Sunday, February 19, 2023

Sunday Reading

Please hold Jimmy Carter in the Light.

Former President Jimmy Carter, who at 98 years old is the longest-lived American president, has entered home hospice care in Plains, Georgia, a statement from The Carter Center confirmed Saturday.

After a series of short hospital stays, the statement said, Carter “decided to spend his remaining time at home with his family and receive hospice care instead of additional medical intervention.”

The statement said the 39th president has the full support of his medical team and family, which “asks for privacy at this time and is grateful for the concern shown by his many admirers.”

Jingle Fever — Luke Winkie in Slate on the jingle that has conquered America and won the Super Bowl.

If you were one of the 16.7 million Americans who, on average, tuned in to the NFL every week in 2022, you likely became familiar with a few narratives over the course of the season. There was Jalen Hurts’ heroic MVP campaign, the resurrection of Jared Goff, Rihanna’s pregnancy announcement, and the meathead ballad of the Kelce brothers, Travis and Jason, who lined up against each other at the Super Bowl. But for my money, as all of this recedes into memory and the Kansas City Chiefs celebrate their championship, it is clear that one star shone brighter and longer than anyone on the field. I’m speaking, of course, about the Whopper jingle.

The commercial is dazzlingly simple. We see a sizzle reel of Burger King accoutrements: porcelain mayonnaise, crispy bacon, and thick ketchup, all piled on top of plump, juicy Whopper patties. A man with a strange, slightly atonal voice sings an offbeat nursery rhyme about his favorite hamburger, the lyrics of which will never leave my skull: “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Junior Double Triple Whopper, flame-grilled taste with perfect toppers, I rule this day.” Toward the end of the 30-second spot, he brings it all back home: “At BK, have it your way.”

As television figures out advertising in the streaming era, it often feels like, when you’re watching content that does feature commercial breaks, there are maybe only three ads in rotation at any given moment. That means this Burger King jingle, which coated the choppy broadcasts of football games throughout the winter, was pounded into the noggins of the American population over and over and over again. My Sunday afternoons were suffused with images of flame-grilled taste with perfect toppers. The Giants punted to the Commanders; we’ll return to the field after a brief Whopper interstitial. The Falcons intercepted the Panthers; it’s Whopper time, baby! Touchdown Bengals! Does that put you in the mood for a junior, double, or perhaps triple Whopper?

Before long, the jingle made the subtle shift from cultural ephemera to certified meme, emerging as a sort of ironic mantra that could express how monotonous it can feel to watch the NFL. Twitter user @mocliffff looked at an image of a crestfallen Josh Allen whispering something into the ear of Joe Burrow, who had just defeated him in a playoff game, and imagined that he was simply saying, “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper.” Someone on TIkTok captured the somber scenes of players and personnel reacting to a serious injury at the end of the Cowboys/Buccaneers playoff game. The telecast cuts to commercial break. You guessed it: “Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper.”

The commercial was devised by a Chicago advertising agency called OKRP. I jumped on a Zoom call with the four principle creatives behind the spot, who were each clad in ball caps and T-shirts and looked nothing like the stuffy boardroom creatures of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce. Ben Pfutzenreuter, creative director, said that the semantics of the Whopper jingle have shifted since the team first wrote it. Initially, they just wanted to come up with an earworm that people might find themselves humming along to, in the subconscious tradition of the jingles for Cellino & Barnes or “Folgers in your cup.” Now, though, they believe that the memes have morphed their silly little burger song into a meta-commentary on the absurdity of sports fandom. The NFL season ends in a disappointing loss for 31 of the 32 teams every year. The Whopper jingle reminds us, mercifully, that nothing matters.

“There’s something about the experience of watching a football game, and the craziest thing happens—like watching the Vikings throw a checkdown pass on fourth down to end the season, and then cutting away to ‘Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper’ … You can’t deny it,” said Pfutzenreuter. “It lives in your head rent-free.”

OKRP pitched Burger King the commercial directly. The idea was to update the brand’s classic McDonald’s-taunting tagline of the 1970s, “Have It Your Way,” which guaranteed customers the freedom to adjust the toppings of their Whopper. (Yes, once upon a time, it was impossible to hold the pickles on a Big Mac.) Burger King was modifying that slogan to the more millennial “You Rule,” which, as Pfutzenreuter explains, is centered around the idea that “no matter what happens to you in life, you can at least come to Burger King and get a hamburger made the way you want.” The team experimented with a ton of different music genres, lyrical flourishes, and instrumentation before landing on the off-kilter nursery-rhyme cadence that made the final cut. By the time they gave their pitch to the Burger King higher-ups, they had already churned through 50 permutations of their humble Whopper song.

“We walked into that meeting and just started singing,” said Chris Powell, another OKRP creative director. “We took everyone by surprise.”

OKRP collaborated with a Los Angeles music production outfit called Beacon Street Studios, who performed the final cut of the jingle (after another 100 or so takes). The version we hear on television is unfortunately not recorded by a bunch of advertising executives, though someday OKRP should absolutely leak the demos. The melody doesn’t demand much vocal range—the singer is not exactly Mariah Carey—which Matt McNulty, who leads OKRP’s art division, says is by design. “It was important to us for this to feel approachable and everyman … like it had high fidelity, but it wasn’t pretentious, and was easy to sing to, or laugh with, or make a parody of. It felt very human,” he explains.

The Whopper commercial started airing during football games in October, and by December it had fully taken on a life of its own. I have watched the jingle tone-corrected to fit perfectly over an oppressive remix of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” (Same with “Harder Better Faster Stronger.”) On the Bill Simmons podcast, Jimmy Kimmel Live writer Sal Iacono mentioned that his teenage son is currently using the song as his walk-up music for his Little League at-bats. A 10-hour extended cut exists on YouTube, uploaded by user NCW-10H, so that the spirit of the 2022 football season will never truly leave us. Burger King has recently leaned into the memes. During the Super Bowl, the company opted not to pay the $6 million price tag for a 30-second spot on the broadcast, and instead formally uploaded a karaoke rendition of the jingle to TikTok, inviting users to modify as they liked. Burger King made this announcement by running an ad reusing the melody, but with all mentions of the word “Whopper” replaced with words “Big Game.” (“Y’all really do it better than we do/ So we took the night off to give the song to you.”)

The NFL season wrapped up on Sunday, when the Chiefs consecrated a burgeoning dynasty with a gutty win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Professional football is returning to its dormant state through summer and spring, and it is likely the Whopper jingle will accompany it—at least for a time. Soon enough, though, as the leaves bloom and then brown, our teams will once again be doing something horrifically, incomprehensibly dumb on our television screens. Turnovers, botched trick plays, missed field goals, busted coverages—the enfeebling injustices that come with being a fan. At last, we finally have the language to define our anguish: Whopper, Whopper, Whopper, Whopper.

You want fries with that?

Doonesbury —  He’s everywhere, and to the rescue!

3 barks and woofs on “Sunday Reading

  1. Brother in law just entered hospice care; in a strange way it was good because my sister was taking on way too much of his care and it forced her to accept some help.

    • Sorry to hear about your brother in law. We went through the same thing this past October with my mother. My father was stubborn about getting help. Once the aides started coming in, though, he exclaimed how much he thought the aides loved my mother and wished he had done it sooner. Hospice workers are angels.

      • Don’t know if you’ll see this – my brother in law is a complainer, and that’s not a criticism, he just is. I appreciate how the visiting nurses can cut out the whining without being mean.

Comments are closed.