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Popular Is Evil

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The Prom Queen indulging in her favorite pastime—laughing at a loser who got humiliated.

Veronica: Doesn't it bother you that everyone at this school thinks you're a piranha?
Heather Chandler: Like I give a shit. They all want me as a friend or a fuck. I'm worshipped at Westerburg, and I'm only a junior.

One of the most well-known laws of any High School fiction — if you're popular and beautiful, you're basically Satan's minions. The legions of the popular are good-looking but mean-spirited bullies who delight in tormenting the dorks and dweebs around them in despicable ways.

The popular guys are usually on the football team, sporting varsity jackets while they stuff some nerd in a locker. They could also pull down his pants to show off his “tighty-whitey” briefs, throw him in a garbage can, and call him insulting nicknames that the rest of the student body repeats.

Meanwhile, the popular girls form a Girl Posse, led by the Alpha Bitch, using their beauty to seduce guys from their girlfriends and mocking less popular girls for everything from their fashion sense to their unusual interests. They might even spread vicious rumors about their worst enemies and set them up to be humiliated, especially if they're cheerleaders and can set up a pep rally to pull a nasty prank in front of the whole school, or a sorority who can manipulate you into being alone with them.

At some point, you have to wonder how these people got popular in the first place, or if even they can even be called that since "popular" literally means "liked by many".

If there is a nice person who is part of the popular crowd, they will be revealed to be a Peer-Pressured Bully who is secretly unhappy. Because of course, even when you're friends with the popular kids, they're not really your friends, always pushing you to be mean or do bad stuff, and threatening to ruin your life if you don't comply.

The good guys in these stories are usually the unpopular kids, who eventually get fed up with being treated like trash and overthrow the popular kids to free the school of their tyranny. If one of the unpopular kids becomes popular, they will snub and maybe even bully their old dorky friends, either from Acquired Situational Narcissism or out of pressure from their new cool friends. Once they fall out with the popular crowd, they will revert back to their kind, good-natured self. In fact, many cool kids who become unpopular in fiction end up becoming much nice and happier as a result; the moral of some stories could be summed up as "Popularity corrupts people, so it's better to be a loser."

This may be because of a Popularity Cycle - because popularity is ephemeral, you have to be the scariest of the bunch to stay on top. It could also stem from Write What You Know. A lot of people who end up in creative roles were low on the popularity totem pole during their high school years and often project their resentment about being looked down on into their adult creations.

Stunts the popular kids will pull are things like It's a Costume Party, I Swear!, Prank Date, Party Scheduling Gambit, Instant Humiliation Just Add Youtube, "Kick Me" Prank, and too many others to list. They'll be the Carload of Cool Kids, or the Snobs on the Slobs vs. Snobs.

For types of evil popular characters, see Big Jerk on Campus, Jerk Jock, Alpha Bitch, Academic Alpha Bitch, Girl Posse, and Cruel Cheerleader. Contrast Lovable Jock, Spoiled Sweet, Big Man on Campus, Pom-Pom Girl and Class Princess, who are popular and nice.

Compare Popular Is Dumb, which can overlap with this trope, but mean and stupid are two different things.

Examples of the trope:

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    Asian Animation 
  • BoBoiBoy: Downplayed and subverted. Fang developed a band of admirers during his first 6 months at school, but was too arrogant to make friends. He isn't happy when it appears that BoBoiBoy is more popular than him. It was his quest for popularity that temporarily got him tangled with the show's villains when they promised that he'd be more popular if he did a task for them (though he was unaware they were evil). Fang would gradually warm up to BoBoiBoy and his friends later on, and he now seems less obsessed about being more popular than BoBoiBoy.

