Raise your hand if you watch ASMR. OK, now raise your hand if you don't want anyone to know. You're not alone. ASMR videos are such a taboo subject that sometimes even content creators within the community are embarrassed for others to know about their work.
ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) has been popular on YouTube since the mid-2000s, when the term was first coined. ASMR is the triggering of a euphoric tingling sensation in response to different sounds. In 2016, ASMR began to find its way into mainstream media, as more and more people found comfort online.
Now, ASMR has transitioned to TikTok (while still maintaining a large presence on YouTube). People subscribe to all kinds of things — ASMR cooking, finger tapping, whispering, shopping, eating, various role plays, and other such niche interests.
BuzzFeed spoke to 23-year-old Willow to hear about what it's like working in a space that so many like to keep private. "I didn't want to show my face at first," Willow explained. "The first videos I did were like, 'Let me talk to you about your zodiac [sign].'"
Willow's videos range from "sleep triggers" — things like finger tapping, hair brushing, and positive affirmations — to personal attention role play. Some of her most popular videos are "stress plucking," hair brushing, and personal attention videos, but she constantly receives all sorts of requests.
Personal attention ASMR is in a similar vein to role play in that Willow usually adopts a character like an older sister, best friend, or massage therapist, and then pretends that you, the viewer, are her client. For example, here Willow is your "big sister" doing your makeup for prom.
On YouTube, one of her biggest role play requests is Harry Potter. In this video, Willow pretends to be a Slytherin student at Hogwarts who you ask to give you a tattoo.
In July, Willow made a "stress plucking" TikTok that got more than 2.9 million views. "So then a lot of people have been requesting that recently," Willow said.
Every ASMR video is intended for a different audience or ASMR trigger — the euphoric tingling sensation. One of the biggest problems stress-relieving ASMR creators like Willow face are that their videos are over-sexualized when the content is not meant to be sexual. "In the very beginning, there were some comments like, 'Why is this turning me on?'" Willow said. "And I shut it down. If I see a comment like that, I explain that it's not a sexual thing at all. It's clearly just a way to relax and de-stress and shut your brain off."
Sexual ASMR content is completely valid and also has a huge digital following. But for Willow, the frustration comes when those outside of the ASMR community try and invalidate her content and write it off as only being sexual. "It really frustrates me," she said. "I know a ton of other ASMR artists who do make it inherently sexual because that gets clicks and that gets views."
Willow has found a lot of success in an audience that consistently uses her videos as a way to help them fall asleep.
Although ASMR is not Willow's entire source of income, she has made money from her content and knows creators who make a living entirely off of sponsorships. "It's definitely possible," she said. "I've done some sponsored TikToks and I've done some sponsored YouTube videos. So if you have one or two a month, it's totally possible to have a career in this for sure."
If you're interested in watching more of Willow's videos, please check out her TikTok or YouTube channel.