Arts and Entertainment

The Sensationalism of ASMR

Sound has more capabilities in art than simply music.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

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By Camilla Cheng

Having someone unfamiliar with ASMR walk in on you watching an ASMR video might be an awkward experience. From the simplest perspective, it’s just someone making noise (or multiple noises) behind a camera. These noises are amplified such that a pin-drop becomes as crisp as the sound of rustling bubble wrap. Regardless of whether the face of the person is seen in the video, they’re engrossed in the noise-making task at hand: whether it be chewing on ice, poking at slime, biting a fish’s cartilage, or roleplaying as a Martian. It may seem as if there is nothing in it for the viewer, and that they’re wasting time on the weird side of YouTube. However, ASMR is not just another random fad that procrastinators have jumped the time-wasting bandwagon on.

ASMR stands for “Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response” which is the intended reaction when one listens to an ASMR video. Often called “tingles” by ASMRtists, they’re sensations that are goosebump-y or “tingly” and are meant to be felt from the shoulders or scalp before traversing the rest of the body in a pleasurable, relaxing wave.

It’s no wonder that some people listen to ASMR when they have sleeping troubles. Insomniacs, stressed students, and other restless beings alike have reported that the “tingles” caused by ASMR videos are very satisfying and sedative. Some animals also experience this same phenomenon.

Everyone has their own stimuli that trigger these reactions. Some people have misophonia—a dislike of certain sounds—which affects what triggers them. Chewing noises are often a source of agitation for those with misophonia, so they should steer clear of eating-related ASMR channels. Setups like binaural audio (where microphones are placed on either side of the ASMRtist such that the audio simulates the actual human ear in reverberation) may intensify a viewer’s tingles because the way the audio travels in such videos is closer to what one may experience in reality.

Sound exists in many forms, so there are various genres of ASMRtists that appeal to certain categories of sounds and even roleplaying. Some ASMRtists even create multiple channels, like the ASMRtist behind SassEkrafts and SassEsnacks, channels for craft-making sounds and eating sounds, respectively. Other ASMRtists, like Chiara ASMR and Jojo’s ASMR, create this variety in one channel. Then there are those like Ephemeral Rift, who take their own eccentric route on what props/topics/themes can be used for a video (“Communist ASMR,” anyone?). The success of an ASMR channel is based on how well they can soothe their audience. Elements such as originality in content and authenticity in personality are also appreciated.

ASMR shouldn’t be confined within the label of a fad because of its effect on the public. It is undeniable that it has become part of popular media. Take the 2019 Super Bowl: beer company Michelob ULTRA created a commercial featuring one of their beverages with the use of ASMR. Celebrity Zoe Kravitz whispered and tapped the glass bottle of Pure Gold, surrounded by the serenity of a nature-filled environment. Those unfamiliar with ASMR took to Twitter with “WTF” reactions, but those in the ASMR community rejoiced at having received more widespread recognition for their art.

Opportunities to feel the tingles of ASMR aren’t limited to YouTube channels and other virtual communities. Real-life situations also hold their own triggers: ASMR is based on sound waves that travel in the walking, waking world, after all. Keep your ears peeled (or plugged) the next time you hear whispers, scraping, or running water. You never know what may stimulate your mind.