Childish Gambino’s “This is America” is the No. 1 song in the country this week, debuting at the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a rare feat for such an explicitly political song.
Although President Trump’s election has inspired a number of musicians to record political tracks, none of them have become No. 1 hits. Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” peaked at No. 4 last year, and Kanye West’s “Ye vs. The People,” a collaboration with T.I. about West’s support of Trump, debuted at No. 85 before falling off the chart this week. Instead, some of the biggest hits since Trump took office have been songs like “God’s Plan” by Drake, “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran, and “Despacito” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee.
One reason chart pop and politics usually don’t mix is that it’s easier to score a hit with both Democrats and Republicans spinning your song. It’s been more than seven years since such an explicitly political track went No. 1, and even then, it felt like a pop outlier.
Lady Gaga’s LGBT anthem “Born This Way” went No. 1 in 2011. The song was heavily anticipated, the lead single to her first full album of new music after an impressive streak of seven top 10 hits that redefined the sound of pop and reimagined what a pop star could be.
It was also released at a time when public opinion on same-sex marriage was rapidly changing. In a Pew poll that year, support for same-sex marriage reached a new high of 45%, and the following year, there was a higher percentage of Americans who supported same-sex marriage than opposed it, for the first time ever.
“This is America” also feels like an outlier. It’s not yet a major radio hit, but it opened at No. 1 on the strength of its digital sales and streaming. Its arresting, multi-layered Hiro Murai-directed music video captivated the internet, and 68% of its 65.3 million US streams came from video views, according to Billboard. It sold 78,000 downloads.
And perhaps, like “Born This Way,” the political themes of “This is America” – including race, police brutality, and gun violence – are resonating more than ever before.