This celebrity-fast-food review is coming a week after both the Super Bowl (when the meal launched) and Valentine’s Day (which the meal was ostensibly for), so consider this a belated Presidents’ Day post. Or better yet, let’s say it’s for Lent. Because after eating the Cardi B and Offset Meal, you’ll be ready to give up McDonald’s for 40 days.
It’s been over a year since McDonald’s last artist collaboration dropped: Mariah Carey’s 12 days of Christmas, which was also tied to a holiday. Back in the glory days of the genre, the BTS and Saweetie meals were their own holidays. This was Event Eating, spawning an entire category of memes inspired by the concept (my favorite is the Caroline Polachek Meal). But now it seems the appeal of the celebrity-fast-food meal has worn so thin that McDonald’s needs the extra seasonal peg. The only way we’ll keep getting these promotional tie-ins is if they’re, like, the Taylor Swift Easter Egg McMuffin or the Jack Antonoff Passover Combo (hold the bun). I’ve been covering this trend in fast food since the Travis Scott Meal in 2020, but there are only so many times they can take some things that are already on the menu, slap a big name on it, and expect it to be a phenomenon. At least with a chain like Chipotle or Sweetgreen, there’s the added element of customization to match a star’s order. So either McD’s follows the trend of Taco Bell’s work with Doja Cat and actually puts something new (or previously discontinued) on the menu, or these promotions will only serve to remind us of how, well, boring the McDonald’s menu really is.
Cardi and Offset themselves are an interesting choice for a Valentine’s Day meal. The couple, who married in 2017, have been candid about their ups and downs, including the occasional cheating scandal and a called-off divorce filing. It hasn’t always been particularly romantic; making Cardi and Offset the face of your V-Day promo is like ditching Mariah and tying the Christmas meal to a celeb who at one point in their past accidentally killed Santa (so … Tim Allen). Still, they’ve been married for years under public scrutiny, have a family together, and still find time for sexy date nights and PDA. They’re a fun couple to soft launch the chain’s first relationship-based celeb meal, especially one with a Super Bowl ad, because they famously had their very first date at the 2017 Super Bowl — the one made famous by Lily Tomlin in the documentary 80 for Brady. And most importantly, I genuinely believe that they both still order the occasional McD’s.
The ad itself has a pretty rock-solid premise: knowing your partner’s McDonald’s order is a love language. The execution of the concept is a minute of sweet, if slightly heavy-handed, Harry Met Sally–type interstitials of couples saying things like, “If I don’t know Kenny’s order, then I don’t know Kenny,” and “knowing their order is a sign of loving them.” The ad succeeds in representing different relationships: young, hot, old, ugly, Spanish-speaking, Black, white, interracial, disabled, and that most underrepresented of romantic demographics, celebrity. The only place they dropped the ball is by not including a Bushwick polycule. Also, I know the spot is about romantic love, but it still would have been nice to see some throwaway representation for my demographic: single adult women who only buy Happy Meals.
What drew me back in was the 30-second spot that focuses on Cardi and Offset alone and launches their meal. In what feels like a parody of Bey and J’s glamorous Tiffany campaign, the ad shows Cardi, draped in old-Hollywood finery, getting picked up in a white stretch limo by Offset while Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade,” better known as “Haunted Gramophone Music,” plays in the background. He whisks her away to what appears to be the only McDonald’s franchise in all of Twin Peaks for an elegant, surrealist dinner date. Cut to the two of them in townie mode at a normal McD’s on a rainy night, holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes over a tray of saturated fats. It’s super-cute. They even sing the “ba-da-ba da-da” together at the end.
In the same way that other versions of these fast-food collabs are appealing because they let you imagine you’re hanging out with your fave star, this promotion’s allure lies in feeling like you’re Cardi and Offset’s third and they bought you McDonald’s. Titillating! It’s theoretically a savvy financial move on McDonald’s part, because in order to participate you have to buy two meals. The price of the Cardi B and Offset Meal varies state to state; I read that it’s $13.45 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but when I bought it there through a delivery app, that added up to $18.71, before additional fees. That’s steep for any McDonald’s purchase that isn’t feeding a family of four, so let’s break down what you get with it:
Offset’s half of the meal is a Quarter Pounder with Cheese and a large Hi-C Orange Lavaburst. The Cardi half is a cheeseburger and a large Coke. For sharing, the meal includes one large fries, tangy BBQ sauce, and an apple pie. Already I see some flaws here. For one, this combo doesn’t even add up to two complete meals: Who wants to split a single fry order? Also, cheeseburgers are a value-menu item, usually priced at $2 a pop, and up until recently, fountain drinks were all a dollar for any size. A year ago, this meal would have been a terrible value; now, it’s just a bitter reminder of corporate-manufactured inflation. I’m ancient enough to remember getting flyers in the mail for “2 can dine for $9.99” promos. How do the teens of today go on cheap suburban dates? Do they steal their parents’ Costco club cards to go get dollar-fifty hot dog and soda combos?
