There’s a girl whispering into a microphone on YouTube. She’s telling people about how wonderful and loved they are. She also whispers things that are completely inaudible. There’s a guy too. He likes to dress up and role-play. Sometimes he’s a fairy, a healer or even a spa consultant. The theme though, it’s always the same—everything is done slowly, everything is explained and everything is, well, whispered.
Upon finding these videos, most viewers feel as though they have entered that “weird side of YouTube again”—the side where things are a little off and something’s just can’t be unseen.
However, it’s not that at all.
Instead it is ASMR or Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response; which is the feeling that one gets when someone whispers softly to them or if in person, touches them lightly. It is a feeling of deep relaxation often described as a tingly feeling. These tingles are often triggered by ASMR videos by people who refer to themselves as ASMRists.
ASMRists find new ways of speaking, new objects to play with and new ways to make different kinds of sounds that trigger the ASMR response in their viewers. The only problem is that not everyone is capable of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response and so, there are many YouTube viewers out there that make fun of and are opposed to the ASMR community largely because they don’t understand it and find it weird—“the weird side of YouTube.”
Take ASMRist Tony Bomboni for example. Tony is a 19-year-old college student with a following of about 28,000 YouTube subscribers. Most of his channel is made up of role-plays that are creative and different from other ASMRists. He puts on makeup for his viewers, drinks soda for them and talks about his life.
For Tony, his ASMR channel began after he viewed another relaxation channel and made up his mind to create his own. “I saw a makeup role-play and instantly fell in love with the feeling. I [started] my channel after two months of thinking because I did not know how I would start or if I should even start. I was nervous people wouldn’t like who I am. I didn’t want to get massive hate again like I did on former channels,” Tony explains.
Tony’s anxiety over negativity is well placed. He became internet famous last year when his ASMR video where he role-played a fairy was played and mocked on Tosh.0. Taken completely out of context, Tosh.0 made the video look ridiculous and mocked Tony for his creativity and unique approach to ASMR, a movement based on providing viewers with relaxation and help for sleep.
However, Tony took the entire experience in stride and true to the message of ASMR, took it with a great sense of positivity. “To me, it was an honor and just a part of the entertainment line he was looking for I suppose? It’s all for laughs in the end [his show] and having watched it a few times before, I understood the point completely.
Even though the ideal of the video was not presented the way I ever would have imagined it to be, I still felt a sense that I shouldn’t be upset about it, because I knew that I would just end up bringing in more people to my channel who liked the feeling of ASMR, have heard of it before, or understood it immediately. Any creative idea I get is probably for a reason. The faerie role-play, I got really into that one. I remember being a whole different person. It was like I was away from my body for the hour that I filmed it,” said Tony.
In contrast, there’s also Maria of GentleWhispering, a young 20-something Russian immigrant from the east coast. She has nearly 250,000 subscribers and has created all different kinds of role-play for her viewers. She’s referred to the “Goddess of ASMR” in some comments with all over her videos having tremendous amounts of views, especially the ones she is role-playing in. Most recently, she even went so far as mimicking sounds of what it is like to be inside the womb.
She explains to her viewers that the sounds of the womb are something that no one ever completely forgets and that sounds like white noise can bring viewers back to the safety of their mother’s body. This too is not an idea that most people will have in their everyday life and some would find this a bit strange.
Both can be argued over how weird and different these two concepts are. Why is it then that Tony faces the most ridicule and hate on his channel? Maria is championed for thinking outside the box and bringing ASMR viewers a wide variety of sounds and videos to trigger them.
There has been a big argument throughout the ASMR community that Tony gets signaled out more so because he is a man. Is it that simple though? Has a community based on love, relaxation and peace also been infiltrated by the need for “proper” gender roles and common universal thought?
Tony explains that he has seen it all with regards to different kinds of negativity: “The negativity that I receive is probably far worse than what the men or women combined receive in the ASMR community, as I am a VERY different person. Some say I’m a feminine man, some say this, some say that, some disagree, but in the end I have gotten every single comment you can possibly imagine and I know there will be more. There will always be disagreements about ASMR. I always knew that, even from the very start.” The difference in negativity? Tony says that’s about breasts. Most of the negative comments he has seen within the ASMR community have been about women’s busts.
Why does this even have to exist though? Why does this even matter for people in a community that is designed for rest and relaxation—a break from the everyday pressures and stressors that everyone is facing?
It’s so much easier to enjoy ASMR for what it is if you just let go of what you think. As you watch, you need to focus on the sound of the brush on the foil as Maria pretends to put highlights into your hair and on the sound of her gently accented voice as she softly whispers to you as she works. You need to focus on how Tony, though a fairy, uses his voice to create white noise and uses glass and beads to create a steady beat. It’s not about looking beyond the image; it’s about forgetting the image completely.
Last year, when I broke up with my immature ex-boyfriend that was all I wanted to do was forget, but I wouldn’t let myself. After a summer of barely sleeping, of waking up each night and pacing and wringing my hands, I just wanted to forget and to sleep. I found out about ASMR from my brother who was one of those that felt it was the weird side of YouTube. That’s how I met Tony and Maria and Olivia and Fred and on and on, my subscription list is constantly growing as more people start making ASMR videos.
This year, I started to make my own and much like Tony and Maria, I too have gotten the comments that are hurtful and negative from those who can’t just listen. I see the world a little differently now, I see the world in sounds and I listen to hear what would make a good, relaxing sounds and what would create the sort of white noise that I have yet to be able to make with my own voice. Sometimes if you really listen closely enough, you can focus in on a sound that no matter how small or insignificant in comparison to everything else around you can still make you drown out everything else. It’s just like when we were in kindergarten and the teacher would gently tell us what we were supposed to be doing and in that moment, we felt such a calming sensation wash over us. You just have to be open to it and allow yourself to forget what you’re watching and just listen.
You might even find your own tingles.