Five Burning Questions: What’s the Deal With These ‘Let’s Go Brandon’ Songs on the Hot 100?

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This election week, you may have noticed that the Billboard Hot 100 features not one, but two songs titled “Let’s Go Brandon” in its top 40 — both from artists with little, if any, prior chart history.

The shared title derives from a NASCAR event in Alabama (won by driver Brandon Brown), in which an audience chant of “F–k Joe Biden!” was interpreted by an NBC Sports announcer as “Let’s go Brandon.” Since then, the three-word phrase has become a conservative meme, used by politicians, organizations and even a Southwest Airlines pilot — and now, a number of rappers who have capitalized on the trend.

The first “Let’s Go Brandon” to hit the Hot 100 came from New Jersey rapper Loza Alexander, built around sound clips of the “Let’s go Brandon” call and the accompanying “F–k Joe Biden” chant at the Alabama event, which debuted at No. 45 on the chart last week. This week, the song climbs to No. 38 — but it’s lapped by a song of the same name by Christian rapper Bryson Gray (also featuring Chandler Crump and Tyson James), which features more rapping and no audio samples than the Alexander song, and debuts this week at No. 28 on the Hot 100.

Both songs are clearly positioned to be right-wing anthems — down to both Alexander and Gray wearing a MAGA hat in their respective “Brandon” videos — and follow other conservative-leaning songs from artists like Tom MacDonald and Aaron Lewis onto the Hot 100 this year. Like those songs, the two “Brandon”s mostly owe their splashy debuts to robust sales weeks, with the songs occupying the top two spots on this week’s Digital Song Sales chart, as Gray’s version sells 48,000 copies and Alexander’s sells 39,000.

What does all of this mean? And what does it portend for the Hot 100 moving forward? Billboard staffers debate these questions and more below.

1. “Let’s Go Brandon” was a surprising-enough chart phenomenon when Loza Alexander debuted at No. 45 with his song of that title on the chart last week. Now, not only has Loza’s song climbed to No. 38, but we have a new song of that title from Bryson Gray, Tyson James and Chandler Crump debuting ten spots ahead of it at No. 28. How has this meme spread wide enough to support not one, but two hit singles on the Hot 100? 

Katie Atkinson: A large, riled-up group has rallied around a cheeky catchphrase and hoisted an inside joke all the way to the top 40 — twice. The impetus of the phrase was the rise of “F–k Joe Biden” chants this fall at some sporting events, where hundreds or even thousands of fans joined in. That’s the kind of promo you can’t buy, and these two songs got in early and are reaping the benefits. Also, like-minded people are clearly getting a kick out of the phrase itself, which recalls Britney Spears’ “If U Seek Amy” as a sort of juvenile wink-wink to radio censors.

Jason Lipshutz: When a meme is slightly clever and also supported by large swaths of a political party, it’s not shocking that it will find legs. The original “Let’s Go Brandon” offered both a sticky hook and sly opportunity for coded anger against the current administration; it’s still short of a phenomenon, but the fact that it’s begat a successful spin-off indicates that this chant is not just a blip on the conservative-music radar.

Kristin Robinson: I think the Facebook Files reveal last month reminded us that what we see on social media is an echo chamber of previously held beliefs (to keep us scrolling) and some content that provokes outrage and hatred (to get us engaging). These algorithms, I believe, are the reason why the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme has proliferated so quickly. You’ll either see it because you are already conservative and may find it funny, but you might see it if you’re left-leaning because it may provoke reactions and outrage.

Andrew Unterberger: It’s a decently clever secret-password sort of a meme — one that sounds perfectly innocuous to the uninitiated, and with an amusing origin story that takes a full minute’s worth of explanation to introduce to anyone not already familiar. Obviously political tensions are once again at a new high in this country, and it makes complete sense that “Let’s go Brandon” would catch fire as a sort of absurdist rallying cry. (Though I’ll admit I never would’ve guessed that multiple top 40 hits were in the cards for its virality.)

Christine Werthman: There’s nothing too revelatory to report here: The meme, as memes do, blew up (on social media, across news outlets), and these performers are capitalizing on the trend. But why is it burning so hot? As we can see from this week’s election results, voters are not looking favorably upon Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, so it makes sense that two anti-Biden anthems would take off, especially now. And while many ongoing Trump supporters are not shy about expressing their views about this president, these memes reach wider by giving other people a less profane way of showing their distaste. As Tyson James says, “I’m a Christian, so how do I say this? Let’s go Brandon.”

