After the success of its first artist partnership, fast-food giant McDonald’s went international with its next bid for pop culture dominance, tapping the Colombia-born Reggaeton star J Balvin for a new meal and merch deal. It’s a smart move on the part of the golden arches; while Travis Scott is one of the best-selling hip-hop stars of the moment, tapping into a youth movement that’s all about rage, J Balvin is the hero for Latin culture both in the US and worldwide, reaching an audience that any brand would love to be granted access to.
One of the best-selling Reggaeton stars ever, J Balvin boasts more than 35 million records sold worldwide, with a list of hits both solo (“Azul,” “Mi Gente,” “Morado“) and alongside other major stars (“I Like It” with Cardi B and Bad Bunny, “Con Altura” with Rosalía). Put quite simply, J Balvin is a superstar of the same wavelength as Michael Jackson or Queen. His partnership with McDonald’s officially launched on Friday, with a meal in McDonald’s locations (a Big Mac with no pickles, medium fries with ketchup, and an Oreo McFlurry), merchandise (now available at Balvin’s online merch store), and a musical ad titled “Dorado” featuring a fleet of J Balvins as customers and employees at a McDonald’s.
I got to interview J Balvin about the collaboration via Zoom, asking him about the zany wigs he wears in the commercial, what the partnership with a globally recognized brand like McDonald’s means to the growing global community of Latin music aficionados, and most importantly, whether or not the ice cream machines worked when he was behind the counter. Check it out below.
What was your reaction to hearing that McDonald’s wanted to give you your own meal?
Man, it was crazy because even though I was born in Colombia, I used to watch it in the movies and on the TV. When I had the chance to go to the States, that’s when I was like, “Wow, I love this.” And the meal is basically what I ordered every time I used to go to McDonald’s. I’m still going to McDonald’s, but I’m talking more about when I was a kid, so it really means a lot to me.
What does it mean to you to be a part of this incredible resurgence of reggaeton in the American market, and what impact will this have on the perception of it here in America?
We’ll just keep reaching more globally than before, and we want to keep showing the planet that this movement is here to stay. And that’s what we’ve been doing. Keep working and keep elevating the culture and connecting with the world and definitely with the United States, too.
Now, I’m old, so I grew up on reggaeton, like Ivy Queen’s first few albums, Wisin y Yandel-
You’re not old. Come on.
I feel old sometimes. Who are your first reggaeton heroes?
Daddy Yankee definitely was my biggest inspiration when everything started, and of course, he still is. But of course, the OGs, Tego, Yandel, Wisin, Don Omar, all those guys really inspired me. Héctor & Tito. It’s a lot of people that inspired me.
What’s your favorite piece of merchandise from the collaboration collection?
Man, the hoodies are amazing.
Did you see the chicken nugget body pillow that they did with Travis Scott?
Would you get one?
Have you tried Travis’s meal, and what did you think of it? Do you think he’s tried yours?
I was in Colombia when they dropped that one. I don’t know, man, but it’s dope to be a part of this campaign where an icon like Travis started it, so it’s really dope.
As far as the commercial, who came up with the concept of the commercial, and why did it appeal to you?
Colin Tilley. Basically, he brought the idea and we loved it 100%.
What was your favorite character to play?
Man, all of them. The old guy. The grandpa is fire. The emo dude. No, it’s a lot of different vibes. I enjoyed them all.
Did the ice cream machine work?
It did work.
So, all we need to get ice cream at McDonald’s is to have J Balvin come with us.
Be with me. [Laughs]
How many takes did you need to film the entire commercial?
It was a lot of takes because we have to change for every single character, do the right steps and the right moves, not to cross the cameras. It was, I guess, 10 hours nonstop.
You know what was really bizarre was seeing you with the wigs on. I’m so used to seeing you with your short hair. What’s the wildest thing you’ve ever done with your hair?
There’s a lot of looks that I’m like, “Why did I do that before?” I remember that I used to have, when we dropped “Mi Gente,” was kind of like a long hair, straightened.
I remember that.
We were so ahead, doing these crazy things. Now I see it like, “Wow, what happened to me?” But I like to be different. I mean, not being different, just being [myself].
When I was getting ready for the interview, I Googled “J Balvin,” and one of the first suggested questions was, “Is J Balvin a Bad Bunny?” And it cracked me up. Have you ever Googled yourself, and what was the funniest or weirdest result?
I haven’t Googled myself in the latest months, honestly, but that’s funny.
What’s a question no one ever asks you in interviews that you wish they’d asked?
Wow. If I know how to cook?
If you know how to cook, what do you know how to cook?
Nothing. That’s what we got McDonald’s for!
What’s your favorite non-McDonald’s meal to eat?
This has been an amazing year for you. What was your favorite accomplishment from this year, and what are some things you hope to accomplish in the next one?
The fact that we were at the Super Bowl this year was amazing. It was really a big dream accomplished. The McDonald’s collab was super dope. The fact that we still doing this and people connect with it. We dropped the album Colores. And definitely my new Jordans. They’re coming up on December 4th.