There's a dimly lit, softly spoken corner of YouTube where creators fold clothes, scrunch paper and whisper. These videos, known as ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), are watched by millions for the tingly, pleasant physical sensation they evoke in some people.
ASMR videos typically reflect real life scenarios such as eating, reading or brushing hair. And now creators are leaning into the issue on everybody's minds: coronavirus.
Creators say the videos are helping people unwind — in what is admittedly a very stressful time for the world — while informing their audiences about the virus and best hygiene practices in the outbreak at the same time.
Taylor runs the popular YouTube channel ASMR Darling, an account with 2.46 million subscribers. In her recent 30-minute video "Testing You For Corona Virus (Raising Awareness And Debunking Myths!)", Taylor is filmed in a point-of-view style as she introduces herself as "Dr Darling". She then soothingly conducts a full checkup for COVID-19, and then runs through some information about the virus.
Taylor said she made the video — which she said she hasn't monetised — to help her viewers learn more about COVID-19.
"I wanted to raise awareness and debunk myths around the virus. I know the virus really affects older people," she told BuzzFeed News. "Using my platform to raise awareness on how not to spread illnesses is a way I can feel like I can help not only them, but other people."
The video is obviously fake, but Taylor said she researched to make the video informative and relaxing. She opens the video by washing her hands for 30 seconds, and washes her hands two more times.
"I definitely thought this was an important thing to incorporate because it is all the WHO keeps [advising people] to do about the virus. I discovered what kind of tests they have for the virus and tried my best to mimic it to make the experience realistic, but also adding relaxing and calming touches to it," she said.
Taylor spends the second half of the video debunking common myths about the virus from WHO. She said the audience reaction has been more negative than usual.
"I understand it is a sensitive subject, but I think using my platform to debunk myths around the virus and giving real health tips will be beneficial to anyone who watches," she said.
Adrian is a 34-year-old ASMR YouTuber who has 224,000 subscribers on his SensorAdi ASMR channel. In a new video, Adrian brought back his recurring "Dr Sensor" character, who administering a COVID-19 shot to the viewer who has already unfortunately contracted the virus. (A vaccine has not yet been developed for COVID-19.)
Adrian said he was looking for a way to revive his Dr Sensor character and jumped at the opportunity presented by the virus. "The audience like my character," he told BuzzFeed News in a message. "I just got the idea in my head."
But Adrian is not really worried about being factual — he just wants to make good ASMR content. His video starts off with a text disclaimer — "This movie was made for relaxation purposes. It's a role play" — and urges viewers it should not be taken as downplaying the virus.
One commenter wrote "the disclaimer at the start had me laughing. But some people really don't understand vaccines or the basic concept of germ theory".
There is a video about a post-apocalyptic future where coronavirus has decimated the population, and one is simply a turtle eating a piece of watermelon in the shape of COVID-19 (which has been viewed more than 750,000 times).
And here's one where YouTuber Ices The Enchantress improvises being a kind TSA agent checking travellers for COVID-19 at the airport.
"I am an official CDC, you know, agent," she says in the early part of the video. "I got a little globe on my tag so you know I'm worldwide."
Ices said she got the idea from news reports about travellers being screened for the virus.
"I was going to make a TSA video already but adding the coronavirus bit seemed more fun because everyone knows what it is & everyone has an opinion about it," she said to BuzzFeed News in an email.
She said that ASMR video creators intentionally choose stressful scenarios (like going to the dentist or doctor) as prompts for their videos to help their audiences.
"We’re able to express ourselves to our audience while relaxing them at the same time. ASMRtists are able to take a subject or event that may have scared you or made you anxious & turn it into a relaxing experience."
She said her audience generally liked the video.
"Some people expressed that they were overreacting but some people still had concerns about getting sick. People were more relaxed about the subject after learning more and talked amongst each other in the comment area about it."