The ASMR relaxation trend seducing the internet

ASMR, short for autonomous sensory meridian response, has become an internet sensation, notching millions of views for clips featuring stimuli — whispers into a microphone, long nails tapping — to set off a prickle at the back of the neck. — AFP

NEW YORK — Tapping fingernails triggering goosebumps, whispers sending shivers down the spine: the brain-tingling world of ASMR has the internet clamoring for sounds that feel good.

The auditory-sensory phenomenon sees people experience waves of calm and pleasurable quivers of the mind often referred to as "brain orgasms" — and it's emerging from the depths of the web into the pop culture mainstream as a means to relax.

ASMR, short for autonomous sensory meridian response, has become a full-fledged internet sensation, with YouTube creators notching millions of views for clips featuring stimuli — soft whispers into a microphone, long nails tapping, noodle slurping — to set off a prickle at the back of the neck.

"It's that moment where all the hair on your body stands up," said Bianca Hammonds, who works on the ASMR channel for the US music outlet Fuse.

"You kind of feel your body vibrate," she told AFP. "It's like this zen moment."

A commercial aired during the Super Bowl recently showcased ASMR, with actress Zoe Kravitz whispering, drumming her fingers against a bottle and pouring the liquid to release a gentle fizz.

But it's largely hip hop's tastemakers who have ushered it onto the scene, with rap stars making their own ASMR videos or even integrating its techniques into their songs.

"I love ASMR," Cardi B whispers during a clip she made with fashion magazine W.

"My husband thinks it's very strange and weird that I watch ASMR every single day to go to bed," the rap queen continues in hushed tones, lightly tapping and caressing the mike with her signature extra-long nail extensions.

The subgenre's velvety qualities have some people dubbing ASMR sexual: China began censoring it last year, saying web users were releasing porn under its veil.

But experts have likened ASMR to massage or yoga, saying it's not inherently sexual, but can be suggestive.

Just five percent of participants reported using it for arousal in a 2015 British survey, while a 2018 study from the University of Sheffield found that unlike sex, ASMR actually reduces the heart rate.

Predominately popular among teenagers and 20-somethings, ASMR's online fanbase began forming around 2010.

"I always knew I liked people to whisper in my ear. I just didn't know the term for it," said Cedrick Williams, an ASMR video creator from Mobile, Alabama.

"When I started doing it, no one really knew what it was," said the 27-year-old, who started his ASMR YouTube channel in 2017 and says the side gig makes about $100 per month.

"It's blowing up — now everybody's doing it," according to Williams, who listens to ASMR to alleviate anxiety and insomnia.

When making his own videos, he favors whispering rap songs.

"With hip hop you can have a very diverse sound with your voice, so if you can master whispering — in ASMR it works very well."

Craig Richard, an ASMR researcher at Virginia's Shenandoah University, said the relationship also works in reverse, saying there's a "clear trend of integration of ASMR into hip hop." — AFP