[Weekender] ASMR: The feel-good world made of unexpected sounds

By Lee Sun-young

Published : Apr 19, 2019 - 10:03
Updated : Apr 19, 2019 - 10:03

If you haven’t heard of ASMR, believe us, it is huge.

On YouTube, videos of people whispering in their microphone, or creating certain sounds that are supposed to trigger an “autonomous sensory meridian response” -- a tingling sensation that typically starts from your scalp and moves down your spine -- are aplenty. And they are being watched tens of millions of times globally. 


(Illustration by Nam Kyung-don)


In South Korea, never too far behind a global trend, ASMR has really caught on recently.

According to Incross, a Seoul-based digital advertisement company, those tingle-inducing videos were the second most watched content on mobile phones after cover dance or song videos during the 12 months that ended in September 2018. ASMR has surpassed the beauty tutorials, “meokbang” eating broadcasts and computer game streaming content that most Koreans are probably more familiar with.

Lee Yoon-ju, an office worker and ardent ASMR fan, says she has been listening to the sounds of rain for some time.

“It helps me sleep,” she said.

Listening to the blissful sounds of nature has long been proven effective to assist in relaxation, sleep inducement or better focus while studying. But the latest ASMR boom has led to a much deeper and wider interest in the sonic and sensory experience that makes one feel good, Lee explained.

“Even in this rain-sound category, there are a plethora of different sounds -- from the sound of delicate light rain in the forest to that of a hard downpour heard from inside a car. You discover your precise preference,” she added.

A subgenre of the trend for those more deeply entrenched has especially become popular in Korea: ASMR role-playing.

Imagine a woman on the screen. Whispering, she treats you as her customer at an ear-picking shop. She imitates the sounds of peeling out earwax into the two binaural microphones. Would it give you the tingles? Would you feel good?

“The Western ASMR videos mostly focus on the texture of sound itself. But in Korea, role-playing videos are more common. Local viewers request them more often,” according to Miniyu, one of the most famous Korean ASMR creators.

Lee Dong-gwi, a professor of psychology at Yonsei University, sees in it a mirror reflection of Koreans’ collective burnout in a stressful, highly competitive and hyperconnected society.

“More people are experiencing fatigue from having to deal with excess supply of stimulants everywhere,” and listening to ASMR allows them to press pause for a bit on the everyday fuss, he said.

While scientists have yet to explain what the tingles are and what they do to our body, advertisers have been quick to incorporate ASMR.

More TV ads now feature softly spoken narrators or repetitive sounds, replacing catchy commercial jingles as they seek to entice viewers with sensory triggers.

By Lee Sun-young, Choi Ji-won & Kim Arin (milaya@heraldcorp.com)

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The Korea Herald by Herald Corporation