The great shake-down: How Grimace and Barbie milkshakes became TikTok's favorite props

Perhaps an "Oppenheimer" milkshake is in the works next?

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published July 15, 2023 3:59PM (EDT)

Pink and Purple Shakes (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Pink and Purple Shakes (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Within the greater world of TikTok is #FoodTok, a niche subsection dedicated to all things related to food. There's step-by-step tutorials for quick and easy weeknight recipes. There's visual restaurant reviews. There's a new genre of food-themed thirst trap videos, which feature male cooks stripping and slapping thick mounds of dough. It's a weird, wild corner of the internet — making it the perfect place for the ongoing Great Shake-Down between Grimace and Barbie. 

You've seen the videos: A customer records themselves before and after taste-testing one of these pop-culture themed milkshakes. It all started with McDonald's "Grimace Shake," a berry-flavored milkshake that was released as part of the Grimace Birthday Meal promotion. The franchise's big purple mascot, who was formally introduced in 1971, celebrated turning 52 years of age on June 12. Grimace himself has been described as the "embodiment" of a milkshake, while other speculate that he's actually just a sentient taste bud. Regardless, his wide smile, big google eyes and cuddly persona have earned him a large fan base. 

"Grimace is from Grimace Island and comes from a huge family [including his Grandma Winky, aunts Millie and Tillie and his Uncle O'Grimacey!]," McDonald's said in a June statement. "Our timeless bestie has become a fan-favorite known for his signature fuzzy purple look, friendly and playful personality, love for shakes, and of course — ambiguous nature. What exactly is Grimace? Perhaps we'll never know..."

On TikTok, however, Grimace is made out to be the complete opposite. There, he's a ruthless murderer whose weapon of choice is his sugary yet deadly milkshake. The macabre trend features customers excitedly taking sips of the shake before cutting to scenes of them contorted in painful positions and bleeding purple. The scene of the crime varies. Sometimes victims are found in a tree. Other times, they're shown in a car trunk, on an empty playground, parking lot or basketball court. 

What remains consistent throughout, though, is how the innocent treat has been turned into an object of horror. 

 TikTok user @thefrazmaz (Austin Frazier) is believed to be the first person to kickstart the trend on June 13, according to Stay Tuned NBC. The popular hashtag "#grimaceshake" has since garnered over 1 billion views on TikTok, with celebrities like Courtney Cox also joining in on the fun.

Shortly after the Grimace Shake took the internet by storm, Cold Stone Creamery's all-new Barbie milkshake — a blended version of the chain's All That Glitters Is Pink sundae — inspired many to start a similar taste-testing trend. Unlike the Grimace Shake incident, the Barbie Shake "yassifies," or glamorizes, its lucky drinkers. TikTok users are seen taking a sip of the pink drink before transforming into a real-life Barbie. That means donning a dress, wearing a blonde wig, sporting a pair of heels or pulling up in a pink Corvette.

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The recent trends further spotlight how TikTok, a video sharing platform akin to the late Vine, can be utilized as a powerful marketing tool. Despite the relative gruesomeness of the Grimace Shake videos, the trend helped boost the shake's overall sales. According to data collected by market research platform CivicScience, 14% of U.S. adults have seen Grimace Shake videos. Among those who've watched a video, an astounding 42% have tried the shake, and 23% intend to try it.

The same effect was also seen for the Barbie shake trend, which comes in anticipation of Greta Gerwig's upcoming film "Barbie." The Cold Stone shake was made in partnership with Warner Bros. Pictures and Mattel and is one of many mass promotional items for the film. "Barbie" has already racked up viral tweets where people share pop-culture references using the film's signature posters and thousands of pre-sale tickets — AMC already sold 20,000 tickets to members who want to see both "Barbie" and "Oppenheimer." Data from Box Office Pro also predicted that "Barbie" will be the highest-grossing film in the US this summer with earnings between $215 million and $319 million.

Prior to the Grimace Shake and Barbie shake trends, TikTok meshed food, pop-culture and impeccable marketing in the Spider-Verse burger trend. That being said, perhaps there's an "Oppenheimer" milkshake and trend that is currently in the works...

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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"barbie" Shake Explainer Food Trends Grimace Shake Tiktok