Have you heard of ASMR?
The Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response phenomenon is becoming a highly-specialized corner of YouTube, with its own lingo and a compelling roster of stars.
What’s a meridian?
It is a term invented by the good people of Reddit, to describe brain tingles that some people experience when they hear the sound of tissue paper, swishing water, hair brushing, or some other gentle noise.
It’s recommended that you wear your headphones for the full effect. Others report that instead of tingles, they feel lightly hypnotized. In either case, the result is intense, inexplicable relaxation.
And we have Bob Ross to thank, may he rest in peace.
A lot of online whisperers point to Bob Ross as their inspiration, and the reason they realized they needed the sound of gentle whispering in their everyday lives. He serves as the posthumous High Priest of the ASMR community.
People who create ASMR videos on YouTube refer to themselves, unfortunately, as ASMRtists. They are mostly women, although there are a few well-known dudes, including Tony Bomboni and JustAWhisperingGuy. ‘Atta boys – whoever said men can’t soothe has had their little red wagon gently mended.
Most of the ASMRtists use a pseudo-loving voice, in addition to a soft whisper.
Many of them are accused of sexiness. As a rule, they reject this interpretation. They do not want their work sullied by the unsought tumescence of others. But they do want to comfort, to soothe, and to please the various requests they get to perform various ASMR “triggers.”
Three major players have had their soothe game TIGHT from day one. The following ASMRtists have had a huge impact on the ASMR community, and each has a bevy of imitators. They take their roles as soothing angels pretty seriously. You get the sense these are the types of gals who have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to light teasing vis-a-vis their crystal collection.
Each of these women has over 100,000 subscribers. In case you weren’t aware, in YouTube world that equals a whole bunch of cha-ching from ad revenue.
Gentle Whispering – 300,000+ subscribers
Gentle Whispering (often referred to by her real name, Maria) has appeared in multiple articles related to ASMR, including one in the New York Times.
Listen to her magnum opus, a video entitled “*_* Oh such a good 3D-sound ASMR video *_*”
In it, she taps on a hairbrush like you would not believe. She has a soft, Russian accent and even softer blonde tresses. Her fans fill the comment section with praise for her kindly ways, her radiant soul, and her perfect nails. If anyone accuses her of being cute and coquettish for reasons beyond sweet, pure tingles, adoring fans come to her rescue.
Fans send her their constant love on her Facebook fan page. Here is some fan art someone made, depicting Maria with her favorite inanimate objects, crystals.
Maria’s fans have asked for extensive biographical information. She whispered it to them softly in her “Draw My Life” video. When she arrived in the U.S., she had the following options: become a maid, or a stripper. She chose maid, and eventually got some kind of retail job. Then she married a slob and gained a bunch of weight. With the support of the ASMR community, she gained the confidence to get rid of the dud husb, and lose the weight. And for that, she is forever grateful to her loyal followers.
The Water Whispers Ilse – 130,000+ subscribers
Ilse is Dutch, and has appeared on a Dutch television show to explain the phenomenon of ASMR videos. If you only watch one clip about ASMR, make it this one. I don’t know about you, but confused Dutch people make me feel really relaxed.
She recently moved to Canada to be with her boyfriend, a fellow ASMRtist.
From her videos, it seems her world revolves around the soothing of others.
Heather Feather – 184,000+ subscribers
Heather Feather is an American. She has a youthful timber to her voice.
It’s not clear what any of these ASMR stars do for careers outside of their videos. Maybe they rely on YouTube ad money, or maybe they know that revealing any details about their schedule or location will lead to some unwelcome knocks on the door.
Once they get enough followers, almost all of them get Paypals and Patreon accounts where loyal whisper fans can donate money.
Sometimes the ASMRtists promise that the money will go toward buying better equipment. Others say they need to pay bills, because their anxiety and mental health problems keep them from obtaining gainful employment.
So they upload on a regular schedule, and encourage interaction with their viewers. Some enterprising whisperers hold live Q&A sessions in exchange for a donation.
In the comments sections of videos, fans often discuss the importance of “spreading awareness” of the “ASMR community,” like it’s an important disease. Not much research has been done on the subject, they whisper, but hopefully that will change soon!
