You may have heard the above phrase used to describe the alcoholic energy beverage Four Loko. Before I give you a glimpse into my personal observations of the Four Loko subculture of Millennial New Yorkers, let me congratulate my brother Eddie Huang, who is back doing what he does best at his restaurant, Baohaus. Eddie will also have a show coming out soon. Be sure to check for that. Well, on to why you are here.
This amateur study is a look into Four Loko and the (21+) Millennials of New York City who drink it. I chose Millennials because, honestly, the Loko would not have been banned in New York had it not been for its abuse by them. The study took place in lounges, clubs, the streets, and various house parties throughout the boroughs of New York. Over the last six months I have engaged in over 200 conversations about the reasons for and effects of consuming this alcoholic energy beverage. To really engage in the culture I had to force myself to go where others were afraid to... the belly of the beast. Yes, you guessed correctly. Over the course of approximately 180 days I became a Four Loko user. Don't believe me? Watch this. Starting this study my hypothesis was that the ancillary activities of the Millennial drinker and not the beverage were the cause of the numerous college student-related incidents blamed on Four Loko. To substantiate the aforementioned assertion I conducted two major experiments in the form of "Farewell Four Loko parties" (named #Kenjisfourlokoparty pt1 and pt2) which turned my apartment into the test environment. The following are my observations and (hopefully) my insights into the subculture that has formed around Four Loko.
$3.00 WAS MY TOTAL (COST/VALUE)
The inexpensive nature of Four Loko is hands down its biggest draw. One can of Loko costs about the same price as two 12 ounce cans of your favorite domestic beer. The Loko is significantly less than the Coco Loso, aka Ciroc Cocunut, which rings in at around $30 for 750 ml. The point is that you can get sauced for cheap, and hopefully survive the night to do it again tomorrow.
A GLIMPSE AT THE OTHER SIDE (AMATEUR COCAINE)
"I don't do drugs, I just like to drink" - Queens, NY 23-year-old male
In ancient cultures around the world the coca leaf was used to ward off fatigue and hunger, enhance endurance, and to promote a benign sense of well-being. Sounds kind of like how most Millennials feel like when on the Loko. Millennial Loko drinkers in NYC shared accounts of being able to "rage" throughout the morning hours without the normal hangover associated with drinking copious amounts of beer or liquor. During this time they mentioned venturing on average to two-three more locations (party hopping) than normal. When Millennial men are asked about the extra visits, they contend that the energy and loss of inhibitions your receive from Loko makes it easier to talk to all the women you want without any feeling of slow down due to rejection or loss of interest in the hunt. These men articulated being able to engage in a lively dialogue that they do not normally experience during early mornings that include other alcoholic beverages.
URBAN LEGEND (CANDYMAN)
The Four Loko distribution strategy in New York seems to be to place the product most heavily in low income neighborhoods, paired with stickers and promotional materials that alert users to the presence of the drink. In NY, Arizona iced tea has done wonders for their margins by doing the same thing for their various flavors of 20 ounce iced tea. The $0.99 cans fly off the shelf in lower income neighborhoods due to the perceived value, ready availability, and familiarity. As an alcoholic energy beverage, Four Loko captured a generation that was looking for a drink they could call their own. Generation X has malt liquor (to a lesser extent Cisco and MD 20/20), but we did not have a socially frowned-upon beverage that was widely known. Some could argue nut crackers are a Millennial beverage, but let's keep that secret between you and me. This Four Loko subculture is a development of the counterculture mind set of most Millennials. The need to define ourselves on our terms is reason enough to see why Four Loko became so popular. The national spotlight that self-serving politicians placed on the beverage made acquiring and sometimes abusing the drink all the more tempting.
2010 WRAP UP
To recap the past six months is to look at some of the most embarrassing and amazing moments of my twenty-something life. I witnessed no deaths or injuries related to drinking Four Loko. However, I have seen embarrassing and regrettable acts that only twenty-somethings can encourage and desire. "Blackout in a can"? No, but the ability to blackout due to overconsumption and activity? Definitely a possibility. Over the past six months I have witnessed more blackout nights amongst the target audience due to vodka, rum, and cognac. Banning a beverage because of abuse will only spawn parody products that aim to fill the void in the hearts of Millennials who seek to resist societal norms, assert their independence, and test their limitations. Whether Whipped Lightning (18% alcohol whipped cream) or Adult Chocolate Milk (40 proof vodka infused chocolate milk), young people are always looking for ways to hack the things that trigger or allow for moments of happiness. Four Loko is a "sweet" beverage that comes in a colorful can and sells for cheap, just like most soda beverages that Millennials have consumed since birth. As a society, let's focus our attention on addressing the needs of the people, not eliminating their wants.