2. It’s not the first time music fans have launched right wing-leaning hits onto the Hot 100 this year — Tom MacDonald and Aaron Lewis have also found similar success with songs with a conservative bent. Do you see their chart success as more of an incidental side effect of their natural popularity, or as a purposeful statement being made by their supporters via the Hot 100? 

Katie Atkinson: I think whenever a fan purchases music in 2021, they’re making a statement — whether that statement is “I need to collect all of Taylor Swift’s vinyl” or “I need to buy every version of a song to help BTS on the charts” or, um, “Let’s go Brandon.” They could easily stream the songs for free, but they want these anti-Biden songs to make the biggest impact, and that is definitely accomplished through sales.

Jason Lipshutz: The former. Based on their sales and streaming numbers, I suspect that there’s not an enormous audience for these songs relative to that of an average Hot 100 hit, but that their audience is passionate enough about their messaging to buy them as well as stream them and ultimately boost their chart placements. That act leads to more incidental chart gains than purposeful ones — it’s hard to imagine the “Let’s Go Brandon” Hive caring that much about pushing the song higher on the Hot 100 — but chart gains nonetheless.

Kristin Robinson: I believe its support is intentional by the right based on its statements, but I don’t think that’s a phenomenon unique to the right. There are many songs that have been bolstered by the left for political messaging in the past decade. I think “This Is America” by Childish Gambino is a good example of that. I will say, however, that these two songs that made the Top 40 are not actually serious and thoughtful, like Gambino’s “This Is America,” but more akin to meme-ier songs that were never were able to reach this kind of height.

Andrew Unterberger: I think that Tom MacDonald’s Hot 100 success — which, it should be said, has thus far been kept to the lower half of the chart — is likely largely organic, since he seems to have a real fanbase and his success has been repeated a couple times already. The triumph of the “Brandon”s is almost certainly Hot 100 success for Hot 100 success’ sake, audiences doing what they have to in order to get these songs on the charts in order to prove a point, regardless of how much they’re really jamming out to the actual songs. Just look at the YouTube description for the Bryson Gray “Brandon” — it’s a message from Gray rallying his conservative followers to “fight back within the culture” by shelling out the $1 for the song on iTunes.

Christine Werthman: Let’s look at Aaron Lewis. The Staind frontman hadn’t been on the chart since 2011 and then landed at No. 14 in 2021 with “Am I the Only One?” Maybe tons of people were jamming to “It’s Been Awhile,” thought, “Wow, it really has been!” and went searching for Lewis’s latest. But it’s more likely that the conservative message, not so much the messenger, attracted a wider swath of listeners who sent the song sky high. As Jason Lipshutz prophesied in July, the success of Lewis and MacDonald among right-wing listeners spurred imitators, and much like the Toby Keith acolytes before them, there will be plenty more to come.

3. Plenty of left-wing protest songs emerged and found support in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and four years in office, but few if any had the chart success of “Let’s Go Brandon” or Lewis’ “Am I the Only One.” (YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT,” for instance, never cracked the Hot 100.) Why do you think these right-wing protest songs have been able to make such a more concentrated chart impact? 

Katie Atkinson: You only have to look at the Trump and Biden inaugural performers to know that the bulk of famous musicians skew to the liberal side of things, so there are definitely fewer out-and-out conservative songs breaking through. In this case, some artists you had never heard of were able to bring a conservative viewpoint to the mainstream thanks to a viral meme. Basically, a musician saying “f–k Donald Trump” is a lot less of a novelty than a musician saying “f–k Joe Biden.” Also, the irony of both of these songs being performed by hip-hop artists — who typically draw the ire of right-wing pundits, like when Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP” became a five-alarm fire on Fox News last fall — is not lost on me.

Jason Lipshutz: It all comes back to the sales numbers for these right-wing protest songs, an effect of the concentrated passion that will compel listeners to spend money on “Let’s Go Brandon” and the like — which results in greater chart success than songs that accrue far more streams. That said, I do think left-wing protest songs had an impact during the Trump administration, even if they were more focused on social change than calling out the president; last summer, for instance, the Black Lives Matter movement sparked a whole new era of protest songs.

Kristin Robinson: I honestly don’t know. I guess it’s possible there are less openly conservative songs, so, in turn, when they do come up, republicans rally around the songs with more concentration? I also think we are living in a different time that when “FDT” came out – with TikTok proliferating songs so quickly and widely, I could see TikTok virality being the determining factor in these songs’ successes.

