A collaboration between McDonald’s and South Korean pop group BTS is bringing some much-needed joy to its massive fanbase during the pandemic.
For the band, the specialty Chicken McNugget meal is yet another sign of its global reach. For its legion of fans around the world, it’s about more than the music; being part of the “BTS Army” offers a sense of community and belonging coupled with the positive messaging the K-pop group offers.
Theresa Baladad, 26, said BTS has given her a sense of purpose and community during the pandemic.
“During my whole quarantine, it was all BTS,” she said.
“I wake up and me and my friends send each other TikToks and videos about them, when I go for a run all I listen to is BTS.”
BTS, or Bangtan Sonyeondan (Bulletproof Boy Scouts in Korean), is the best-selling act in South Korean history and has emerged as one of the most popular bands in the world.
The McDonald’s promotion began on Wednesday, May 26, and the band’s fan base has seized on it to show its support and add some new merchandise to its collection.
Mississauga’s Stephanie Pepper, 34, is drawn to the band’s positive messaging and deep lyrics.
Positive messaging and a sense of community
“Their music is really good,” she said. “They’re just very genuine, they don’t try to hide themselves, they are who they are and they’re proud of it.”
“That’s part of the ‘love yourself’ message they provide,” Pepper added.
WATCH |CBC Toronto’s Natalie Kalata reports on BTS and their new collaboration with McDonald’s:
Danica Nelson of Toronto, like Pepper and Baladad, got the meal the day it came out. Nelson and her friends enjoyed the meal together virtually.
“It felt like we are all sharing a meal together even though we’re apart in the pandemic,” she said. “You’re never really alone when you’re [BTS] army.”
They’ve all kept some of the BTS-branded items from the McDonald’s meal. But some people online are reselling the cups, bags, boxes, and sauces at exorbitant prices.
“I’m used to seeing ridiculous things sold online for BTS stuff,” Nelson said. “I don’t think it’s necessarily fans or army, I think it’s people trying to capitalize on a situation.”
Growing reach of East Asian media in North America
Michelle Cho, an assistant professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto, says the collaboration “speaks to the vastness and extensiveness of their fandom.”
Cho studies popular culture and media in East Asia as part of her research, and she’s also a BTS fan. She explains that the group’s popularity is largely a result of band members’ charisma, the star appeal of their live performances, and the community they’ve established with fans via social media.
“It’s a combination of a lot of talent in terms of musicality and their performance skills, and then the way the group opens up almost like friends,” Cho said.
“I think they develop a certain intimacy with their fans because of how regularly they post and engage with fans on social media.” she added.
That’s part of the reason why the band’s popularity has reached every corner of the globe, and breaking into the pop culture scene in North America is no easy task for a Korean pop group, Cho said.
“BTS have been really dominant as pop celebrities for several years,” she said. “It’s only until their single Dynamite made it to the top of the Billboard charts that they achieved mainstream visibility in North America.”
It’s a sign of the “increased normalization” of media from around the world, Cho added.
It also shows “they’re a force to be reckoned with,” Pepper said.