Recently, in teenage internet circles, the phrase “Netflix and chill” has been inescapable.
It’s a phrase that means, roughly, “hooking up.” But it’s a lot more complicated than that. “Netflix and chill” is a classic case of social media-fueled semantic drift. It began as a plain, descriptive phrase (“Can’t wait to leave work so I can watch Netflix and chill!”), and stayed that way for several years before acquiring a loose sexual connotation (“Wanna come over for Netflix and chill? ;)”) and, eventually becoming a known code phrase (“He said he loves me, but I know he just wants to Netflix and chill”).
As with most recent internet slang, “Netflix and chill” seems to have originated on Black Twitter before migrating to Instagram, Tumblr, Vine, and the outer reaches of Memeland. And in a way, it’s the perfect teenage shibboleth. If you were 16, and your parents caught you texting “Netflix and chill?” to your girlfriend, they might think you were proposing an innocent night of watching Chopped on the couch.
Let’s take a look at how “Netflix and chill” became every teen’s favorite euphemism for getting it on.
Netflix begins offering a streaming video service, available for free to all subscribers.
The first recorded use of “Netflix and chill” on Twitter comes from user @nofacenina:
The first recorded use of “Netflix & chill” (with the ampersand) on Twitter comes from user @TeviStateofMind.
Netflix attempts the biggest rebranding in its history—separating its delivery-by-mail and streaming businesses, and renaming the delivery business “Qwikster”—but the effort is a disaster. Customers revolt, the decision is quickly reversed, and the entire business reverts to simply being called “Netflix.”
Seemingly unaware of any corporate-level turmoil, people on Twitter continue to talk about “Netflix and chill.” At this point, “Netflix and chill” has no alternate, subversive meaning. It’s just a two-word pairing, or, alternately, a verb phrase that means “to watch Netflix, while chilling.” And it’s usually performed alone. “Netflix and chill,” at this point, is an introvert’s metaphor for voluntary solitude.
People start referring to “Netflix and chill” as a compound noun that doesn’t require an antecedent verb phrase (“about to watch”) or gerund (“watching”). The phrase “Netflix and chill” still has no sexual meaning, but the noun phrase usage is clearly on the rise.
Netflix’s streaming service begins to take off in the U.S., adding millions of members and surpassing HBO in paid subscribers. “Netflix and chill” is rising in Twitter usage, but so is the usage of other formations: “YouTube and chill,” “Hulu and chill,” and even the backwards “chill and Netflix.”
Netflix is still growing quickly, and ends the year with 57.4 million subscribers in about 50 countries. Twitter user @DoYou_Q (24,000 followers) tweets “Netflix & chill” in its new compound form.
Now, seeing “Netflix and chill” as a standalone phrase is fairly common, although more straightforward usage can also be spotted.
Dozens of Twitter users start saying “Netflix and chill” with a wink of innuendo. And a fascinating gendered watchword phenomenon develops. Teenage girls who had been asked to an innocent-sounding “Netflix and chill” session by boys, only to discover those boys’ true motives, began issuing tongue-in-cheek warnings to other girls, telling them to be careful.
More women (and a few men) start catching on to the second, more subversive meaning of “Netflix and chill.” Scare quotes start appearing around “chill,” indicating that people know what’s really going on.
The “starter pack” meme hits Twitter and Tumblr. And on November 17, @Start3rPack tweets the following:
The lower-right photo is of a wrapped condom. For perhaps the first time, the implicit meaning of “Netflix and chill” has been made explicit.
The secret is out. Winking references to “Netflix and chill” begin to appear nearly as frequently as earnest “I want to watch Netflix and chill” tweets.
As with most things popularized on Black Twitter, white people discover and eagerly jump on the “Netflix and chill” train. Popular Viner Brittany Furlan posts this Vine on Feb. 1; it racks up more than 11 million loops.
Soon after, the first Twitter “Netflix and chill” photo memes start appearing.
“Netflix and chill” has achieved official catchphrase status.
“Netflix and chill” also gets its first viral GIF tweet, from user @BasedNAfrican.
And a viral meme is born. The number of people searching Google for “Netflix and chill” starts to rise:
“Netflix and chill” is added to Urban Dictionary, solidifying its place in the vernacular. The definition, written by user LaxBuhl7, defines “Netflix and chill” as “code for two people going to each others houses and fucking or doing other sexual related acts.” The sample usage is:
Brad: “Hey Julia wanna come over and watch Netflix and chill”
Julia: “Sure I’ll pick up the condoms”
Brad: “Wait I thought we were just gonna watch Netflix and chill?”
Julia: “Netflix and Chill means we fuck, dumbass”
The next evolution of “Netflix and chill” arrives on Twitter—a photo/reaction macro prefaced by some variation of “20/30/40 mins into Netflix and chill.” Hundreds of these tweets appear.
A “Netflix and chill” Facebook group is created. Photo memes continue to multiply.
Netflix, the company, discovers “Netflix and chill,” the meme. This post appears on the company’s official Tumblr:
“Netflix and chill” spreads to Tumblr, Imgur, and Instagram, where it spawns hundreds of variations.
Celebrities begin catching on; Nicki Minaj posts an Instagram photo:
In late August, B.o.B. releases a song called “Netflix & Chill.” The lyrics are:
I was thinkin’ Netflix and chill, Netflix and chill/ I got drink and smoke and d–k that’s if you come through for real/ I was thinkin’ Netflix and chill, Netflix and chill/ I wake up and need it up that’s a bed and breakfast for real, oh yeah.
“Netflix and chill” spreads to other languages. Here’s a German Twitter user saying that she would never engage in “netflix und chill.”
Back in the U.S., parents begin asking their kids what “Netflix and chill” means. This almost certainly marks the beginning of the end of the meme.
Through it all, Netflix’s stock price continues to rise. The company now has more than 65 million subscribers, and a permanent spot in the teen lexicon of 2015.