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Popularity Cycle

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The Un Favourite, Parental Favoritism, and The Beautiful Elite are regarded as static tropes, and often they are. But a lot of things are cyclical, and love or popularity can frequently be portrayed as fleeting. This is a setting where characters go through periods of being beloved before falling from grace. While this may be considered a favorite tactic of an Alpha Bitch or even a School Idol, it is not limited to school settings and can also be seen with any despotic or bullying environment, such as in cults or where Abusive Parents or royal favorites are involved.

There tend to be two flavors of the trope, although they are not always separate:

  • Plot or setting-based. Whether it's a Standard Royal Court, a Decadent Court, or a Popularity Food Chain, this environment is a horrible place and it's destined to drive people apart. It probably overlaps with Popular Is Dumb, where the popular/upper class are extremely gullible and will flip between groupthink-like opinions on any one person or situation. Chronic Backstabbing Disorder is often planted and nurtured, because Popular Is Evil and only the meanest and most aggressive individuals manage to get to the top and stay there. Essentially, this is a horrible environment where your time is limited, so you'd better make it count. This is especially common with characters who are famous in-universe.
  • Character-based. Whether from Acquired Situational Narcissism (or just plain narcissism on either end, these characters get sick of people quickly. Maybe it's because popularity changes people. Or maybe it's because the popular person is such a narcissist that for them, Wanting Is Better Than Having. The minute they've elevated someone, they are quickly bored and will replace them with someone else.

An in-universe type of Hollywood Hype Machine, where the hype builds around a single individual until growing bored of them and disposing of them, may be involved. This is a frequent Aesop of Pride Before a Fall, or backstory for a Fallen Princess or Former Friend of Alpha Bitch, and a common fate of the Beta Bitch. However, it is not simply enough for one person to fall from grace. Someone must replace them, usually with the implication that they too will fall from grace eventually. This is a common form for Divide and Conquer, and is usually the opposite of Defeat Means Friendship. The inverse is Undying Loyalty.

Expect more sympathetic examples who do this to be a victim of the Treacherous Advisor. Whatever way round it happens, this is usually given as a reason for Lonely at the Top, as it is built on the idea that there's limited room at the top for anyone. And expect Here We Go Again! to play a major component.

Not to be confused with Fandom Life Cycle or with Popularity Polynomial, which is the same concept applied out of universe to pop culture. Compare to It's Popular, Now It Sucks!, which may be related when that trope is discussed in-universe and applied to a person. Contrast Cyclic Trope, when the thing that cycles around is the trope itself.


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     Film - Live-Action 
  • Black Swan: It is emphasized over and over that only one dancer can be top of Thomas's estimation for any period of time and, due to the physical and time pressures on ballerinas, it's always a fairly short time. At first it's Beth, but when she grows too old and is forced to quit, Thomas completely abandons her, and causes her to go the way of Went Crazy When They Left, ultimately smashing her own leg in to be free of her own ambition. Nina then fights her way into Thomas's affections to win the role of the Swan Queen, but is almost immediately threatened by her alternate Lily, who Thomas constantly contrasts with the uptight Nina. When Nina finally gives a brilliant performance, Thomas calls her his "little princess", his nickname for Beth, highlighting that she's taken on Beth's role - and it may end the same way unless it really was just a Dying Dream.
  • The Death of Stalin: Stalin's court is a classic example, with factions flocking behind whomever they find most convenient or seems to be ahead. Beria appears to be winning out because he has so much dirt on everyone...but this actually condemns him to die because He Knows Too Much (and everyone else is disgusted by the fact that he's a rapist of underage girls). Khrushchev ultimately wins and becomes the new Premier, but the film ends with him being suspiciously eyed by people at the table, and the closing credits reveal Khrushchev himself eventually fell from grace and was exiled.
  • The Discovery: Invoked. Thomas's group borders on being a cult that is trying to record the afterlife. When Broken Bird Lacey tells people that their machine didn't record anything, Thomas throws her out and switches his attention to Isla. It backfires on him, as the devastated Lacey returns later and shoots Isla, thinking that if she killed Isla, she could have her place back.
  • The Favourite:
    • Anne is completely besotted with Sarah before meeting Abigail. Abigail usurps Sarah's place, takes her privileges, and essentially replaces Sarah because she doesn't put any of Sarah's restrictions on Anne. Anne comes to regret it, but by then, it's too late.
    • Abigail is also a downplayed version, as she love bombs both Anne and Masham. The minute she gets them, though, she loses interest in both as she feels she can't get any more from them. It's ultimately left ambiguous whether she is a Gold Digger or she decided Wanting Is Better Than Having.
  • Suspiria (2018): This is how the Markoz Tanz Company or at least the coven part works. The teachers pick a favorite who they use for their spells in exchange for better dance skills before torturing and draining them. This is shown as happening to Patricia, and after Patricia's disappearance, they pick Susie out to be the next victim. But Susie is Mother Suspiriorum.
  • Mean Girls: What initially turns out to be a school ruled by alpha bitches is actually part of a larger cycle in which former friends fractured into various levels of popularity

