I go where the in crowd goes
I'm in with the in crowd
And I know what the in crowd knows..."
A character is afforded entrance to an elite group by virtue of an unexpected success or new connections. If he is already one of the local elite, the new group he joins is even more so — more exclusive or secretive, or traveling in even higher social circles, or recognized over a larger geographical area — something with some cachet. The group could be a winning sports team, a selective private club, or just the "in" clique of "beautiful people".
Enjoying his newfound elevation, he snubs or is pressured to snub his old friends, who respond with anger or dismay at his apparent betrayal. However, after extended exposure to the members of his new social circle, he invariably finds them shallow and/or bigoted, particularly against some faction represented in his previous social circle. At the risk of ruining any future chance for social improvement, he leaves his new clique and returns to the forgiving arms of his original band of friends.
- The entire plot of Mean Girls. Cady originally wants to avenge the maltreatment of her best friend by the Alpha Bitch, Regina, and to do that, she tries to infiltrate the popular clique...and succeeds, but at the cost of becoming an Alpha Bitch herself and losing all her friends in the process. Cue Must Make Amends.
- And a substantial chunk of Never Been Kissed.
- The Devil Wears Prada.
- How to Lose Friends & Alienate People.
- Heathers has a dark, dark take on this trope. It opens with a dream sequence in which the trio of Alpha Bitches use Veronica's head as a croquet peg.
- Take this trope, add fights between super-powered teenagers, and you get Sky High (2005).
- Jawbreaker, where Julie abandons the in-crowd because she cannot bring herself to cover up the murder of their mutual friend Liz.
- Happened in I Was A Teenage Faust. The main character becomes one of the cool kids but quickly realizes how boring they are.
- In It Should Happen to You, Gladys goes to swanky nightspots and sees famous people when she puts her name on billboards all over New York City.
- Swing High, Swing Low: Much to Skid's detriment, both professionally and personally.
- Teen Wolf: Scott becomes popular after he becomes a werewolf.
- Teen Witch: Louise Miller, becoming a witch.
- The Princess Diaries: Mia Thermopolis, becoming a princess.
- Can't Buy Me Love: Ronald Miller pays a popular girl to pretend to be his girlfriend
- Teen Spirit: Amber Sommers, former prom queen dies and returns from limbo in order to turn former classmate Lisa into the most popular student.
- Stacey McGill from The Baby-Sitters Club starts hanging out with the more popular students of Stoneybrook Middle School when she starts dating Robert Brewster, who plays on the basketball team. Time with them makes her think the BSC is immature and childish compared to the cooler kids, and she ends up quitting altogether because of it (and then rejoining the club soon after, when her popular friends nearly get her in trouble sneaking wine into a concert).
- This was a factor in the Angel who did not so much Fall as Saunter Vaguely Downwards Crowley's Start of Darkness in Good Omens. His friends had joined Lucifer's rebellion against God, and Crowley had nowhere else to go once they did, so he joined them and their rebellion. As a result, he's fairly pleasant for a demon, mostly inconveniences humanity as opposed to fully terrorizing them, gets along with Aziraphale very well, and is the one to ask Aziraphale to help him subvert the apocalypse after becoming attached to humanity.
- Meg in Little Women, during her visit to the Moffats, lets her friend Annie doll her up in a pretty gown and then acts like an airhead to look better than she really is. Earlier, Amy buys limes to raise her cool girl image at school, despite going against school rules. But both girls are "punished" very soon. Amy is caught and humiliated by her Sadist Teacher in front of the class and Marmee tells her that even if she didn't like the punishment, Amy was on the wrong end; Meg is promptly called out by Laurie on her snobbish facade, and also gets to hear some older ladies wonder out loud if Marmee wants to use her to ascend socially.
- In The Poison Apples Reena states she has always found it easy to become popular by befriending the right people. Within days of starting at boarding school, she becomes not only popular in her year but hangs out with the most popular people two years above her. She realises she's not so eager to be in anymore when popular guy Jamie Vanderheep pushes her out the window into a tree when she's scared to climb.
- The Pants Project: Closeted trans boy Liv and his best friend Maisie stuck together all throughout elementary school, but when they start middle school, Jade Evans and Chelsea Farrow start bullying Liv for acting like a boy and for having two moms. Maisie abandons him so she won't become unpopular by association. She joins the Girl Posse and dyes her hair blonde to fit in.
- The A-Team episode "Members Only". Played with; Face is pleased with getting into the club on trial, as it means he can mix with the cream of society. However, he doesn't seem to want to ditch his old friends, and in any case, the story doesn't have a chance to to that point, because the team's antics throughout the episode get Face thrown out.
- Gilmore Girls had Rory joining the Powderpuffs (that's "Powderpuffs" — not to be confused with a certain cartoon Power Trio known as "Powerpuffs").
