In 2023, McDonald’s introduced a new milkshake called the Grimace shake, which went viral but not for reasons one might expect. The shake, which was created to celebrate Grimace’s birthday, became the center of a bizarre, horror-themed meme on TikTok in which users shared videos where they pretended to suffer a gruesome fate after tasting the shake. The transformation of Grimace from a McDonald’s mascot to a symbol of terror via the Grimace shake memes marked a striking shift in the character’s portrayal.
A short history of Grimace
Grimace, a beloved character from McDonald’s marketing lore, has a history as colorful as his distinctive purple hue. First introduced in 1971, Evil Grimace, as he was first known, began his journey as a villainous character known for stealing milkshakes.
This four-armed, shake-stealing creature was initially a menace in McDonaldland, the fantasy world created to market McDonald’s products. However, his character underwent a significant transformation in order to make him more appealing to children.
By the mid-1970s, Grimace had been reimagined to be a clumsy, yet affable character who was a close friend of Ronald McDonald and other inhabitants of McDonaldland. Grimace shed two of his arms along with his villainous persona, and his new persona was that of a large, soft, and friendly creature who loved milkshakes but no longer stole them.
Origins of the Grimace shake meme
This peculiar meme trend originated with a video from TikToker Fraz (@thefrazmaz), in which the TikToker tastes the shake and then shows himself dead on the ground with a purple-stained mouth.
The video exploded on TikTok, amassing over 2.2 million views, and became the blueprint for countless similar videos. Users creatively incorporated elements of horror and the supernatural to turn a simple shake tasting into an elaborate death scene.
@thefrazmaz R.I.P Grimace (and me) #mcdonalds #grimace #milkshake #grimaceshake #birthday #fakedeath #yummy ♬ Daylight – David Kushner
The meme’s popularity reflects the dark and surreal humor enjoyed by members of Gen Z. The bizarre and somewhat morbid reaction to the Grimace shake fits into a broader trend of subverting child-friendly imagery into menacing figures often mirroring themes seen in horror video games and movies.
@jon.eli.caden He will be grim-missed #grimaceshake #mcdonalds #trending ♬ Grimacing Sounds – Jon & Eli
McDonald’s reaction to the viral Grimace shake trend
McDonald’s response to the unexpected vitality of its latest milkshake was a mix of confusion and subtle acknowledgment. They released an image of Grimace looking perplexed in a nod to the chaotic creativity that had overtaken their marketing campaign and while most family-friendly companies would take issue with their product being depicted in such a dark manner, McDonald’s seemed to recognize that the meme served as a form of free, organic advertising driven entirely by public engagement.
The cultural impact of the meme
The Grimace shake meme phenomenon highlights the power of social media in shaping narratives and changing perceptions of well-established characters. The meme not only entertained but also sparked discussions about the nature of internet humor and its impact on branding. It showed how a simple product could become a canvas for online creativity, albeit in an unexpectedly dark manner.
@sawyerwohlt Griminal activity has taken place #grimace #grimaceshake #grimacesbirthday #happybirthdaygrimace #happybirthday #grimreaper #fyp #foryou ♬ I'll Never Smile Again – The Pied Pipers
But while the meme was largely seen as a harmless form of entertainment, it also raised questions about the ethics of using a beloved children’s character in such a macabre context. The meme’s popularity underscored the sometimes-blurred line between humor and insensitivity in the digital age.
@spooky_redrum this trend is so funny 2 me || #grimace #grimaceshake #analoghorror #fyp ♬ sonido original – ϟSoyRadϟ
The unpredictable world of internet memes
The story of the Grimace shake meme is a testament to the unpredictable and often surreal nature of internet culture where a simple fast-food item can be transformed into a viral sensation, forever altering the image of a decades-old mascot.
The meme serves as a reminder of the spontaneous and often bizarre trends that can emerge online, where even a purple milkshake can become the subject of widespread fascination and a catalyst for unexpected creativity.