    Comic Books 
  • The Chronicles of Wormwood: Early in the story, Danny is faced with an obnoxious journalist. Wondering what it was that drove her to be that way, he delves into her mind... and finds a memory of the journalist in high school, reduced to tears while picking up her school things from the ground and being mocked by other students. Unfortunately, when he reads people's minds it also brings up that memory for them. The interview ends right there, with Danny feeling appropriately guilty.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 13 Going on 30: It's revealed that Jenna became mean and stuck-up after she finally reached her goal of joining the Girl Posse at school.
  • Heathers: Played straight and downplayed each with half the school's Girl Posse. The leader, Heather Chandler and her successor Heather Duke, can only be described as evil incarnate. The other half, Heather McNamara and Veronica Swayer, are nice deep down, but they are pressured to be mean and are secretly deeply unhappy, despite being popular.
  • Jawbreaker: The three surviving members of the Girl Posse at Reagan High were constantly shown to be shallow, vapid and cruel, until one Took a Level in Kindness after they accidentally killed their only nice member. The other two go so far as to cover up the manslaughter, and even bribe a dork with a makeover to buy her silence. Of course, in compliance with the laws of this trope, said dork becomes a bitch soon after her new look wins her popularity.
  • The most iconic example of this trope is Mean Girls. The Girl Posse is shown to belittle others behind their back, set them up to get in trouble with their parents, and lie to and manipulate even each other. Janis convinces Cady to go undercover to sabotage Regina, but when Regina falls from grace, the other two Plastics look to her for leadership, seeing her as their new Alpha Bitch. The power shift goes to her head and she turns into Regina's double. Actually, the film also subverts this with Janis. Even though she is one of the school outcasts, she is shown to be just as bad as Regina, manipulating Cady to use her against Regina in her revenge plot.
  • Minutemen: The protagonist, Virgil, was originally good friends with Derek and Stephanie, two of the most popular kids in school. However, after suffering humiliation on the first day, he drifted apart from them and fell in with the nerd crowd. His time-traveling heroics makes him become friends with them again, and though Stephanie is still a good person and treats him kindly throughout the film, Derek became a Jerkass who cheats on Stephanie, and is eventually revealed to have backstabbed Virgil on the first day of school. Virgil himself briefly gets Acquired Situational Narcissism when he becomes friends with them again. Meanwhile, one of his nerd friends, Chester, becomes a jerk when he gets saved from "The Snowsuit Guys" and brags about it, looking down on Virgil and their other friend Charlie...who happen to be the ones who saved him.
  • Romy and Michele's High School Reunion: All the popular kids used to make fun of Romy and Michele back then, from the Girl Posse to the Jerk Jock that ditched Romy waiting for a dance with him. The only exception was Lisa Luder, who showed signs of being nice but was peer pressured into compliance with Christie. Once she lost touch with her high school friends, she grew up to be a good person and finally sticks it to Christie at the reunion.

  • Carrie: Perhaps the most infamous of this trope. The popular girls, led by Chris Hargensen, are so ruthless and cruel, they’re not satisfied with scarring Carrie for life in the locker room, throwing tampons and pads at her when she got her period and chanting “plug it up” over and over. No, they have to take to really that Moral Event Horizon and devastate her in front of the whole school at prom by rigging the votes to get her announced prom queen, then dumping a bucket of pig’s blood on her right after she’s crowned. After that, it’s really hard to feel sorry for those girls when they die brutal deaths at Carrie’s hands.
  • Zig-zagged in Dark Angel. Gillian comes to realize a lot of the popular kids at her school are shallow, backstabbing and self-absorbed jerks who are only even nice to each other when it suits them. Angel encourages Gillian to be ruthless when trying get In with the In Crowd. However, Gillian also discovers a few of the popular kids aren't bad people and have Hidden Depths. When Gillian stops pursuing popularity, she says she would still enjoy hanging out with a few of them and comes to regard one girl as a genuine friend, but isn't that bothered about the rest. Gillian is surprised that despite her popularity, no one truly likes Tanya much; conversely, David is also popular and is genuinely liked by almost everyone for his kindness and approachability.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock: Subverted in "Reunion". Liz considered herself a Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold in high school who coped with harassment by the Alpha Bitch and her posse by making witty remarks. At her reunion, she discovers that her constant put downs had actually caused everyone at her school to see her as The Bully and hate her. Meanwhile, the supposed Alpha Bitch was actually a nice person who tried to reach out and befriend her (turns out her friendliness was actually why she was so popular in the first place). She even had to go therapy to cope with the emotional abuse Liz inflicted on her.
  • The Brady Bunch: After getting voted Most Popular Girl in the yearbook, Jan lets the achievement get to her head and acts better than the people she bribed to vote for her.
  • Cold Case:
    • Played With with each Girl Posse member in “The Sleepover”. Brandi, the Alpha Bitch, has a vicious streak, but it’s not hard to see why when you meet her parents, who force her brother to nearly drown her as punishment for having friends over. Tiffany, the Beta Bitch, is rude towards the victim, but only because her dad was having an affair with the victim’s mom, and later has Jerkass Realization. Ariel, who was the victim’s best friend before joining the clique, and the only seemingly Nice Girl of the group, invited her to the slumber party in hopes of getting her In with the In Crowd, only to murder her when Brandi blamed them for ruining the sleepover and kicked Ariel out of the popular crowd.
    • In episode "Stand Up and Holler", Celeste Church had let her friend Rainey Karlsen to die, since she wanted to be accepted in the cheerleading squad headed by Becca Abrams, who had earlier poisoned Rainey.
  • In almost every Disney Channel show, the protagonist is a loser at worst and middle ground at best, and the popular kids are always the villains of their stories.
    • A.N.T. Farm: Lexi Reed was a real bitch to the ANTs long before Chyna came along and took her spot as the most musically talented girl in school, earning her jealousy and her ire.
    • Hannah Montana may be a pop princess onstage, but as Miley Stewart, she and her friend Lily are at the bottom of the social pyramid, with their mean girl rivals Amber and Ashley at the top. The two Alpha Bitches even set up a list to get Miley and Lily put at the bottom, making everyone shun them to not get associated with their unpopularity.
      • In one episode, Miley wishes that she was "all Hannah, all the time", and must live in her new life. One of the awful changes is that her best friend Lily no longer knows who she is, and without Miley around, became part of Amber and Ashley's Girl Posse. Thus, the girl who, in reality, is a kind-hearted loner, became another mean girl.
    • Jessie:
      • Jessie has stories about her tussles with mean girls in high school, specifically Darla, who would grow up to become her stepsister.
      • Subverted and played straight in the episode "Make New Friends But Hide the Old". Emma and her friends are popular at school, while still being sweet and true friends to each other. Then along comes Brin Brightbart, who tries to out Emma from the group and assert herself as the leader to become popular.
    • Lizzie McGuire and her friend Miranda are always the subject of ridicule from their former friend Kate and her Girl Posse of cheerleaders.
    • Not even guys are immune to this on Disney Channel. In the pilot episode of The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, the Drew Crew, which is a Gender Flip of the Alpha Bitch and her Girl Posse, take advantage of the twins' desperation to fit in with them so they can enjoy the perks of the luxury hotel the twins live in.
    • That's So Raven: Raven's psychic abilities can't protect her from harassment and humiliation at the hands of Alana, and later Bianca.
    • Wizards of Waverly Place: Alex occasionally tussles with GiGi, who's constantly trying to one-up Alex and humiliate her.
  • Glee: Played With. This trope can be played straight or subverted, depending on the character.
    • Quinn, Santana and Brittany's worst sides always come out when they're at their most popular and secure in the cheer squad. In contrast, they're always much nicer when their popularity declines.
    • Finn is zig-zagged. He has done some questionable things to keep his popularity in earlier seasons, but most of the time, he's his best self when his popularity is peaked.
    • Finn's football teammates who are also in glee club are still pretty popular, while still being friendly with the less popular members of glee.
    • Other characters have become popular for a short stint. While they haven't become mean, they ultimately decide that popularity doesn't make them happy, and go back to how it was before.

