clairo.
The merit of the pop star’s success came with 2021’s Sling, which Happy Mag described as “one of this year’s most affecting records.” Clairo joins the Lily Allen club in that the cognizance of her connections helps to minimise the outrage, telling Rolling Stone in 2021 that she “would be stupid to not acknowledge the privilege I had from the start.”
Billie Eilish has long dodged accusations of being an “industry plant”, a term somewhat interchangeable with ‘nepo baby’. The daughter of a voice actress and a screenwriter, Eilish’s childhood is undeniably Tinseltown-adjacent. But it’s unlikely either of her parents would be household names if it weren’t for Eilish’s meteoric rise to fame, which seemingly happened overnight following the release her debut album, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?
Since then, the pop star has proved herself worthy of the spotlight, drawing praise from the likes of Elton John, Dave Grohl, Lana Del Rey, Paul McCartney and perhaps most surprisingly, a porn star. Eilish’s sophomore album, Happier Than Ever, was released in 2021.