How to be Popular

The definition of the word “popular” is constantly changing.  This statement is proven through the Keywords “Popular” essay and within different forms of culture today.  Julie A.S. Cassidy writes in her essay that “Popular” in the “early sixteenth century…defined the ‘common people’ or people of ‘lowly birth’ as opposed to people of the aristocracy” (Keywords 174).  This definition then went on to gain a negative connotation with the word.  Today, “popular” has an all new meaning. Cassidy writes that “popular connotes a widespread appreciation for and love of the object itself when appended to a text, object, or person” (Keywords 176).  This change in connotation and definition has only continued to happen throughout history.

The story Little House on the Prairie provides yet another definition of this complex word, “popular”.  In the story, Ma was asked why she did not like the Native Indians that lived near her.  In response, Ma said that she simply did not like them. Ma did not have a clear answer as to why she had hatred toward them.  I believe that this was due to the popular opinion of the Indians. During this time, the “popular” or most common opinion of Indians was that they were bad and dangerous.  Ma gained this opinion as her own. The “popular” thing to do was to hate the Indians, so that’s what Ma did. In this book, “popular” is implicitly defined as “the common idea or opinion”.  Whether it was negative or positive, this was the popular and almost universal ideology.

Today, the idea of “popular” has many meanings.  In the Broadway musical Wicked, one of the main characters sings about what it means to be popular.  She says “I’ll show you what shoes to wear!  How to fix your hair! Everything that really counts to be…Popular”.  This clearly states that the idea of “popular” is to be perfect in appearance.  Similar to the Little House on the Prairie definition, they make the term “popular” to mean ‘a well-liked thing by all people’.

In contrast to this definition, the song “Popular Song” by MIKA featuring Ariana Grande gives a new meaning to this word.  The lyrics read, “and all that you have to do is be true to you”. This song is redefining “popular” as a term that anyone can use to describe themself if they are being authentic. Both Wicked and “Popular Song” were released in 2003.  It is clear that these two art forms contradict the other.  But, as discussed in the Keywords essay, there are many meanings to “popular” and it is forever evolving and transforming.  In Little House on the Prairie, the idea of “popular” was based on what the majority of people were thinking or doing, in Wicked, the idea was that it meant having your physical appearance was liked by many, and in “Popular Song”, the meaning is transformed into appreciating more than simply what others like or what is physically appealing.  These three media examples clearly support Cassidy’s claim that “popular” has been used in many different contexts over the course of history.

6 thoughts on “How to be Popular”

  1. I agree with your argument that media is a major factor that defines what “popular” means. Another example of a type of media that can define the word as well is movies. The movie Mean Girls specifically defines popular by showing exaggerated social cliques and stereotypes that are commonly seen in high school.

  2. I think this is a major issue is today’s society that is so centered around social media and appearance. I liked your connection with popular music from today, and it can also be seen in Disney movies such as Mulan, who decides it does not matter what people will eventually think of her. Because this issue has such a large presence in young girls and boys today, this is an extremely relevant blog post.

  3. I liked that you found three different media examples to support your key term, “popular”. It is interesting to read about the different views of this word throughout history. Back then what was popular was low class, but today, what is popular is what people gravitate towards such as viral dances and videos, fashion trends, or celebrities. In Janet Shaw’s, “The Journey Begins: A Kaya Classic”, Kaya was given the nickname, Magpie, after she ran off into the woods instead of watching her brothers. From then on, all of the children called her Magpie. One morning when she went to bathe in the river, a girl named Rabbit came up to Kaya to whisper, “I didn’t know magpies could swim” (Shaw 26). This ended with both girls racing towards the shore in which Kaya lost the race, and with a grin Rabbit said, “Magpie didn’t win the race” (Shaw 27). Kaya was just minding her own business but Rabbit felt the need to be a part of calling Kaya, Magpie, because everyone else was doing it.

  4. I like how you compared how different types of media define popularity and what is “popular.” I think that especially today with new social media people may look to what others think about them to see if they are accepted. People may focus on likes on Instagram, views on Youtube or even TicTok and think that if they have enough that they will be “popular.”

  5. I find it extremely interesting how a word can change meaning over time. From “being of the common people” to being a role model and having status in the world, the word popular is certainly an example of that. I like how you have connected it back to social media because popular culture today has so much to do with influencers and people who get paid to endorse things because they’re popular and will, in theory, make products sell.

  6. I loved how easily you compared the meaning of popular in the past to how is put into context now. Using the popular song to highlight how self-centered out culture has become as a result of out new found “popularity was an interesting take on it. I agree that popularity shouldn’t be something everyone longs after, but I do think it can come with some sense of gratitude or solidarity, making it still important.

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