Andrew Unterberger: I think a large part of it is timing — in 2016 and 2017, when anti-Trump anthems were at their cultural peak, music fans had not yet really weaponized the Digital Song Sales portion of the Hot 100 as a shortcut to getting songs an attention-grabbing chart debut. (Hit songs were also selling more on average in those days, making it harder to launch a song this high on the chart via such grass-roots measures.) But in 2021, even the biggest hits don’t sell that much, and pop fans have long since demonstrated how achievable a big chart debut is with an organized push through download sales. Conservatives seem to have been paying attention, and now that Trump is out of the White House, they’re letting their protest be heard via the Hot 100.

Christine Werthman: I would guess that YG and Nipsey naturally attract a younger demographic, while older listeners would be turned off by the profanity suggested in the title, so they lost out on that audience as well as radio play. Staind has a longer history, so Lewis might have a more varied and larger listenership. And then “Let’s Go Brandon” as a meme is receiving widespread media attention, so curious listeners of all ages and from both sides of the aisle are tuning in to the song to hear what it’s all about. There’s also a simpler answer — which is that conservatives are still angry about the election and will eagerly embrace any song whose message matches their feelings.

4. While “Am I the Only One” has picked up minor country radio airplay, neither that song nor any of MacDonald’s hits has really become a breakout hit on radio or streaming. Do you think either version of “Let’s Go Brandon” might crossover to one of those formats, or will they both stay as sales hits only? 

Katie Atkinson: I think the Loza Alexander song could become a streaming hit; it’s surprisingly catchy, and I could see it going over well at college parties after the games where those chants are heard. The Bryson Gray one, however, doesn’t feel like a fun repeat listen to me at all.

Jason Lipshutz: Sales hits only, for sure. Even if they boost their streaming numbers and find the occasional radio spin, both “Let’s Go Brandon”s are likely too polarized to become a true crossover hit. I could be wrong — I certainly didn’t foresee a top 40 Hot 100 hit when this whole thing started! — but I can’t picture either as a multi-format smash.

Kristin Robinson: I can’t see radio stations picking these up, except maybe the occasional spin on a conservative news radio station. Both songs are rap-leaning, and I don’t see them fitting on rap radio. Also, “Am I The Only One” wasn’t a joke like the “Let’s Go Brandon” songs are, so country radio could take it much more seriously. I think comedy-driven political music will fare far better on the internet than on radio.

Andrew Unterberger: I could maybe see the Bryson Gray version catching on with slightly different lyrics, since the production and rapping feel close enough to a plausibly popular trap song in 2021. But the lyrics are probably a little too specific and unsavory to catch on in most mainstream spaces.

Christine Werthman: Loza Alexander’s track is catchier, but it doubled down on the explicit Biden chant, making it not radio-friendly, and the Bryson Gray version, clocking in at just under four minutes, is a little too long to have high replay value. Both are going to flame out eventually and not make a big impact on radio or streaming, but the “Let’s Go Brandon” meme and chant are going to outlive them both.

5. Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, it was actually not that uncommon for conservative spoken-word monologues (with light musical accompaniment) to become popular, with Victor LundbergJohnny Sea and Byron MacGregor all scoring Hot 100 top 40 hits along those lines. Do you see America trending back towards that era, or do you think this is close to as extreme as it’s likely to get on the charts? 

Katie Atkinson: There’s clearly an audience ready to put their money behind conservative musical messages. In this case, Alexander and Gray seized on the right message at the right time. In Aaron Lewis’ case, he had the familiarity from his nu-metal days coupled with the Fourth of July holiday. It’s not far-fetched to think someone else could come along and capture these listeners’ attention again.

Jason Lipshutz: There will be more of these. As user-generated social media has become increasingly influential in popular music, our country has become more politically polarized, and more incidental left-wing and right-wing anthems will be produced by unknown voices catching fire on a particular platform. If conservative spoken-word monologues were taking off a half-century ago, more TikTok-friendly, haphazard chants like “Let’s Go Brandon” can thrive in this world.

Kristin Robinson: don’t think it will go that far, but I think the mostly-liberal music business often underestimates how many conservatives are out there, looking for music that speaks to their beliefs. I see more songs like “Okie from Muskogee” by Merle Haggard, a song that took shots at anti-war protestors in 1969, to pop up. Something that speaks to conservative values, but perhaps isn’t so jarring and in-your-face as “Lets Go Brandon” and the like.

Andrew Unterberger: That this is even a question worth asking is pretty sobering.

Christine Werthman: Oh boy, I hope this is where we’re headed. Imagine one of these paired with a modern dance performance at the next RNC. Chills.

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