President Trump likes nicknames and Elton John. Those two facts collided this week when Trump dubbed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man,” in what most believe is an obvious reference to John’s 1972 hit of the same name.
Trump first labeled Kim, whose country has ratcheted up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program in recent months, in a tweet on Sunday.
The president then doubled down on the sobriquet Tuesday during his first address to the U.N. General Assembly.
“The United States has great strength and patience, but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said. “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.”
From “Crooked Hillary” (that would be former secretary of state Hillary Clinton) to “Lyin’ Ted” (that’s Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas), Trump has a well-documented fondness for name-calling, especially when it comes to his political enemies. But “Rocket Man” doesn’t have quite the same negative ring as “crooked” or “lyin’.” Rocket Man actually sounds like a comic book hero.
So where did the name come from, besides the obvious (Kim is trying to build rockets)?
During the 2016 campaign, “Rocket Man” was a go-to crowd-pleaser at more than a few of Trump’s presidential rallies. In fact, John’s hit was played so many times that the singer himself weighed in. He told the Guardian that he hadn’t given then-candidate Trump permission to use any of his songs.
“I don’t really want my music to be involved in anything to do with an American election campaign. I’m British,” John said. “I’ve met Donald Trump, he was very nice to me, it’s nothing personal, his political views are his own, mine are very different, I’m not a Republican in a million years.” John then suggested (complete with expletives) that Trump call on Ted Nugent. Adding rocket fuel (sorry) to the fire, John reportedly referred to Trump as “a barbarian” while performing at a fundraiser for Clinton.
None of that stopped John’s songs from being played in heavy rotation at Trump rallies (“Tiny Dancer” was also a fave). After the election was won, Anthony Scaramucci, then a member of the presidential transition team, told the BBC, “Elton John is going to be doing our concert on the Mall for the inauguration.”
But apparently no one bothered to tell the Grammy winner.
“He will NOT be performing at Trump’s Inauguration!” wrote John’s publicist Fran Curtis in an email to CNN at the time. Case closed.
But Trump still clearly has “Rocket Man” — a ballad about an astronaut blasting off to live alone on Mars — on the brain.
According to NBC national correspondent Peter Alexander, the name was all the president’s. Trump aides told Alexander that the boss “doesn’t need help in the branding department.”
And Twitter doesn’t need help taking a meme and running with it.