Drop what you’re doing, scientists. People are TINGLING, tingling HARD. And we want to know WHY.
There is something unnerving about the word tingly. “Ooh! Dem tingles!” people write in the comments. Sick.
If you want to be a popular ASMR-er, take requests. Even if that request is to “scratch an apple, and then show us the marks on the apple.” Before the internet, you should know that there was a man furtively scrambling around trying to find someone, ANYONE, to scratch an apple just the way he likes.
For a long time, I’ve relied on white noise or a boring podcast to fall asleep. Without someplace wholesome to focus my attention, I toss and turn, imagining how sweet it will be when I finally have my revenge. So I understand the urge to listen to people tap on cardboard boxes.
But there is more to these than the pure joy of tippity tapping.
People (outsiders!) pick up on the fact that the terminology around these videos is pretty fetish-y. They refer to the pleasurable reaction to ASMR videos as “braingasms.” Many ASMR videos have “role play” in the title. Some common role plays include a personal shopper, a hair dresser, a doctor performing a cranial exam, and a masseuse. Descriptions of videos boast “personal attention.” In these, the ASMRtist will get up real close to the camera, and pretend they’re having a conversation with the viewer.
Other role plays include forest nymphs.
And Candy Land characters. Oh, Heather Feather. This is exactly what I needed.
If you read enough of the comments (which I order you not to do) you’ll find people praising the ASMRtists for helping with their depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and loneliness.
Some ASMRtists encourage the feeling of intimacy with their viewers.
If you don’t like watching insular loonies initiate fake intimacy, by all means go back to hunting for reasonably priced fly fishing accessories on Amazon. If, like me, spiraling into madness is one of your top hobbies, you are in for a treat.
There is a subset of role plays that feature cuddling. Simulated stimulation? Or stimulating simulation? You decide.
“You look so cute,” SoftlyGaloshes tells the viewer, gently stroking the side of the camera. “Do you wanna defrost the chicken from earlier?”
She has disabled the comments for this video, presumably because of the unspeakable freakiness elicited by her sublimely dull chit-chat.
Later she makes kissy faces and noises at the camera, an infraction that led to an “Age-Restricted” label on her video.
In this next video, the viewer plays the part of someone encouraging Tony Bomboni to treat himself to a Twix bar.
And he indulges, for those ASMR enthusiasts who need, want, and love the sound of caramel delicately unsticking from teeth. He even pretends to see someone out the window as an excuse to lean closer to the mic as he chews the candy.
This video may be a fantasy role play, but the disaster of Twix crumbs on his white sheets is real. Now my anxiety has shot through the roof, to the point that I am no longer able to leave the house.
So it’s a good thing I have HaileyWhisperingRose to be my doe-eyed companion.
If you feel like she might make the perfect girlfriend, you have competition. Admirer after admirer opens up to her.
Not all of the feelings are good.
Some ASMR output undeniably mirrors fetish videos on YouTube. High heels are a good example.
This is an ASMR video.
This is a fetish video.
So you can see why people get confused.
As I assembled my gallery of ASMR videos, I asked my roommate, who had never seen an ASMR video before, to have a look at Maria’s “Such a Good 3-D Sound” video.
Twenty seconds in, she looked at me, her eyes wide. “I feel so tingly,” she said, “in my chest. I just want to curl up into a ball and go to sleep. Does this mean I have a fetish?”
She continued to stare into Maria’s eyes.
“I really like it, but I feel weird about it.”
I’ve read many YouTube comments to the same effect. I guess that’s why people typically watch ASMR videos alone, with the curtains drawn, when they feel relatively certain no one will walk in on them.
And afterward, remember to delete your history. Someone might think you’re a pervert.
After he read this blog, my dad decided to reach out by getting down to my level. He made his own version of an ASMR video and posted it on my mom’s Facebook. Before I added it to this post, I checked with him to see if he thought this would ruin his career as a beefy lawyer. “Of course not, I’m telling you NOT to smoke pot.”
(For some reason, he references me living in my mother’s basement, something I have never done.)
I hope you all find this highly relaxing.