Grammy Award-winning musician Lil Nas X is taking Crunchwrap Supremes to the “Old Town Road” after being named Taco Bell’s first chief impact officer, in the latest example of brands partnering with candid and uninhibited voices.
The fast-food chain’s collaboration with the Georgia native kicks off with a campaign tied to its breakfast menu, which is set to return to most restaurants within the next month. The partnership will also focus on Lil Nas X’s upcoming debut album, "Montero," and new menu items.
It’s a big promotion from a role the rapper held nearly five years ago as an employee at a Taco Bell in the Atlanta area. In a tweet Monday, he acknowledged that “life has come full circle, i officially work at taco bell again.” Earlier this year, he even featured the fast-food chain in the music video for his song “Sun Goes Down,” as a paid tribute.
"Lil Nas X knows the job, the experience and the culture Taco Bell creates for its fans — including its people," Taco Bell CEO Mark King said.
Taco Bell's move follows a series of partnerships between McDonald’s and musicians such as the hip-hop artist Saweetie, which includes a merchandise line and a chicken nugget meal that features "Saweetie 'N Sour sauces." Saweetie also changed her name on Twitter to “Big Mac Mama.” The burger joint launched similar campaigns with the rapper Travis Scott and the K-pop group BTS within the last year.
Earlier this year, Lil Nas X faced criticism for releasing “Satan Shoes” with the Brooklyn-based company MSCHF and a music video in which he can be seen giving the devil a lap dance. In December, Chipotle named a burrito after the singer Miley Cyrus, who has faced her fair share of criticism during the last decade. In March, Prince Harry — who faced backlash after "stepping back" from his role as a senior member of the British royal family — was named chief impact officer of the personal and professional wellness coaching company BetterUp.
The more edgy partnerships are a far stretch from ones created during the era of network television and so-called safe advertising, when companies would avoid aligning with any politically outspoken or controversial public figures.
Consumers are seeking out authenticity, driving brands to pair up with names who are honest and uninhibited, said Americus Reed II, professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Lil Nas X is open about his music and sexuality with the 9.3 million people who follow him on Instagram and the 19.6 million who do so on TikTok.
“You can't be in a corporate boardroom and think you're going to talk to a group of young consumers who may be into urban culture and you know nothing about urban culture,” Reed said.
In addition, the credible and authentic factors of this brand deal can be found in Lil Nas X’s history with the company, Reed said.
Lil Nas X represents "an authentic manifestation of this openness, this irreverence, this rebellion, this unpredictability that perhaps Taco Bell wants to try to capture," he said. "It’s controversial magic — but it's still magic."
“That’s the argument that’s being made. Yes, I may not be able to talk to everyone, but the people I do talk to, I will have deeper relationships with them and stronger loyalty,” he said, speaking from the perspective of the brands.