    Web Animation 
  • Popular Is Evil: The male antagonists are usually obsessed with maintaining popularity, looking down on the lesser ones, especially Keiichi or whenever the heroines look plain. Similarly, the female antagonists are only interested in the most popular one so they can get more money and materialistic wealth from him. This is sometimes inverted when it's the heroine who's popular: either she is a Class Princess who never lets her popularity get in the way of common sense, or she learns the hard way how her attitude damages her standing and decides to make amends.
  • The Most Popular Girls in School: From the cheerleading squad to the Van Buren sisters, all of Overland Park's most popular girls are all vicious, catty, backstabbing, manipulative, and superficial. Alpha Bitches Mackenzie Zales and her rival Shay Van Buren are downright Sociopaths who have even committed crimes in order to maintain their status, and Brittany has a Hair-Trigger Temper that, when provoked, sends her on a rampage that would put the Hulk to shame.

    Western Animation 
  • American Dad!:
    • All of the popular kids at Steve's high school are pretty much only there to give him adversity, from the brutal bullies giving him swirlies to the cheerleaders who reject and ridicule him.
    • In "Mean Francine", Francine becomes a guidance counselor at Steve's school. Then, driven by memories of her own school experience, she manages to get on the good side of the meanest girls in the school, and her newfound popularity corrupts her to the point where she picks on Steve, her own son.
  • Amphibia: Sasha Waybright is a Toxic Friend Influence on Anne. Her drive to be the best and have everyone kiss her feet carries from junior high to the new dimension, where she teams up with the Big Bad who captured her and seeks to conquer the world at his side. Her competitiveness and need to be in the spotlight is so strong that most of the time, he follows her lead instead of the other way around.
  • Brace Face: Queen bee Nina Harper is so spiteful and vengeful that she has been nursing a grudge against her former friend Sharon since second grade over something as small as broken toys. Even back then, she didn't even give Sharon the benefit of the doubt. She automatically assumed Sharon was the guilty party and shunned her ever since.
    • Alison used to be Nina's Beta Bitch, before she met and developed a friendship with the nerdy Conner. After Nina forced her to choose, Alison chose Conner and his friends, and since then has been seen as sweet and lovable.
  • Danny Phantom: The popular crowd at Amity Park High lives to torment and humiliate Danny and his friends. Mostly, it's just Jerk Jock Dash Baxter who makes Danny's life at school hell, but occasionally, Paulina and their popular friends join in. Valerie herself was a member of Paulina's Girl Posse in the beginning, and was quite spoiled and entitled. When she fell out with her popular friends, she became much more humble and even went on to become an Anti-Hero and Danny's love interest.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: Three out of four of the cool kids at Timmy's elementary school are Rich Bitches and Bastards. Veronica, the bottom of their clique, might be a good person, but it's too hard to tell when her life envy of Trixie has her bordering on Axe-Crazy.
  • Family Guy:
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: The Crust Cousins are some of the most popular girls in school, as well as the meanest. This trope is lampshaded by Brad in the episode that introduces them.