(March 22, 2023). It turns out being arrested—if it happens—won’t be the only first that former president Donald J. Trump can claim this week.
The “song” he recorded in collaboration with a group of people incarcerated for their roles in the January 6, 2021 insurrection—billed as the J6 Prison Choir—debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s latest Digital Song Sales chart (dated March 25), after being released to digital download stores (e.g., Apple’s iTunes) on March 10.
In its first seven days, the song “Justice For All,” in which the prisoners sing “The Star Spangled Banner” over an ominous musical note interspersed with Trump reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, sold more than 33,000 downloads—or twice the number of purchases of Miley Cyrus’ mega hit “Flowers,” which sold 10,400 copies last week.
But unlike “Flowers,” which tops the all-inclusive, multi-metric Hot 100 chart for a seventh week, “Justice For All” is nowhere to be found on that more important list (more on that in a moment).
Still, 45’s crowning on Digital Song Sales is the first time a U.S. president has topped that chart in its 19-year history. It’s also a first No. 1 for a U.S. president on any Billboard chart that this blogger is aware of…of course, research is needed to verify this since the music trade publication has charted everything from records and songs to non-music related videocassettes and DVDs over its long history).
While Trump may always own that first-time digital distinction, something his supporters (and his campaign) will almost certainly leverage for bragging rights and marketing purposes for months to come, the fact that “Justice For All”—released in multiple formats beyond iTunes, including on streaming platforms and on (expensive) vinyl—failed to register enough streams and sales to make the Hot 100 is telling, both for the formerly robust digital download market and for the former president.
No. 1 in a digital market that is a shell of its old self
First, sales of song downloads have plummeted in the past eleven years—since they peaked in 2012 before streaming took over. According to a recent Billboard recap (issue dated March 11), digital track sales have tanked by 88.6% from 1.3 billion in 2012 to 152 million last year.
Downloads have fallen so hard that the desktop version of Apple Music’s homepage positions the iTunes Store—once the company’s flagship, musically speaking, (and where Trump’s No. 1 digital download ranking is rooted)—halfway down the page (with its streaming platform now top center).
As another indicator, Miley’s “Flowers,” which only sold 10,000 downloads at a digital store where a No. 1 song normally sold more than 200,000 units in a single week during the early iTunes era, is the No. 1 single in the country (on the Hot 100) because of its multi-metric success, including having ranked at No. 1 in all three key components—streaming, sales and radio play—over its two months on the market.
In short, Trump having the No. 1 downloaded song in the country on iTunes—with just 33,000 units sold—is the musical equivalent of Levi Strauss selling the most pairs of skinny jeans in 2023, it just doesn’t mean much.
Downloads were essentially it for Trump’s tune
Trump’s “Justice For All” didn’t even rank among the 200 most-streamed songs during its first week, according to Billboard’s data provider, Luminate. The song only registered 368,000 clicks on Spotify in the first seven days (today’s biggest hits see tens of millions of streams in a week’s time). Its official video only had 41,000 views on YouTube during that same period (an unofficial upload of the song has been viewed over 500,000 times but that figure—which is better but still low for a man of Trump’s stature—doesn’t count toward the chart calculation given its user-generated status).
Those low official streaming numbers weren’t enough—when combined with the modest 33,000 paid downloads for “Justice For All”—to kick it onto the Hot 100.
Not even the song’s vinyl availability was able to help its cause. Of course, a hefty price tag may have had something to do with that outcome.
Vinyl versions of the two-minute-long “Justice For All” are available for $99.99, $149.99, and $199.99 on the J6 Prison Choir’s website, with proceeds from the song’s sales reportedly benefiting their family members (except for those convicted of assaulting police officers, the song’s propaganda says). I’ll lay my money on those proceeds going to a different legal fund if Trump gets indicted.
‘The Star Spangled Banner’ is historically not viral chart material
In fairness, few renditions of “The Star Spangled Banner”—which “Justice For All” largely is—have been able to make big chart impressions during the Hot 100’s 64-and-a-half-year history.
Whitney Houston’s 1991 recording, unsurprisingly, is the chart’s best performer (No. 20 peak in its original release and No. 6 in 2001 following the 9/11 attacks). It remains the only other version (besides Trump’s new song) that has topped a sales-based component chart (ranking at No. 1 on Hot 100 Singles Sales for six weeks in 2001, which, along with high radio play, contributed to its No. 6 peak on the overall Hot 100 chart).
While “Justice For All” was embraced by Trump’s ardent supporters, especially the 33,000 people who spent $1.29 to own a digital version of the “choral tune,” it’s hardly the unifier that Whitney’s non-political “Star Spangled Banner” was in both its incarnations (in the wake of the first Gulf War and later the nation’s worst domestic terrorist attack).
The low quality of the recording—Trump did his recitation of The Pledge of Allegiance at his Mar a Lago compound while the J6 Choir recorded their take on the National Anthem from prison phones— makes it less likely a candidate for any kind of significant radio play.
The Trump tune has also been largely criticized as a disinformation tactic and labeled narcissistic by 45’s critics (and with the former president having declared his candidacy for reelection in 2024, one can hardly deny that his recording is political in nature).
One thing’s apparent, there is no middle ground when it comes to the former president. Nearly all of the reviews of “Justice For All” on iTunes received either one or five stars (more fives than ones), with no reviews of 2, 3 or 4 stars visible on the platform.
That says you either love him or you hate him, and no song will change that. Either way, “Justice For All”—dubious chart history-maker that it is—will likely be a non-factor in about a week’s time (it’s already trending below Miley’s “Flowers” in Week 2, suggesting its first-week triumph was based on diehard fan support or mere curiosity).
Unless, of course, that other first happens this week, then all bets are off!
Resisting the urge to call DJT an indie artist, DJRob (he/him/his) is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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Disclaimer: Djrobblog is a non-political music blog/website. The fact that Donald Trump released a song that tops a Billboard chart this week makes him, the song, and related news fair game for coverage here.