  • In Astrid Lindgren's Britt Mari Pours Out Her Heart, Alpha Bitch Mariann picks a new "friend" every day to make fun of the rest of the class (eventually, she gets better).
  • The Circle (2013): Lovable Alpha Bitch Annie brings self-confessed nobody Mae into The Circle. Mae grows annoyed with how often Annie is described as being 'the greatest'. However, when Annie starts to suffer from burnout due to her insanely long days, Mae moves up. The final nail in the coffin for this turnaround is when Annie tries to recapture her reputation by entering an invasive history project...which only proves that she was a descendant of slaveowners. This leads to her ultimately falling into a Convenient Coma, possibly having been Driven to Suicide, while Mae becomes one of The Circle's de facto leaders.
  • In The Old Nurse's Stocking-Basket by Eleanor Farjeon, one of the old nurse's charges, way back in Ancient Greece, had two brothers and spent more time with one of them one day and with the other the next.
  • Gone Girl:
    • Amy's friendships are characterized by this. She'll be obsessed with someone (even platonically), until she grows annoyed by them not indulging her narcissism. At this point, she'll frame them for any crime between stalking to kidnapping and rape to punish them and cause them to be despised by those around them.
    • Nick himself is not immune. His and Amy's marriage may have been an Awful Wedded Life, but once he gets an actual chance to be with Andie — who he has regarded as his source of happiness — after Amy's disappearance, Amy suddenly compares much more favorably to Andie.
  • Harry Potter: Whether Harry's the most popular student in school, the most hated, or just some guy varies greatly over the course of the series. He's a celebrity for something that happened when he was a baby, and he's generally well-liked and a great Quidditch player, but plot-related drama wreaks havoc on his social life, over matters ranging from petty (being out of bed at night costs Gryffindor tons of House points and he's shunned over this for weeks) to serious (he's suspected of being the one attacking students and many fear the attacks will become outright murder soon). Harry greatly prefers being regarded as just "some guy," since that's all he considers himself to be.
  • In the third Nevermoor book, Ezra Squall tells Morrigan that the Wundrous Society will do this, expecting her to show absolute loyalty to them and be a hero when they need one, but not hesitate to throw her under the bus and treat her like garbage when it suits them. Despite not being overly thrilled with Wunsoc politics by this point, she brushes him off since, well, it's Ezra Squall saying it. However, in this particular case, it turns out that Villain Has a Point. Despite Morrigan being a gifted student and working tirelessly to fulfill her duties as a Wunsoc member, the Elders don't hesitate to out her as a Wundersmith to the general public, thus painting a target on her back, for their own reasons.
  • You (2015): Beck describes this as her problem in romantic relationships: that, as soon as she gets someone, she immediately loses interest in them. Joe observes this happening when he orchestrates a way back into Beck's life because Beck says she missed him, their relationship lasts a couple of blissfully perfect weeks, and then Beck cools off on him and starts cheating on him with Dr Nicky, only to get sick of him as soon as he leaves his wife.
  • The Scholomance:
    • El begins the series as a loser indie kid that many believe is an incompetent maleficer. Her popularity rises and stabilizes to normal indie kid thanks to her strong connection to Orion by the end of the first book. It's during the second book that her popularity starts varying all over the place, after the school throws her into numerous situations that force her to finally reveal to her classmates how powerful she really is.
    • Normally, enclavers are consistently at the top of the heap, as most indie students dream of becoming a part of an enclave after their schooling since it means more safety from mals, access to more mana and other resources, and their own children becoming enclavers when they enter the Scholomance and having all the associated privileges. The Bangkok enclavers were no different — until the second book, when the recently-arrived freshmen revealed that the Bangkok enclave had been destroyed a few weeks before Induction, meaning that said enclavers were no longer enclavers and instead indie kids like everyone else. When El learns this, she realizes the reason why Sudarat, the enclave freshman girl in her homeroom, was initially ostracized by her other freshmen classmates wasn't because they didn't know she was from the Bangkok enclave, but rather because they did, and knew she didn't have anything to offer anymore.

