There’s a comforting familiarity of getting McDonald’s abroad. Despite language barriers, or slight menu differences, the reliability, accessibility and, taste is grounding. Pop into a McDonald’s anywhere and you get a peek into local people living their regular fries-and-a-drink life; it’s a little bit of home, a little bit of wherever you are. To some foodie’s dismay, I’ve made it a point to try the regional items at McDonald’s as I’ve travelled; the curry sauce in the UK, ham-and-cheese sandwich in Italy, and even adding a beer to my meal in Spain. I haven’t made it to South Korea yet, but today I took my dusty Prius through Los Angeles traffic into the drive-thru and got as close as I could: ordering the official BTS Meal at McDonald’s.
Following in the footsteps of Travis Scott and J. Balvin, South Korean seven-piece BTS – inarguably the biggest boy band in the world – are the latest artist to partner with McDonald’s for an exclusive branded meal and merchandise line (plus state of the art packaging in some locations that may be the real selling point for stans).
Announced in April, the band’s meal is simple: Ten piece chicken nuggets, medium fries, medium coke, and two limited edition sauces inspired by McDonald’s South Korean recipes. Cajun is a beautiful orange spicy mayonnaise with very-far-from-South-Korea Louisiana flavours that deserves permanent menu residency in the States and Sweet Chilli is a bright red syrupy jelly with the slightest tinge of spice that was good in moderation on nuggets but less fitting for fries. If your local McDonald’s worker hasn’t been overworked by BTS fans all day and is willing to budge on the restaurant’s infamous sauce policy, ask for extra to keep in your sauce drawer. A dunk in either neon goop is the closest we’ll all get to a trip to South Korea for a while.
You don’t have to speak Korean to enjoy BTS, or to enjoy the new sauce flavours (the packaging is written in Korean alongside English), but for new listeners, the video announcement for the McDonald’s partnership featured BTS’ newest song Butter, the band’s second English language single. This resulted in some corny “smooth like burger” puns that made me wonder why they didn’t double down and release a burger meal instead. But by the time I enjoyed my BTS meal, Butter had already broken five Guinness World Records, including most views on a YouTube music video in 24-hours and most Spotify streams on a song in 24-hours (with over 108 million views and over 11 million streams, respectively). So if these special sauces are somehow the way you’re hearing about the band for the first time, DM me about the off the grid sauce-loving commune you’re living in.
Sales aside, these superstar collaborations – like visiting McDonald’s in a foreign country – remind us that the golden arches are beloved by everyone, everywhere. But with a seven-piece band, it’s hard to evoke that casual closeness that fans around the world felt (and had many opinions on) when J. Balvin sneered and said “no pickles, please” in his promotional video for his own meal. In BTS’ defence, nuggets are definitely the most shareable. But when I got to the window to order my BTS meal just hours after it launched, I was asked if I wanted the original sauces it comes with. Huh? Unlike past collaborations with personalised substitutions, without those sauces, BTS’ combo is just a 10-piece meal.
So, Korean inspired sauces aside, does this meal feel authentic to the band? Not a member of BTS ARMY myself, I asked my friend Maria Sherman, author of LARGER THAN LIFE: A History of Boy Bands from NKOTB to BTS to weigh in. Sherman says she’d expect nothing less than this “a little East, a little West” meal from “expert marketers” behind BTS, noting that opting for chicken is sensitive to religious food restrictions some fans may have, making it the most broadly accessible. Her shorter, less industry conspiracy answer is that the BTS boys are documented fans of Korean fried chicken and this is as close as McDonald’s gets. As to how realistic BTS sharing ten nuggets is, she crafted this bit of fan fiction: “RM is placing the order, that’s for certain. They all love chicken, so I’m seeing a mad dash for the nuggets. They’re going to share it, and maybe offer a nug to their beloved Pomeranian, Yeotan. Jimin’s reaching for the sweet chilli sauce. Jin and Suga are going cajun. I know it in my heart.”
The BTS McDonald’s meal will be available in 50 countries throughout May and June, including South Korea, Australia and Mexico. Find a full list of launch dates here. Unfortunately for the UK Army, there’s no sign of it reaching British shores any time soon