ASMRtwork or ASMRsenic? Chamblee Students on the ‘Genre of Noise’

Sirianna Blanck and Lucy Samuels

“The first time I ever saw or listened to ASMR was [from] a video making fun of it. I didn’t even know what it was until they played a clip from it, and it made me so unspeakably uncomfortable. It felt like someone was behind me ready to grab me. It was… ew,” said Chamblee senior Julia Johnson.

ASMR: autonomous sensory meridian response. When coming across the acronym “ASMR,” one often finds differing opinions on the subject, making it one of the more polarizing parts of the internet. But the actual purpose of ASMR, according to its online subculture, is positive—to relax the viewer with assorted and distinct sounds, or perhaps even visual cues. Although innocent-sounding, ASMR feels out of the ordinary and uncomfortable for some. Still, several Chamblee students maintain that despite its reputation, ASMR is a tried-and-true outlet for relaxation. 

ASMR, like most internet subcultures, has its own lingo. The word “roleplay,” often associated with games such as Dungeons & Dragons or LARPing, is its own video genre in the context of ASMR. In roleplay, the ASMR creator takes on a character and creates a plot, such as an art teacher whispering about a syllabus on the first day of school or an e-girl giving the viewer a makeover. In the world of ASMR, “trigger” is also not a negative word, referring to specific sounds created in videos—sounds meant to trigger the meridian response, the tingling sensation that ASMR enthusiasts crave: tapping, whispering, and page-turning are all considered triggers. 

“Before I started listening to [ASMR], especially during the summers […] I would get no more than like six hours of sleep on a normal night. On a normal night, it would be like five [hours],” said junior Mia Wood. “[ASMR] started to get me to go to bed a little bit earlier and actually wind down better because I’ve had a problem with that since forever, but it’s kind of helped me get more sleep since I found it.”

While some may listen to it nightly to fall asleep, others only listen to ASMR when they are in need of relaxation. When studying late at night or overwhelmed by homework, soothing voices or microphone brushing could be the key to staying sane.

“[Listening to ASMR] is not a consistent thing, but I usually put it on if I’m up too late working on homework or something like that. It helps me from getting way too stressed out,” said junior Eli Scruggs.

Like any internet trend or YouTube genre, ASMR has many haters. For many, the whispering or scratching noises are cringe-worthy.

“The sounds that people make aren’t ‘normal sounds’ in the sense that you’re not going to hear them regularly around in life, like in a classroom,” said Johnson. “It’s so loud and in your ear. It doesn’t need to be there, for me. It feels too unnatural.”

Even within the ASMR community, some viewers have sounds that they themselves have an aversion to.

“Chewing sounds really get on my nerves, so I just totally avoid that. Tapping’s alright but it makes me really fidgety and doesn’t help me focus much,” said Scruggs.

Just like a particular sound or trigger can help ASMR listeners relax, some create the opposite effect. Instead of guiding the viewer to the path of relaxation, certain sounds can make some viewers overly anxious. 

“It doesn’t freak me out. I’m not scared of it,” said Johnson. “I have a friend who does listen to ASMR and does like it, and he tries to explain it to me and I’m just like, ‘No.’ I don’t need this in my life. It puts me on edge, like I’m waiting for something, and it’s horrible.”

Many ASMR channels do more than relax the viewer. As the genre has grown, many “ASMRtists” create content centered around comedy or plot, such as roleplays with original characters or bizarre setups.

“Someone made Shrek ASMR, and it was all Shrek-themed, so obviously I had to see what it was, and it was this guy whispering, ‘Get out of my swamp,’ and it made me so uncomfortable,” said Johnson.

Like those who watch gameplay streamers or lifestyle YouTubers, ASMR listeners often have favorite channels. What makes a favorite channel is subjective, but a common reason would be the creator’s voice, especially for videos that center around talking. 

“There’s really only one person I listen to, I think her channel name’s Goodnight Moon. She does a lot of roleplay videos, but I really just listen because I think she has a nice voice,” said Scruggs. 

‘Goodnight Moon,’ an ASMR content creator that mainly focuses on roleplay. (Screenshot by Iris Tsouris)

In other cases, the quest for a favorite ASMR channel means finding a niche. Wood, for example, discovered some ASMR roleplays in which the creator plays a grandmother, and finds them much more enjoyable than any other roleplays she has stumbled across. 

“One series that I liked [is] technically roleplaying, and [the creator] makes videos as an Italian grandmother, and I’m Italian, so you know I’m a little familiar with that accent, and it’s kind of nice in that way or soothing,” said Wood. “But that’s probably the only roleplaying video I’ve found tolerable.” 

Just like many other cultures on the internet, backlash can cause viewers to hide their enjoyment of the content. Many listeners of ASMR do not necessarily feel that it is something to hide but do avoid talking about it. Just like anything in the online world, from anime to TikTok, phases of social acceptance often fluctuate.

“I don’t intentionally hide it. […] But obviously, if someone’s like ‘Oh, ASMR is weird or gross,’ I don’t say that I listen to it at all because obviously there are people that dislike it, but it’s the same thing as like, any other trend that goes in and out of style. You’re probably familiar with anime. People used to be made fun of for that in middle school,” said Wood. “So right now, I wouldn’t say it openly. It’s not like I’m embarrassed by it, but it’s like something that comes and goes. I think maybe in a couple of years, I’ll talk about it fine, but I’m not ashamed of it.”

Other listeners feel absolutely no embarrassment for their ASMR excursions.

“I don’t feel embarrassed about occasionally watching it because I think people all have things they enjoy, and if it makes them happy, there’s no purpose in making fun of them. I think public perception of ASMR is that it’s strange, but most people still seem to enjoy satisfying things,” said junior Alka Rao.

For those who have never watched any kind of ASMR before, Wood believes generic videos such as tapping or celebrity content are a good place to start. For example, rapper Cardi B produced an ASMR video with W Magazine, racking up over 46 million views.

“Getting into bigger creators is probably a better idea than looking up ASMR roleplay,” said Wood. “[Look up] very basic [soap] carving or […] YouTube videos that are just titled Three hours of ASMR triggers guaranteed to get you to fall asleep or […] something very generic that’s like tapping or brushing.”

Despite the mixed reactions to ASMR, many viewers are using it to battle their anxieties. And according to Wood, simple tapping or soap carving videos could make someone’s life easieranother reason to destigmatize ASMR. 

“I think people shouldn’t judge it as much as they do or find it as gross because […] there are bad parts to literally everything that people find,” said Wood. “I don’t think that it’s something that people should judge right away because it could help someone with anxiety or insomnia or something like that. And I mean, it’s tapping or soap carving. It’s not that big of a deal.”