  • This situation is the topic of Eagles song, "New Kid in Town."
    There's talk on the street; it's there to remind you
    It doesn't really matter which side you're on.
    You're walking away and they're talking behind you.
    They will never forget you till somebody new comes along.
    Where you been lately? There's a new kid in town.
    Everybody loves him, don't they?
    And he's holding her, and you're still around.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Mad Men: Don's romantic relationships are characterized by this, by everyone except Rachel (who turns him down herself). He has relationships with a series of women (Mitch, Bobbi, Suzanne, Faye) then chooses someone else over them. He marries Megan, which appears to be much more successful...for a while. Invariably, the pattern repeats, and he has an affair with his downstairs neighbor. Faye, who is a psychotherapist, calls him out on this.
    Don: I met someone, and we're engaged.
    Faye: I hope she knows you only like the beginning of things.
  • Shameless (US): Frank treats his family and the people around him this way, favoring those who are willing to help him out the most. Initially, Debbie is his favorite due to her unconditional love for him. However, she turns on him after he destroys her school project and shows no remorse. Carl then becomes Frank's favorite due to his hero worship of his dad. When Frank needs a new liver, he turns to Sammi his long lost daughter. Sammi takes the role of Frank's favorite, but he gets bored of her because she's too needy. Sammi doesn't take this well and eventually shoots Frank so he will be dependent on her.
  • In Succession: This is regarded as Logan's MO by all familiar with his methods:
    • He chooses a favorite (in Season 2, it's Rhea; Gerri is a past example) who can do no wrong before inevitably casting them aside when he gets bored with them — or even just when he gets them, as Shiv learns when he flatters her into joining Waystar-Royco before losing interest in her. Marcia is smart enough to call him out on this and his infatuation with Rhea — which is over before the end of the season because she doesn't drink — is what pushes her to leave him.
    • This is also one of Logan's favorite methods of "parenting" the kids that work with him. He promises Kendall the top job, but mobilizes Roman and the board as best he could against him when it poses a threat to him. He then promises Shiv his job, but loses interest. He even briefly promises Greg advancement to get an advantage over his brother Ewan. Shiv then tries to reassert herself by telling the Pierces she would be the successor, which drives Logan against her and compels him to name his usual least favorite, Roman, as his successor after Kendall appeared to take the fall for the cruise ship scandals.

  • Antony and Cleopatra: Both Antony and Cleopatra are guilty of this. It gets lampshaded by Cleopatra, who is disappointed in Antony's lack of apparent grief for his first wife, Fulvia, whom he claimed to love. Later, Cleopatra's maid Charmian calls her out on claiming that she did not love Caesar as much, snarking that Cleopatra said the exact same compliments about Caesar.
    Cleopatra: Excellent falsehood!
    Why did he marry Fulvia, and not love her?
    I'll seem the fool I am not; Antony
    Will be himself.

  • This is the thesis of "The World According to Chris" in the musical version of Carrie: that someone's "on top" and someone's "below" and you have to punch down at them or risk becoming like them.

    Video Game 
  • Emperor: Battle for Dune: Baron Rakan Harkonnen has two sons, Gunseng and Copec, both of whom are scheming evil na-Barons who want to be the next baron. In order to make sure they do not unite against him, Rakan frequently switches favorites between the two in public to keep them fighting. Ultimately, Rakan sends Gunseng to Arrakis to weaken his position at court, and is promptly poisoned by Copec.

    Western Animation 
  • BoJack Horseman:
    • Sarah Lynn spent many years as the hottest pop star, but once she hits her thirties, the Hollywood press pretends she doesn't exist and instead praises a younger successor, the rising fourteeen-year-old pop star Sextina Aquafina.
    • In "Escape to L.A.," when BoJack first meets Penny, her best friend is Allison Fieri. After a two-month Time Skip, not only has Penny made Maddy her new best friend, she denies ever having been friends with Allison when Maddy judgmentally asks about it.