If you’re a regular to YouTube, you’ve probably heard of ASMR. It’s been called oddly satisfying, addicting, weird, amazing, uncomfortable or any combinations of these things. It’s not for everyone. While some have never heard of it, others have been minimizing their browsers for years. This month marks the 10th anniversary of YouTube’s ASMR community, it’s mainstreaming, and the end of the closeted listener. Celebrate with me and listen to some ASMR.
If you’ve never heard of ASMR, it’s an acronym for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, and a keyword that will return some weird results on YouTube. A video usually involves someone making a collection of sound “triggers” into a microphone meant to cause a tingling sensation usually in the head and neck, make you relax and induce sleeping. Think Bob Ross whispering about his “summer rain” painting in the middle of a literal summer rain. Some say it releases oxytocin, the “love hormone” that makes you feel good and relax before passing out. It could be the key to helping you to relieve stress and get a good night’s sleep.
ASMR has been blowing up in the past few years, and it’s not uncommon for a more popular video to have a few million views. W Magazine even shot a celebrity ASMR miniseries last year featuring Aubrey Plaza (5.5 million views), Jennifer Garner (2.9 million views) and Cardi B (29 million views). The numbers aren’t mind blowing compared to the bulk of top videos, but YouTube’s ASMR community has come a long way.
We can probably thank things like relaxation CDs or Bob Ross for paving the way. While ASMR has never been exclusive to YouTube, the platform has become its largest base for listening and watching. According to the ASMR University (featured in The New York Times, Smithsonian magazine, Scientific American, Psychology Today, etc.), the first video targeting “tingles” was posted in 2009 by the channel WhisperingLife, and titled “Whisper 1 – hello!”
The next few years saw dozens of new accounts and “whisper channels,” but the reigning “ASMRtist” wouldn’t come until 2011, under the name Gentle Whispering ASMR. Beginning with “Whispering in English and Russian and flipping through a magazine,” Russian American “Masha” brought ASMR out of the shadows over the course of five or so years and is now considered the reigning queen of ASMR.
Her first video is exactly what it sounds like and is very relaxing. It’s not only her voice, but the wide range of sounds she uses make her videos arguably some of the best out there. Over time, the number of ASMRtists grew rapidly, and the production quality, craft and care put into their videos increased as well. Opportunities for potential triggers expanded from simply vocals to an infinite range of tapping, scratching, brushing, dripping and much, much more. Black or pixel screens became “aesthetic” backgrounds and sometimes elaborate mini “sets,” common to the Roleplay and Personal Attention videos that make up a huge portion of ASMR content today. Beyond that, there are dozens of ASMR niches like food and Mukbang, organization and fantasy. Below are a few ASMRs to get you started or to just watch out of curiosity. (Just a heads up, they won’t work unless you’re wearing headphones!)
“Steamy-Dreamy ASMR” by GentleWhispering is perhaps the greatest ASMRtist’s best ASMR. If you fall asleep during “ASMR Worst Reviewed Makeup Artist by Darling ASMR,” you’ll miss out on B*tchy Brittney’s sass. “Hats Off, 🎩 Gentlemen 🎩 ASMR” is Gentle Whispering’s ASMR for men. “Let’s Sculpt a Face” by Goodnight Moon is just unique and satisfying.
To see the positive effects of ASMR, you need only to browse the comments section. Each channel has its loyal followers, who are generally positive and grateful for the satisfaction and benefit they receive from their favorite ASMRtists. It’s helped sufferers of anxiety, insomnia and PTSD as well as busy parents dealing with babies and anyone trying to wind down and feel some “tingles.” You don’t have to like it, but if you do, at the end of the day no one cares what you do on your phone to fall asleep.
Although it’s ASMR’s 10th YouTube anniversary, the past five years have brought so much variety and talent into the game, and there’s virtually something for everybody. It’s become its own cozy world, offering a momentary escape from reality, now far more accessible than it once was. I see ASMR as one of the perks of the internet and as a detox from the daily noise and overstimulation that plagues our generation. Best of all, the future probably holds so much more to look forward to. Maybe falling asleep to a YouTube video isn’t always the worst thing you could do.