I ponder this as I wait for my Valentine’s order to arrive on a romantic President’s Day’s Eve. When it comes, the bag is so heavy I break out the bathroom scale: five pounds. That’s — I do some quick advanced calc — like, twenty Quarter Pounders! Really, it’s one Quarter Pounder and nineteen Pounders’ worth of soda. The drinks come in very cute cups with a Cardi B and Offset Meal logo and little pink hearts everywhere. The Coke is Coke (I cheated and got Diet. Strip me of my nonexistent journalism degree, why don’t you). and the Lava Burst is far less exciting than its name. McDonald’s fountain drinks are famously intense, and “Lava Burst” implies a carbonation experience so crisp and severe it could be a Hot Ones boss level. But the soda was flat, according to my receipt it was actually Fanta, and it also gave me hives (I’m allergic to the dye in orange soda, but I took it for the team, I expect you to un-rescind my nonexistent journalism degree now).
I ate this meal solo rather than splitting it with a paramour, and instead of V-Day I had it on President’s Day, which is easily one of the top-10 least sexy holidays (unless you write Hamilton fanfic). So take the rest of this review with 2780 milligrams of salt. I ordered the Quarter Pounder without onions, because that’s how Cardi says Offset likes it in the promo. I wanted to compare the two burgers side by side, because one is over twice the price of the other, and because I find it hilarious that this combo meal implies that Offset treats himself to the superior sandwich and lets his good ladywife slum it with a burger that looks sat on. The QP is definitely a closer approximation of the Krabby Patty ideal of “burger,” but when I actually ate it, I found the meat way underseasoned, even compared to the bargain burger next to it. The cheeseburger, though, was beyond dry. I only had a bite of each. My friend was making plain noodles in the other room, and that genuinely seemed more exciting. And does anyone else feel like the battery life of McDonald’s fries is getting shorter? They must be skimping on the nuclear-grade artificial preservatives, because they were dead in the water before I could finish this video of Cardi, Offset, and Kulture as their Baby Shark alter egos singing “The Seaweed Sway.” (Where are the Sharki B Happy Meal Toys, by the way?)
Last was the apple pie, which turned out to not be apple pie at all. McDonald’s gave me a Guava and Creme pie, which is apparently a regional Florida exclusive. The chain’s take on a Cuban pastelito is admirable, but silly in a part of the country where you’re never too far from a bakery selling the real deal for the same price. Also, the McDonald’s version subs vanilla cream for cream cheese; “Sweetest Pie” this is not.
And it’s not as though Cardi hasn’t already hit it out of the park in the dessert game. She has another edible side project: Whipshots, a brand of alcoholic whipped cream. Despite their great advertisements and merch, McDonald’s continues to churn out celebrity meals that bring nothing new to the literal table, opting instead for lazy remixes of the same familiar hits. Whipshots, on the other hand, are a stroke of mad genius, their playful and surprising idiosyncrasy totally in line with Cardi herself. I’ve tried the chocolate, vanilla, and caramel flavors and can report that the 10 percent vodka-infused whipped cream is much better than it sounds. As far as brain-cell-killing cans of nitrous oxide go, you can do a lot worse.
Clearly, consumers are maybe starting to find these celeb-crossover events with no new menu items to show for it repetitive. Also, the price point is a major issue. If social media is to be believed, these meals aren’t selling. A TikTok with over 600,000 views shows a McDonald’s employee dancing behind the words, “The cardi & offset cups and bags are cute but nobody’s buying their meal,” skull-face skull-face. The comments confirm that it’s just too expensive.
Either that or all the bad buzz is a Barb psyop.
There are a lot of things two people can do for $18.71. You can go on a hike. You can drink some beers in the park. You can see a movie, if it’s Tuesday. The meal itself is mid. All of the energy at McDonald’s HQ that should have been put toward cooking instead went into merch: $38 T-shirts, $42 booty shorts, and $68 hoodies that say things like “nice buns,” and “ok uu rr rr rr.” One says “Cardi B <3 Offset,” written out in ketchup, with a French-fry heart on the back. My would-be favorite is a black tee with a moody, sort-of-gorgeous pic of a McDonald’s drive-thru under a crescent moon and starry sky. It’s like if Mac Tonight sold his original photography at your local dead mall’s Thomas Kinkade gallery. I dare call it dreamlike. But the crepuscular McD’s is sort of ruined by the Cardi tie-in “Up” lyric “I been lit since last night …” Just let the mystery be! This merch is all fun — and it’s only available until this evening — but it ships in nine to ten weeks, and when I think about it, this meal isn’t something I want to commemorate down the road. From the top, make it drop, that’s some dry-ass burger.