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Is everything ASMR now?

Is everything ASMR now?

Some of the core elements of ASMR videos have slowly crept their way into more mainstream content. Take a quick scroll through TikTok or Instagram Reels, and you're not likely to get very far without encountering someone riffing on the genre.

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Last Updated : 12 May 2024, 03:19 IST
Last Updated : 12 May 2024, 03:19 IST
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A person, typically a woman, is talking gently into a microphone. She's paying close attention to you. Perhaps she's asking you about your day, or role-playing the part of an aesthetician or doctor or your best friend at a slumber party. Maybe she's about to give you a facial. Or examine your eyes with a light and a magnifying glass. Or simply listen to you talk.

There are a lot of -- for lack of a better description -- mouth sounds. The woman whispers and clicks her tongue, all while speaking with overemphasized consonants and elongated vowels. Occasionally, she taps her fingernails on the microphone. Or drags them along the teeth of a comb. Or crinkles up a piece of cellophane. When she opens the jar containing the mud mask she's about to apply to your cheeks, she twists the lid open and close and open and close, slowly and strategically into the microphone.

These effects once belonged to a niche of online content known as ASMR, short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, the name for the pleasant, tingly sensation viewers may get from watching videos with these sounds. And it was thought to be something of an acquired taste, even as it became wildly popular online.

But some of the core elements of ASMR videos have slowly crept their way into more mainstream content. Take a quick scroll through TikTok or Instagram Reels, and you're not likely to get very far without encountering someone riffing on the genre.

Videos of chefs plunking down an onion on the counter only to have the onion thunk -- plop! -- and, through the magic of editing, scatter into a perfectly diced pile. They hit a pan with hot oil and -- sssss -- they sizzle. A video of a fashion influencer getting dressed may emphasize the sound of a zipper being pulled or the percussive pops of a row of snaps. The gentle sound of sloshing water accompanies a video of someone dredging a pool. C3 Laundry Services, a cleaning company in Accra, Ghana, started gaining viral attention a few years ago after its owner began posting videos scraping soapy water out of dirty rugs.

The sounds are subdued, never alarming. Just enough to keep the viewer's attention.

"The one thing these videos tend to have in common is transformation," said Craig Richard, a biopharmaceutical sciences professor at Shenandoah University and the author of the book "Brain Tingles."

"That's very pleasing to our brains," he added. "When we take something that is unordered and order it, or uncooked and we cook it." (Speaking on the phone, Richard's soft, lilting voice sounded not dissimilar to that of an ASMR artist.)

These often-wordless videos scratch, to some degree, that same ASMR brain itch. Satisfying, calming and, as creators have figured out, quite addictive. They seem to have borrowed some of the most satisfying elements of ASMR but serve them up in a more universally appealing presentation, such as cooking or cleaning. (Much of traditional ASMR content can be a bit more specific and offbeat -- such as watching a pink-haired fairy give you a makeover.)

The first time Rosanna Gray saw an ASMR video online, it was 30 minutes long and featured a woman whispering while cleaning a house. "I thought it was really strange," said Gray, 40, a full-time content creator in Ohio. "That's what I always thought ASMR was until I started watching TikToks and figured out there was more to it than that."

She has since noticed more subtle ASMR appearing in less-expected places in recent years, such as videos from lifestyle influencers. "They do the tippity taps on everything, like on their makeup and their skin care products," Gray said, describing the way some creators incorporate ASMR-like qualities into their videos.

In Gray's own cleaning and organizational content on the platform, she refills drawers and shelves and bottles in her house with everything from snacks to dryer sheets. In a recent video, she restocked a minifridge for one of her teenage children with snacks and drinks, each in a perfect, tiny container. Each new item is added with a little sonic flair, whether that's the sound of the top being ripped off a bag of fruit candy or the lid of a plastic container being snapped into place.

When brands and agencies reach out to partner with Gray, she said she often notices she is categorized as an ASMR creator, although she doesn't consider herself one.

Instead, she started leaning into the more tingle-inducing elements of her content after noticing how positively her viewers reacted. Since she doesn't often speak in her videos, using these tricks is also an effective way to "fill up the silence."

ASMR has breached social media containment, too.

"If you think of a traditional Super Bowl commercial, in the past, they've really leaned heavily on, fast, frenetic, loud in your face," said Richard, who consulted on a Super Bowl spot in 2019 that starred Zoë Kravitz using ASMR techniques to advertise Michelob Ultra.

"People are starting to appreciate these slower-paced and slower-paced commercials," he said. "I think that's part of the reason it's played into this other content area. Things don't always need to be so frenetic; sometimes, we just want things to slow down."

Some video makers opt for a style that combines that slowness with a bit of the frenetic energy for which TikTok is known. Louis Gantus, a content creator who started out posting fitness videos but later pivoted to food content, said he got the idea to incorporate more sonic elements into his videos after studying other cooking creators such as Owen Han. Initially, Gantus filmed silent videos focusing solely on the sounds of the ingredients being prepared and cooked.

"Hearing the food is almost like music," said Gantus, 21.

Now, he adds voice-overs, talking viewers through the recipe while he chops and whisks and slices. "I wanted something a bit different than just your classic ASMR," he said.

Not everyone is on board with the ASMR creep.

"This has got to stop," chef Alison Roman said in a recent YouTube video in which she dramatically drops a cut of lamb onto her kitchen counter with a percussive thunk. The video then begins to parody ASMR-style cooking videos.

"Everyone is always snapping," she said. "What are we in? 'West Side Story'? Stop."

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