- Good Morning Miss Bliss episode "Clubs and Cliques", now shown as a rerun of Saved by the Bell. Zack, an 8th grader, was seemingly invited to join a fraternity-like club at the high school. As a pledge, he had to do a bunch of embarrassing dares, many of which involved hurting his friends. In the end, it turned out that Zack's "sponsor" was actually a pledge himself, and his dare was to get an 8th grader to believe he was invited to join. Reset!
- Family Ties "It's My Party" has a variant: Jennifer and her friend Chrissy make new popular friends to the exclusion of a third friend.
- The live-action version of The Tick (2001) did this in the episode "The Big Leagues", where the Tick joined The League of Superheroes, which doesn't admit women or minorities, causing a rift between the Tick and his friends Captain Liberty (a woman) and Batmanuel (a minority). The comic and animated version both feature The Comet Club, which doesn't allow sidekicks (not even to warning the heroes of a possible supervillain attack; the Doorman can only sense sidekicks).
- Ready or Not (1993): Amanda falls into this trope a couple of times; in one episode she hangs out with Chrissy under the impression Chrissy genuinely sees her as a friend, only for Chrissy to use Amanda to complete a school assignment for her or manipulate her into shoplifting. In a later episode set in junior high, Amanda falls in with a group of girls who have a dining club, only for Busy to accidentally reveal an embarrassing secret about Amanda which causes them to ostracize her.
- In Red Dwarf, the android Kryten is turned into an organic human. When talking to his sentient spare heads, he gets high and mighty with them. After that, he realizes that he's turning into a jerk.
- This is the basis for multiple episodes of Frasier. Of course, with the two main characters being elitist snobs they find the "shallow/bigoted" part absolutely delightful and it's inevitably some misfortune that rips them kicking and screaming from their new group.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer has this befall Xander by dint of collective possession by hyena spirits. Needless to say, snotty in-crowd bullying isn't the worst of it.
- The Freaks and Geeks episode "The Little Things" finds this happening, sort of, to Sam.
- Very neatly averted with Undeclared. Steven is asked to join a campus fraternity, which his friends all object to since they believe college fraternities to be a waste of time. Fortunately for Steven, the fraternity (in addition to its headmaster being a complete prick) isn't even all that cool or hip but actually kind of dorky and lame.
- Family Matters:
- Eddie is offered the chance to join the coolest fraternity on campus if he dumps Urkel as a friend. He at first gives in, kicking Urkel out of the party, but makes things right after he is reminded of how loyal a friend Urkel is.
- Laura gets her own episode where she actually considered joining the most prestigious sorority on campus. However, she changes her tune when she stumbles upon the sorority’s annual “Geek Party”, to which Urkel was invited by sorority sister Allison. In fact, all the sisters brought geeks as dates to a Beauty and the Beast party, where they watch the nerdy boys party and make fools of themselves, completely unaware that their dates are making fun of them behind their backs, before the “worst one” is crowned “King of Geeks”. Laura is repulsed by the cruelty of the sorority girls. Unlike Eddie, when forced to choose between the Greek house and Urkel, she sides with Steve without a moment’s hesitation and quits the sorority.
- Played straight on What's Happening!! when Rerun joins the football team and becomes popular, dating the head cheerleader. He snubs Raj and Dwayne and calls them names. When he is told that he will be kicked off the team for failing English, he asks Raj to help him pass by writing a speech that he has to give. Raj sabotages the speech, Rerun fails English, is kicked off the team, and is friends with Raj and Dwayne again.
- Deconstructed in an episode of Cold Case. The Victim of the Week's friend wanted to be a cheerleader so badly that she allowed herself to be gang-raped as part of her "initiation" and helped cover up the murder of her friend who had found out.
- The Parent 'Hood: Zaria is offered membership in an exclusive girls' club, but she has to play a mean and embarrassing prank on a friend as her final pledge task.
- The Wayans Bros..: Shawn's encouraged by an old high school friend to join an exclusive businessmen's club. He disses Marlon, T.C., and Dupree because he feels that their lowbrow behavior would ruin his chances of getting in.
- Steve and Cedric are invited by Byron to join the exclusive Onyx Club on The Steve Harvey Show. They are accepted as members and attend the club's Casino Night. Lovita wins $10,000 in a raffle but refuses to give it to their charity as is the club's tradition. Steve and Cedric are upset because it means they could be kicked out. Lovita decides to give the check back but Steve and Cedric resign their memberships when they learn that the money would go towards getting Tiger Woods to play on their golf course. Lovita takes the money and gives it to Meals on Wheels instead.
- Subverted in Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide when a "popularity list" is created and Moze is now part of the cool kids. She finds them boring and doesn't understand their sense of humor. But when she outright says that she misses her friends, the cool kids just say that she should return to them, and there are no hard feelings about the whole thing.
