On Twitter, the words “McDonald’s Sprite” and “He’s dead” trended in unison, like some twisted waltz between blood-sworn enemies forced to work together against a greater evil, in this case, our fucking sanity.
McDonald’s Sprite is a storied meme, one so successful the two words have become building blocks for countless others. According to Know Your Meme, McDonald’s Sprite was first meme-ified in 2017 when a member of Brockhampton simply tweeted “mcdonald’s sprite taste different” [sic]. It’s been a running joke on the internet ever since, popping up whenever the mention seems just right — like today.
While the earliest memes focused on McDonald’s Sprite tasting “different,” later iterations quickly became more specific. McDonald’s Sprite tastes electronic; it tastes stronger than liquor; it tastes — and this may be the one adjective that tops them all — spicy. Like most memes, this one’s endurance seems to be rooted in its truth: McDonald’s Sprite does taste different.
I say that with confidence. The closest McDonald’s to me is minutes away, and I’m typing this story with a can of Sprite and a small-sized McDonald’s Sprite sitting on either side of my work laptop. To my left, McDonald’s Sprite. Upon tasting it, it’s immediately obvious why the internet uses words like “electronic” and “spicy” to describe the flavour. At first sip, you think, Why is it spicy? After a few Kombucha-girl takes, it settles into your mouth in 72p. It’s undeniable: McDonald’s Sprite tastes like it would pair well with Sophie’s “Ponyboy.” Next, after a brief break to cleanse my tastebuds, I sample Sprite from a can and nod my head in affirmation: This is definitely fruity, the lemon-lime fully caught in 4K, the bubbles posing no threat of electrocution.
Fountain sodas always taste different from their canned or bottled counterparts. The restaurants themselves provide the water and add in the syrup manually, playing with variables like water filtration and temperature to create a semi-signature product. Then there are the fountain spouts, which any fast-food employee will tell you are known to be well-seasoned over the years.
The joy around McDonald’s Sprite memes — even those created in the context of whether the fountain soda had the power to harm a near-centenarian royal — has never fully gone away; people were making TikToks about it just a few days ago. But today’s day-long laughing fit is an example of how the kind of twisted dark humour that was once relegated to 4chan and Reddit has officially entered the mainstream. This is, perhaps, a result of our pandemic-induced super-onlineness and general divestment from traditional institutions and values.
Before, shitposting on the day of a public figure’s death happened in relatively closed communities. Now, people online seem to approach things with more nuance — yes, someone died, but that doesn’t mean they’re beyond criticism. And while some people surely find it distasteful, even disrespectful, to see people swapping morbid Sprite memes on the same day Prince Philip died, we can’t forget that the internet is only a portion of real life; what’s normal online isn’t always normal in real life. Cruel jokes and dark humour have a time and a place — and it might just be online.