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Illustration Jethro Nepomuceno

Oh dear! Hailey Bieber tried to be funny but it didn’t really work

The model’s ‘Nepo Baby’ t-shirt didn‘t quite have the same impact as ‘Naomi Hit Me… and I Loved It’

It was the t-shirt that launched maybe 10 or 15 tweets... which is just enough hubbub to eke out an article. Last weekend, Hailey Baldwin-Bieber made a late entrance into the nepo baby discourse by walking through a vacant, multi-storey car park wearing a crop top printed with the words “nepo baby” in quite small, sans-serif lettering. It was, by all accounts, a staged moment organised with a paparazzo – because the model quickly changed into something a little more inconspicuous (another plain but sloganless crop top) when she eventually decided to venture out in public.

An attempt to acknowledge – and somehow refract – the indignation people feel towards famous people’s children, the look compounded a long-standing tradition of celebrities “reclaiming the narrative” by cloaking themselves in the same words used to strike them down. No weapon that is formed against you will succeed, and every tongue that rises against you in judgement you will condemn… etcetera. Think Britney Spears wearing a “dump him” t-shirt after separating from Justin Timberlake; Julia Roberts DIY-ing an “A Low Vera” tee to sling mud at Vera Steimberg, the wife of Roberts’ then-boyfriend who was refusing a divorce; or when Naomi Campbell wore a jumper emblazoned with “Naomi Hit Me… and I Loved It” referencing the accusation that she hit her housekeeper in 2006.

The only difference is that Baldwin-Bieber – the all-American girl next door with a clean skincare line – doesn’t have the same capacity for chaos that these celebs once had. Those who had the gall to face court and actually go out in public with their clap-backs. Nor does the shirt itself have the same bratty attitude of a Praying or an OGBFF slogan tee (all “Flop Era” and “Cancelled Adjacent” taglines) which have gained momentum online. Regardless, it’s still got people talking, with even Charli XCX – who last year wore a “they don’t build statues of critics” t-shirt – tweeting a salty “i respect the nepo baby tshirt attempt”. Note the inclusion of “attempt” – because with its corporate font and blank background, the “nepo baby” tee is a pretty meek pretender to the salaciousness of “Naomi Hit Me… and I Loved It”.

If anything, Baldwin-Bieber’s timid response to the whole nepo baby thing has given people further excuse to criticise the naivety of (certain) celebrity offspring. Last year, she had Gwyneth Paltrow on her YouTube series “Who’s In My Bathroom”, where the actor said industry children had to work harder than those without a pre-existing network in order to prove their worth. Baldwin-Bieber said that she “needed to hear that today”. It stands to reason that the flatness of the model’s t-shirt is also a direct metaphor for all the tiresome conversations surrounding nepo babies – as well as providing the internet with a blank canvas to Photoshop and breathlessly meme-ify à la Paris Hilton’s “Stop Being Poor” look. But perhaps that was the point all along?