The Interesting Backstory Behind The NYE Times Square Ball Drop

The Times Square ball drop celebration has been around for over 100 years. The tradition began in 1907 and has evolved quite a bit since then.

The ball itself has grown in size and has been transformed over the years to become the 12-foot-diameter ball of LED lights it is today. And this year, the person leading the countdown to the new year is Tarana Burke, the founder of the #MeToo movement.

Burke was selected to lead us into 2018 because of the impact she had in 2017. According to an official press release, “New Year’s is a time when we look at the most significant cultural and political moments of the last year, when we look for inspiration by honoring and giving a global platform to those who have made a difference,” said Tim Tompkins, President of the Times Square Alliance.

“Tarana Burke’s courage and foresight have changed the world this year, and, we hope, forever. We are honored to have her be part of the 2018 New Year’s celebration.”

Tarana Burke photo
Getty Images | Aaron Thornton

Burke founded Just Be Inc., and created the Me Too Movement, in 2006 to provide support to victims of sexual harassment and assault. In the year 2017, the #MeToo hashtag became widely used, particularly after the allegations against Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and others came to light.

So in many ways, it’s clear why Burke was selected to push the Waterford crystal button that initiates the ball drop as we transition from 2017 to 2018. But what is the actual selection process like? Well, it has a lot to do with who was a “mover and shaker” throughout the year.

The Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance is the non-profit organization behind the upkeep, activities and promotion surrounding Times Square. The organization, along with Countdown Entertainment, co-organizes the Ball Drop and selects the Special Guest each year. A spokesperson filled us in on what they consider before choosing a candidate for each NYE celebration:

“Many people are part of the process to select the Times Square New Year’s Eve Special Guest. New Year’s Eve is a time of reflection and renewal, and as we prepare for the celebration in Times Square we reflect and consider a combination of something or someone significant from the past year along with a message that will inspire people for the New Year to come.”

And according to a press release, they’re proud to have Burke perform the honors this year.

“We are very proud to highlight Tarana Burke and the important movement she began,” said Jeff Straus, President of Countdown Entertainment, in a press release. “As the world joins together to welcome 2018, we are inspired as Tarana will lead our countdown and represent our commitment to continue to stand together and support each other in the upcoming year.”

The Guest List

Previous guests have included a range of incredible people including former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Christopher Reeve and Lady Gaga.

Muhammad Ali was selected to ring in 2001, despite retiring from boxing much earlier. But his athletic achievements are only part of what landed him the Special Guest spot. According to a press release, at the time, the Times Square Alliance chose him because of his representation of what a New Year could bring: courage, outreach and more.

Christopher Reeve, meanwhile, the actor who played Superman, was selected to bring in the year 2003 along with his wife, Dana. They were selected because of their “combined strength and courage,” Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Business Improvement District, told The Intelligencer back in 2002. Reeve had been in a horse-riding accident that left him paralyzed from the neck down in 1995, and was a major activist for spinal cord research after the fact.

Christopher Reeve times square ball drop photo
Getty Images | Mark Mainz

Bill and Hillary Clinton appeared to drop the NYE ball and ring in 2009. 2008 had been a hard year financially, but with Hillary set to be a member of the newly elected Barack Obama’s administration, citizens had a glimmer of hope for the New Year. “The worst part of last year was probably trying to get through financially,” one Times Square NYE celebration attendee told NBC News back in 2008. “I’m not worried about what I lost. I’m going to be looking to the future.”

Hillary Clinton times square ball drop photo
Getty Images | Jemal Countess

Tune In On New Year’s Eve

If you can’t make it to Times Square to catch the action in person, you can still tune in to watch the Ball Drop happen live. You can catch an online stream through the Time Square Alliance website. The live stream begins at 5 p.m. ET on Dec. 31.

Count down along with Burke as we ring in 2018!