Like Wildfire | Influence from the Ground Up

September 13, 2016: Atlanta-based rap duo Rae Sremmurd release their infectiously catchy song “Black Beatles.” Days after its release, Billboard calls it a “quintessentially youthful song, which is extremely welcome in this ongoing age of social conservatism.”

October 26, 2016: Students at Ed White High School in Jacksonville, FL kick off the viral sensation also known as the “mannequin challenge.” The students stand completely still for 30-45 seconds as the song plays in the background. Was the song/challenge pairing intentional? One of challenge’s originators told the New York Times at the time that she started playing it because it “was her favorite song.” A trend was born. Millions would participate in the challenge through new media channels like Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook.

This episode in popular culture shows that social influence flows from bottom to top. More crucially, the challenge demonstrates that, in this case, music can be the basis for watershed mo...

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