For years, Twitch.tv, the live-streaming platform most famously used by gamers, has slowly become home to an increasingly large community of ASMR enthusiasts.
A viral video of rapper Cardi B whispering, purring and caressing various objects close to two microphones made the rounds on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube in 2018. For many viewers, the video was their first introduction to ASMR, the wildly popular internet trend of using mouth sounds and other audio to inspire a physical response in listeners.
“ASMR seriously reignited my faith in humanity. I know it’s crazy to say, but it’s true,” said Twitch streamer Mary J. Lee, who goes by @MaryJLeeee, or just Mary, in an interview with YR Media.
Lee said she first gained a following on Twitch while she was studying to become a dental hygienist in New Jersey. She had experimented with live-streaming beforehand, but the world of ASMR was still very new to her.
“I am very, very normie. I never knew about stuff like this. And at first glance, I was like, ‘This is the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen,’” she said.
She even admits to have believed what she now sees as a common misconception about the genre: “Seeing girls massaging microphones shaped like ears looks like a fetish. It’s true. At first glance, I thought that’s what it was.”
“What ASMR means to me is different than what I think most people think of it. Lots of the people that come into my stream struggle with insomnia or anxiety, and my channel is the only thing that helps them sleep. …There are lots of styles, but I always focus on slow, rhythmic sounds,” she explained.
She said her viewers come from all walks of life, and she regularly hears from fans that watch her stream with their young children. For this reason, she takes extra care to ensure that the stream is PG-rated, and works to rebut the fetishization of ASMR.
“You wouldn’t let a stranger whisper in your ear, so what’s happening is inherently intimate,” she explained. “But people confuse the intimacy with sexual-ness. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“Some ASMR streams are for an adult audience, but I really try to make sure there’s that line of professionalism, even though I’m very close with my audience.”
Anyone’s who’s spent a significant amount of time watching a woman play video games on Twitch has likely witnessed the platform’s rampant sexual harassment problem in the live chat feature. The harassment is often so common that many women streamers employ moderators, automated bots and keyword filters to deter bad behavior in the chat.
The same is true in the site’s ASMR category. However, unlike in gaming, the vast majority of ASMR streamers are women, which Lee said drastically alters the dynamic between creators and viewers.
“ASMR is probably the safest community on Twitch,” she said. “People say your chat is a reflection of yourself, which I think is sort of true, but the ASMR community is one of the kindest, most wholesome groups of people I’ve ever met.”
In fact, Lee said that the chat, combined with her unique relationship with the audience, is really what keeps her feeling inspired.
“It’s grown to such a crazy scale, and I think it’s because the community is so strong,” she said. “I have so many people around me that support me. It’s been amazing, really. It’s honestly been a dream come true.”
When asked about her goals for the future, Lee said she hopes to bring ASMR into the mainstream, and that videos like the one of Cardi B are helping to shed light on the genre.
“I’m so interested in seeing where ASMR is going to go. I really hope it can be more than just a fad. It’s something that I never would have thought that I’d do, and I know it can really help people,” she said.
“My ultimate mission with ASMR is to help special needs children manage sound under / over-sensitivity. [sic] & sensory overload,” Lee wrote in her Twitch profile.
And as for live-streaming in general, Lee said the trend has barely begun.
“It’s so cool that Twitch offers people a way to follow their dreams and make money doing it. I’ve changed so much in the last year,” she said. “I’m making more money than I would have done doing dental hygiene. … And I have a purpose. To be able to use my stream in a way that I can help people is extraordinary.”