- One Tree Hill: The Mouth fits this the best. He himself doesn't do something specific to become part of the popular crowd, but his friendships with Lucas and Haley get him pulled in, and he becomes close friends with popular kids like Nathan and Brooke.
- A couple of episodes of The Golden Girls featured this trope. In one, Dorothy befriends a snobbish writer who looks down on the other girls, and Dorothy assumes they are just envious until the new friend doesn't want to take Sofia's Jewish boyfriend to her bigoted club. In another, Rose falls in with a group of party animals, which creates enough friction to see her temporarily move out of the house.
- Marcia on The Brady Bunch joins every club when she reaches Senior High School, in an attempt to become instantly popular. When one club, The Boosters, tell her that she can only date certain boys, she quits and stays in the one club she liked, Ceramics.
- Suzanne Sugarbaker on Designing Women is desperate to join the Beaumont Driving Club but they refuse. Rhey wants Julia but she refuses because it's restricted. Later Anthony is invited to join but the women learn it's because they can't be a spot on the PGA Tour if they remain restricted. Anthony already knows and plans to use his position on the inside to further change the system.
- The Trope Namer song cited at the top of this page. It was first a hit for Dobie Gray in 1965, followed by a hit jazz instrumental version later that year by the Ramsey Lewis Trio.
- Does this count? Subverted: Less Than Jake released an album called "In With the Out Crowd". The album itself drifted more into a punk/indie feel rather than their traditional ska sound (playing songs that are more mainstream-esque). After pressure from their fans, they decided to go back to their roots with their next (and Word of God says last) album GNV FLA.
- Subverted and parodied in the song "¿Por qué no puedo ser del jet set?" ("Why can't I belong to the jet set?") by Argentinian group Soda Stereo, where the narrator complains about how hard he tries to be in with the in crowd.
- Defied in Sam the Sham and Pharoah's "In With the Out Crowd":
I'm in with the out crowd, but they never seem to care
if my clothes are patched and worn, or the way I wear my hair
- This is the origin of Bally's Dr. Dude. He was once a spineless nerd until he invented the EXcellent Ray to transform himself into the Guru O' Groove.
- Spongebob Squarepants played with this, by substituting "spatula" for "friend" in the episode "All That Glitters", where his old spatula breaks and he covets a shiny new one.
- Occasionally used in Kim Possible where the sidekick Ron Stoppable becomes special for the token episode. Most notable is the episode where he got 99 million dollars, deeply annoyed his few friends, got friends with some yes-sayers (and the Alpha Bitch), and lost it all due to being robbed while having all his money in his pocket. 990,000 hundred-dollar bills would be nearly ten cubic meters of paper! That's one deep pocket!
- The Simpsons:
- In "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Springfield", Marge once had a chance to become a member of a country club thanks to her thrift-store bought Chanel dress making a high school acquaintance mistake her for upper class. After it leads her to blowing up on the family she decides to not attend a party at the club, thinking they would never be accepted anyway - and ironically in the next scene, we see it was a welcome party, the Alpha Bitch of the episode hoping she didn't push her away.
- In "Homer the Great", Homer wants to join the "The Stonecutters", an ultra-secretive organization. When he finds out that he's automatically in because his father is a Stonecutter, everything goes well until he made a Fee Fi Faux Pas at the first meeting and is made to walk home naked dragging a boulder ("The Stone of Shame.") However, the club notices a birthmark on his posterior that marks him as The Chosen One, but then he finds that being the club's leader isn't all it's cracked up to be.
- In an episode of American Dad! Francine joined a clique of cheating wives.
- In the fourth season finale of The Venture Brothers, Triana reveals her friend Kim, last seen in the second season double-dating with her, Hank, and Dean, and being mistaken for a fellow villain by Dr. Girlfriend, went through this - followed by rehab, going born-again, and moving to Florida.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Played with and subverted with the episode "Sweet and Elite". When Rarity begins climbing the Canterlot social ladder, she reluctantly puts off Twilight Sparkle's birthday dress and party. But when her friends learn she wants to socialize, they actually encourage her to do so as it's good for her business. And when the Canterlot elite snub Rarity's friends, the pony at the top of the social ladder throws his support behind them.
- Played straight in "One Bad Apple" when Babs Seed joins Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon rather than the Cutie Mark Crusaders. Until we find out that she did it to avoid the bullying she'd come to Ponyville precisely to escape, and she has a Heel Realization
- The Berenstain Bears episode "The In Crowd" has Sister Bear get sick of being called a "little cub" by the older, more popular girl bears. To change things, she joins in the activities of their clique, only to find that it consists solely of standing around looking bored, listening to the same song over and over and over... the enjoyment in that wears thin rather quickly.
- Pretty much the entire premise of As Told by Ginger: Most episodes involve Ginger trying to balance her life between her new "in crowd" friends and her old "loser" friends.