How the Billboard Hot 100 explains the rise of Donald Trump
The scandalous history of the Billboard Hot 100 is the perfect analogy for how Donald Trump's popularity broke the rigid power structure of American politics.
Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic magazine, where he writes about economics and the media. He is a regular contributor to NPR's Here and Now and appears frequently on television, including CBS and MSNBC. He was named to both Inc. magazine's and Forbes's 30 Under 30 lists. He lives in New York City.
Derek Thomspon: The first question I got about my book when it came out in February, as I was going around the country talking about it, was, “Does your book explain Donald Trump?” So I had to come up with some sort of answer that addressed that issue. And the answer that I have is: Yes, the story of Donald Trump is the story of the Billboard Hot 100.
So the Billboard Hot 100, invented in the 1950s, is the official register of popularity in music. And for a long time it was essentially fake—it was fake news. They didn’t have live records of what albums and what vinyl was selling week by week, so instead what they did is they surveyed the DJs and the record store owners, and both parties would lie.
The DJs would lie because they were being paid by the studios and the labels, and the record store owners would lie because they had scarcity. And once you’ve sold, say, all of your Bruce Springsteen and you have a lot of AC/DC, then it doesn’t make any sense to tell Billboard that Bruce Springsteen is selling, you need to sell more AC/DC so you tell them that that album is now number one in the charts. So the charts were biased toward the taste of the white man at the labels and toward churn.
And then in 1991 all of that changed. Billboard introduced new technology to measure point of sales data of records and to measure radio play, and immediately taste in music changed over night. Hip-hop and country, overlooked by white guys on the coast, soared up the charts and the churn of the Billboard Hot 100 slowed down dramatically—such that I think that 20 songs that have been in the Billboard Hot 100 for the longest period of time have all come out in the last 25 years.
So essentially you could say that taste in music went from being dictated top-down to being generated bottom-up. The exact same thing is happening in politics. For a long time there was this theory of politics called “the party decides”. And this said that the way that we choose presidential candidates or presidential nominees with the parties is not that the public dictates who will be the party nominees, but rather that elites at the party level decide, and they distribute their messages through scarce media channels like television and radio and the public eats it up. Not altogether unlike the way the labels could dictate music popularity and then radio listeners would just eat it up and like those songs because of familiarity.
But what happened with Donald Trump and Jeb Bush? The establishment candidate that all of the party people liked did terribly, and Donald Trump—who had basically no elite party support—did terrifically within the Republican Party.
And so I think within the party structure you could also say that tastes, which used to be dictated top-down, are now being dictated bottom-up.
And I think we are seeing a groundswell of the bottom across the entertainment and political landscape that, because of the distribution of media channels, is too difficult now for any gatekeeper to control the flow of information from a group of elite people to the masses. Instead everybody has a blow horn, everybody can be a broadcaster, and as a result what you have instead is chaos. And so I think that that is one of the more important phenomenon that we’re seeing, is this revolution of bottom-up that is powered by a technological revolution in distribution.
As soon as Derek Thompson's book Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction came out, he started fielding one particular question over and over: Does your book explain the unforeseen popularity of President Donald J. Trump? Thompson looked through the historical ledger of popularity and found the perfect analogy: the Billboard Hot 100 music charts. From its inception in 1958 to 1991, the Billboard Hot 100 rankings were rigged, controlled from the top-down by studio execs, paid DJs, and record store owners who wanted to move certain stock. Then, in 1991, something changed: record sales and radio play data were tracked for the first time. "Immediately, taste in music changed over night," says Thompson. Hip-hop boomed, as did country music—genres ignored by the white men on the coast. "Music went from being dictated top-down to being generated bottom-up. The exact same thing is happening in politics," explains Thompson. A similar technological disruption—social media, a notoriously bottom-up platform—meant the gatekeepers of political power could no longer control which presidential candidate became the party nominee. Republican leaders wanted establishment candidate Jeb Bush, but the disgruntled voters made their taste known: they wanted Donald J. Trump. The same phenomenon that transformed the music charts is now transforming politics—only in this instance the stakes are much higher. Derek Thompson's latest book is Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction.
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Minimoons<p>Scientists have confirmed just two prior minimoons. One was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2006_RH120" target="_blank">2006 RH120</a>, which orbited us from September 2006 to June 2007. The other was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_CD3" target="_blank">2020 CD3</a>, which got stuck in the 2015–2016 timeframe, and is believed to gotten away in May 2020.</p><p>2020 SO, the new kid on the block, is expected to arrive in October 2020 and pop out of orbit in May 2021.</p><div id="37962" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f4c0fc8a2cba6536ea4cd960ebed3e6e"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1307729521869611008" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Asteroid 2020 SO may get captured by Earth from Oct 2020 - May 2021. Current nominal trajectory shows shows capture… https://t.co/F5utxRvN6Z</div> — Tony Dunn (@Tony Dunn)<a href="https://twitter.com/tony873004/statuses/1307729521869611008">1600621989.0</a></blockquote></div>
Identifying 2020 SO<p>The first clue 2020 SO isn't your ordinary asteroid is its exceptionally low velocity. It's traveling much more slowly that a typical asteroid — their <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank">average rate of travel</a> <a href="https://www.lpi.usra.edu/exploration/training/illustrations/craterMechanics/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>is 18 kilometers (58,000 feet) per second. Even <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moon_rock" target="_blank">moon rocks</a> sent careening into Earth orbit by impacts on the lunar surface outpace pokey 2020 SO.</p><p>For another thing, 2020 SO has an orbital path very similar to Earth's, lasting about one Earth year. It's also just slightly less circular than our own orbit, from which it's barely tilted off-axis.</p><p>So, what is it? <a href="https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/" target="_blank">NASA estimates</a> that the object has dimensions very reminiscent of a discarded Centaur rocket stage from the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Surveyor 2 mission</a> that landed an unmanned craft on the moon. Back in the day, rocket stages were jettisoned as craft were aimed toward their desired position. This stuff, if released high enough, remains in space. It appears that this Centaur rocket, launched in September 1966, is now making its way back homeward, at least for a little bit.</p><p>When 2020 SO arrives at its closest point in December, the rocket is expected to be about 50,000 kilometers from Earth. Its next closest approach is much further: 220,000 kilometers, in February 2010.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDQzMDk3NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyODg1MTQ1MX0.HGknDwqp0GmeuczKY_AS7vrPG7KMFUc_XO95tNoI2xo/img.jpg?width=980" id="e5cda" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="85eb1f790d8c3ee5b261f7ba13eaa5e1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Centaur rocket stage" />
Centaur rocket stage
What we may be able to learn<p>Earthly space programs being as young as they are, scientists would love to know what's happened to our rocket during a half century in space.</p><p>While 2020 SO won't get close enough to drop into our atmosphere, its slow progress has scientists hopeful that they'll still get some kind of a decent look at it.</p><p>Spectroscopy may be able to reveal what the rocket's surface is like now — has any of its paint survived, for example? Of course, being out in space, it's likely to have been hit by lots of dust and micrometeorites, so the current state of its surfaces is also of interest. Experts are curious to know how reflective the rocket is at this point, valuable information that can help planners of future long-term missions anticipate how well a craft out in space for extended periods will remain able to reflect sunlight.</p>
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