In less than a month, Squid Game has become the most discussed Netflix original series – let alone TV show – in 2021. Thanks to the internet, the South Korean survival drama has been widely consumed by millions and is – as it stands – this year’s most-searched Halloween costume and is reportedly on track to become the streaming platform’s most-watched original series ever (oops, sorry Bridgerton).
Directed by South Korean screenwriter Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game follows a group of debt-ridden strangers who gamble with their lives to compete in a series of deadly children’s games for the chance to win a huge cash prize. And while Netflix played an important part in laying the foundation of the show’s growing popularity with the help of its pushy algorithm, digital chatter – once again – fulfilled its purpose by amplifying the show’s cultural relevance. Since its release on September 17, Squid Game references have dominated Twitter’s timeline, videos wasted no time taking over TikTok’s “For You Page” and memes have bounced around most social platforms.
A guy gives you this on the central line. What you doing? pic.twitter.com/RhOQ7jIfde
— OLONI BABY (@Oloni) September 29, 2021
In fact, according to PR Newswire, the number of social mentions increased from 30,000 to almost 1 million on September 29. There were over 230,000 mentions using the hashtag #SquidGame upon its release, which then skyrocketed to over 9 million by October 5. Part of this could be also a direct result of Facebook’s outage, which spurred a series of Squid Game memes throughout the day. Most noticeably from the popular “Red Light, Green Light” episode where the players compete in a game reminiscent to that of “What’s the Time Mr Wolf” with a giant animatronic doll who eliminates players if it senses movement.
When Instagram & Facebook are down. pic.twitter.com/mVFlVOOCOC
— Netflix (@netflix) October 4, 2021
Meanwhile, on TikTok, #SquidGame has 34.9 billion views. Alongside several clips from the series – which have drawn in the most numbers – users are also sharing the show’s hidden clues using J Cole’s 2013 single She Knows, while others have found joy in recreating some of the games depicted in the show – the most notable being the Honeycomb Challenge. Completed in the third episode, the players are tasked with choosing a shape beforehand which they must then cut out of the honeycomb, also known as dalgona, without breaking the shape itself in the process. Due to its challenging yet replicable nature, this game has transpired into a full-blown craze that users are obsessed with (TikTok even jumped onto the trend by creating a “Toffee Game” effect).
Outside of the short-form app, the game has already adapted into the sphere of YouTube as a challenge format, while food vloggers are using this as an opportunity to share detailed recipes. Even brands like Pepsi and Budweiser have joined in on the craze by recreating iconic moments from the show…
Beer games anyone? pic.twitter.com/AaXY1n3hiY
— Budweiser (@budweiserusa) October 4, 2021
It’s clear that the internet has been a huge force in catapulting Squid Game into the phenomenon that it is – the online discourse has proved to be a key marketing tool alone in driving consumers to watch the series. However, this is largely a result of the series itself. Behind its thriller and stress-inducing plot, Squid Game is loaded with imagery, symbols and music that can be universally replicated into meme-able content despite it being a South Korean drama. Visually, the shapes are dotted around the entire nine-part series in pretty much every scene. The bright-red jumpsuit uniform is almost identical to that of Money Heist’s, making it widely popular for cosplay. And sonically, the nursery rhyme playing during “Red Light, Green Light” has a catchy melody that can easily be remixed and used as a soundbite for many TikTok videos.
Much like with some of the iconic Netflix original content before Squid Game – Bridgerton, Bird Box and Money Heist – the internet has won again. However, the real question lies within what it will obsess over next.
By Jennifer Adetoro, deputy editor for CORQ. Picture credit: squidgame_ via Instagram