by Daniel Wang, Staff Writer, November 2020
Flipping through the McDonald’s menu is usually a mundane task; besides the occasional McRib or Baked Peach Pie promotional frenzy, the ‘Golden Arches’ have always maintained a consistent culinary profile. Rather than chasing fluctuating trends through pop culture collaborations, McDonald’s has always focused on building brand loyalty with easily swayed, potentially life-long customers. As a former Happy Meal addict myself, I can testify to the Golden Arches’ success. Going to my local McDonald’s is not something that I can stop myself from doing; the urge for a Quarter Pounder with Cheese at 10:00 p.m. on a Tuesday night is nothing short of baked into my corporate-engineered circadian rhythm.
Today, however, I found something alarmingly foreign on the menu. The Travis Scott. Who is this Travis, and why is he disrupting my favorite childhood meal? Is Ronald McDonald betraying my loyalty to the brand by teaming up with this uninitiated outsider?
My heart immediately filled with trepidation. Anxiously, I examined the specimen in question, quickly realizing that this ‘Travis Scott’ was no more than my usual Quarter Pounder with Cheese adorned with a few slices of McDonald’s (oversalted) bacon and a bed of uninspiring iceberg lettuce. More confoundingly, the ‘meal’ consisted of nothing more than the standard accouterment of medium-sized french fries, BBQ sauce—which can be requested for free at most franchises—and a medium Sprite with extra ice. Yes, that’s right: extra ice! My McNugget-fueled conscience was profoundly disturbed by the proposition of purchasing an obviously inferior product for more money. I muttered to myself, “How could anyone fall for such a blatant scam?”
To my horror, the Travis Scott Burger not only succeeded in attracting new customers to ‘Golden Arches’ franchises across the nation, but it also caused significant supply shortages throughout the edible empire. According to a recent CNBC article, McDonald’s was “temporarily controlling the supply of its Quarter Pounder beef, bacon, slivered onions, and shredded lettuce to make sure restaurants nationwide can still serve the meal” (Lucas 2020). Determined to understand how one celebrity could have such broad consumer appeal, I ventured into the warped and unsettling world of Travis Scott’s commercial engagements.
From limited edition Reese’s Puffs to Air Jordan exclusives, Travis Scott has firmly established himself as a brand icon. Scott’s following is so strong that his corporate-branded products resell for extraordinary prices on the collectibles market. For example, the rapper’s McNugget body pillows, originally priced at $90, and are now trading between $600 and $800 on Stockx.com— a roughly 567% to 789% increase in value.
Scott’s influence is nothing short of magical from a purely monetary standpoint. A recent Bloomberg article said, “The [Travis Scott Burger] promotion, which started Sept. 8, helped push the chain to growth in its home market last quarter, with comparable U.S. sales climbing 4.6% even as global sales fell from the same period last year” (Bhasin 2020). These statistics illustrate Scott’s appeal to large-scale enterprises but do not directly address the rapper’s mysterious influence over consumers.
To answer this question, I turned towards one of the most complex forms of expression in the English language: rap. I have always feared rap; the genre’s extensive usage of particular colloquialisms, technical jargon, and current metaphors both confuses and intimidates me. Nonetheless, my determination to understand the Travis Scott Burger’s unholy success propelled me forward.
I was surprised to find all the answers to my questions in Scott’s music. Even a cursory glance through the fiery lyrics of Scott’s acclaimed “SICKO MODE” revealed countless references to corporations ranging from Jamba Juice to Ferrari. The extravagant lifestyle which anchors Scott’s music, I realized, is rooted in mass media consumerism.
His art is relevant and relatable precisely because it references a canonical series of familiar brands that occupy our lives. In this way, Scott’s music acts as a powerful recapitulation of the bombardment of advertisements we each experience. With every verse, Scott shouts at us with a characteristic, auto-tuned voice to buy this! Buy that! Be like me! Be happy! Be free!
Scott’s music not only advertises corporate products but also reflects on a postmodern nostalgia for the consumption of homogenized goods and experiences. The very title of his acclaimed album Astroworld epitomizes this concept. Astroworld was inspired by a defunct Six Flags amusement park in Houston. For Scott, the park did not represent a capitalist ploy to exploit the wallets of middle-class Americans. Rather, Astroworld was a victim of worsening times, a dead reminder of an idyllic childhood.
This feeling of pain and loss, the algos in nostalgia, has no concrete basis. It is instead engineered through decades of deliberate marketing and manipulation; we only care about brand-name products because the advertisers of those products subconsciously command us to care. How, then, can we, the audience of Scott’s work, relive our bland, corporate-engineered childhoods? It’s simple—we just purchase his limited edition products!
So, why was the Travis Scott Burger so successful? Well, because a rapper, influenced by an advertiser, hired by a corporation, driven by capitalism, commands us to buy into a nostalgic image of American childhood. Personally, I would just skip the bacon, BBQ sauce, and Travis Scott name. Then again, you’re talking to someone who can’t resist eating at McDonald’s.