The BTS Meal – a new collaboration between K-pop child star, BTS, and American fast food’s timeless older brother, McDonald’s – launched in the United States on May 26 and consisted of 10 chicken nuggets, two sauces, medium fries and a medium cola.
You could think of BTS Meal as a cheesy marketing tactic to sell pre-existing menu items at a higher markup. On closer inspection, however, this glorified 10-piece Korean meal combo signals more than just flavors of chili and Cajun. McDonald’s BTS Meal is a unique story of fans, the music industry and globalization.
Over the past year, BTS has taken the Western market by storm. Their hit English single, “Butter,” set five new Guinness World Records, surpassing “Dynamite” for the most views on a music video premiere on YouTube – 3.9 million concurrent viewers. Several months ago, BTS made Grammy history as the first K-pop group nominated for Best Pop Performance Duo / Group. They were also the first K-pop group to debut atop Billboard’s Hot 100.
Of course, fans – called ARMY – are the engines of BTS ‘global success. But how did a genuinely K-pop group manage to gain attention in a distinctive sounding American hip-hop market? I’m not a K-pop expert, so I decided to turn to Victoria Chan, music lover and fellow writer at Daily Trojan Horse, who has followed BTS since its inception.
According to Chan, BTS’s music is catchy, but it’s not the main ingredient in the group’s success.
âWhat sets BTS apart from American artists is the personal connection they make with fans,â Chan said. âIf you’ve seen them on Korean variety shows and interviews, they’re super genuine, humble, and extremely funny. You can just watch a snippet of it on YouTube or on TV and immediately feel happier.
The experiences of other BTS listeners support Victoria’s point of view. In an interview with SF GATE, psychiatric nurse practitioner Carolain Peregrino noted BTS’s impact on helping her clients cope with depression and balance negative emotions.
“[In ARMY], you start to meet other people online who have been saved by BTS, and they are talking about it. âThey saved me from depression. âMy daughter had cancer and they saved me,â Peregrino said.
This message of positivity and vulnerability is clearly visible in the names of the albums and the lyrics of their songs. BTS Meal has practically cemented its brand as a household name with Western audiences.
BTS Meal was in fact so successful that a secondary âdropâ market was created for it. Demand for the meal was so high that several McDonald’s in Indonesia had to temporarily close. On eBay, people sold BTS lunch bags and sauces for more than double the original price. According to Business Insider, customers have purchased listings for these bags and sauces for over $ 44.
Hardcore fans around the world have preserved their lunch bags by framing them, turning them into phone cases and home decor, and even creating clothes with them. Economically, the BTS Meal is a unique example of an inexpensive disposable product that becomes a luxury item in a short period of time.
From a marketing standpoint, some argue that BTS Meal has even redefined fast food marketing, showing the public that even global pop stars can enjoy nuggets and sweet chili sauce every now and then. The collaboration itself was McDonald’s first international marketing campaign and a symbol of globalization and the interdependence of food and music.
Additionally, McDonald’s has become the essential face of celebrity partnerships: they’ve used celebrity to increase the perceived value of food, and they’ve used food to create a more personal connection with the artist: ‘If that’s it. is Saweetie’s order, you can BET I’m ordering it too!
Given BTS’s global dominance, some argue that BTS – and K-pop as a whole – could lose their roots. Some die-hard fans claim that in their quest to break into the Western market, BTS ditched the âKâ of K-pop. Indeed, they sang their last two most popular hits, “Butter” and “Dynamite”, entirely in English, which calls into question the limits of their qualification of “Korean pop” or simply “pop”.
âAlthough BTS has remained genuine and humble over the years, their sound has changed noticeably,â Chan said. “The rhythm and production of many [of their] the songs are more similar to western pop music. There is a lot of debate as to whether BTS competes too strongly for white validation.
While the K-pop genre isn’t purely Korean, I think the westernization of BTS’s music isn’t necessarily a negative thing. On the one hand, it is undeniable that the reach of K-pop expanded considerably before âDynamiteâ and âButterâ. I wouldn’t have liked to bore my friends by singing some of their iconic songs terribly without my introduction to BTS via “Dynamite”.
Second, the music of each country borrows from each other. No genre is completely pure. Rock music borrows from African-American gospel music, modern hip-hop borrows from Latin rhythms and even English baroque music borrows from Roman compositions. Music is a medium that evolves while keeping its roots.
Although BTS Meal has placed BTS as the undisputed world leader in the Korean music industry, its place at the top is constantly contested by other, more recent groups in the industry. Victoria believes that in 10 years, its members could pursue a solo career.
While their popularity won’t last forever, BTS has made an impact on the global music industry by making strides for Asian representation in Western markets. They broke records, established a global legacy, and will continue to be loved – or criticized – by listeners. Thirty years later, BTS Meal might even be a luxury K-pop artifact.
Miguel Mercado is a sophomore who writes about the impacts of technology and the economy on 21st century students. His column, “Byte of Life”, is broadcast every other Tuesday.