YouTube is a weird place.
With over a billion users in 88 countries, it’s easily the largest video-streaming service in the world. Videos like David After Dentist and Boom Goes The Dynamite have had an enormous effect on mainstream culture, and if you’ve spent much time on the internet in the last week, there’s a good chance that you’ve spent at least a few minutes on YouTube.
We’re not telling you anything you don’t know—everyone has seen the site’s public face. However, there’s a far stranger (and more interesting) side to YouTube. Venture off of the well-worn path of cat videos and news bloopers, and you’ll find some seriously weird stuff.
We decided to look into a few of the most unusual YouTube trends, and we weren’t quite prepared for what we found.
1. There’s a whole bunch of channels with people just drinking water.
Before you ask: No, they’re not doing anything else. Some channels rate the waters, but for the most part, the videos are all nearly identical: Someone drinks a glass or bottle of water, then turns off the camera.
We can blame Jonathan Harchick, creator of the channel Jon Drinks Water, for that trend.
“From 2007 to 2011, I went to university for media arts, and we studied many of the original weird/quirky video makers like Andy Warhol,” Harchick tells Urbo via email. “[Warhol] made very long experimental films of stuff like him sleeping or an eight-hour movie of just a single shot of the Empire State building. If Andy was still alive today, I’m sure he’d have many of his own YouTube channels, and I can’t help but wonder what kind of videos he would be making today.”
Harchick used that inspiration to create Jon Drinks Water, an exercise in pop-art minimalism. His first video has more than 100,000 views, and he has attracted about 21,000 subscribers over the last few years.
“Originally, [it] was just planned to be 1,000 videos. I was planning on stopping there,” he writes. “But a guy named Nick started a similar channel called Nick Drinks Water, and his channel sort of inspired me to keep going. And over time more and more people started making their own water drinking channels, and now there are about 75 different water drinking channels with videos of people just drinking water.”
For a long time, that was all Harchick’s channel showed: a guy drinking water. He didn’t say anything, and for the most part, the formula was consistent.
Eventually, he spoke to his audience—after 3,385 mostly silent videos (he said, “Thanks for watching,” in the thousandth episode in what he thought would be his final video). Hey, eventually you’ve got to give the people something different.
We had to ask: Why water?
“With most things in the world, there will be some people who like it and some people who don’t like it, but with water, it’s almost 100 percent universally liked,” Harchick explains. “People know we need water to exist. Humans are about 60 percent [water], we are all literally more water than we are human. The health benefits of drinking water are undeniable, and it’s got zero negative side effects.”
To be fair, water overdoses do exist, but we get Harchick’s point: He wanted to take a universal experience and move it onto YouTube. He admits that he’s made a few changes along the way, although most of those changes are fairly superficial.
“In episode 5,000, I switched to mainly drinking out of a glass instead of a bottle,” he writes. “Since the start of the channel, a lot of people pointed out how wasteful it is to drink plastic bottles and just throw them away when done, and these people are correct.”
What’s next for Harchick?
“Right now my goal is to reach 10,000 water episodes,” he says. “It’s going to take me a few more years, but I think it’s a realistic goal. I’m not saying for sure that I’ll stop at 10,000, but that’s just my goal number.”
We’re going to go out on a limb and say that, yes, drinking a reasonable amount of water over a reasonable amount of time is, in fact, a realistic goal.
2. ASMR videos are either relaxing or incredibly creepy, depending on who you ask.
“ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response, and ASMR videos aim to relax and soothe viewers through sounds [coupled with] a calming voice and demeanor,” says Lilliana Dee, creator of Lily Whispers ASMR.
Dee has more than 210,000 followers, and they come to her channel to watch her pretend to put makeup on her camera while occasionally tapping a brush near the microphone. No, that’s not really an exaggeration.
“I’ve been making videos for almost five years and the phenomenon has really grown immensely since 2016,” Dee says.
While this might seem incredibly bizarre at first, you have to admit that Dee has a pretty relaxing approach. That is, of course, by design. We asked her how she decides on the sounds she uses in her videos.
“After a while, you get an ear for it,” she says. “Like, I’ll be toying with my necklace and think, “Hmm, that’s a cool sound for a video.’ There are so many ASMR creators these days that it’s easy to draw inspiration from others.”
The goal of ASMR videos is to create a relaxing tingle. We’ll let Dee explain since “relaxing tingle” is easily the worst pair of words we’ve written today.
“For instance, whispering is a popular trigger, which is what we call the sounds that make a person ‘tingle’—I personally dislike [that] word—but this is the sensation that ASMR causes to relax people,” she says. “It feels like a warm shiver going down your neck.”
Come to think of it, “warm shiver” is way better than “relaxing tingle.”
“Popular sounds are brushing and tapping,” Dee continues. “We also have ‘personal attention’-type videos to induce ASMR, to help the viewer feel like they’re getting treated at a spa or receiving a makeover or getting their hair brushed.”
To say the least, it’s an unusual way to make a living. We asked Dee how she got into the ASMR game.
“I thought it was super cool,” she says. “I had experimented with a beauty channel, but ASMR seemed more aligned with my interests since it was helping people. I got amazing feedback after my first few videos, so I decided to stick with it. I’ve been making videos for almost five years and the phenomenon has really grown immensely.”
We had to know: Does she actually watch these types of videos?
“I do watch ASMR videos myself!” she says. “They’re kind of addicting, honestly. I like to keep up with particular creators and see what types of sounds they make in their videos. It helps me fall asleep, take my mind off of stress, and I find it incredibly helpful.”
We should note that the science of ASMR is still in its infancy, but some researchers have tried to explain the phenomenon. A paper from 2015 found that the most common ASMR triggers are, in order of effectiveness: whispering, personal attention, crisp sounds, and slow movements. Researchers noted that watchers often benefit from intense feelings of relaxation and well-being.
“One thing to note about ASMR is that it’s widely misunderstood,” Dee says. “It’s unique, almost unusual, but I receive the most heartfelt emails and comments from my subscribers that proves that ASMR works. It provides comfort and helps people with anxiety and insomnia.”
We couldn’t find studies supporting the use of ASMR as a treatment for either of those conditions, but we did find a few testimonials. With that said, if you’re feeling anxious or depressed, consult with a mental health professional—but if you simply love watching someone whisper while putting makeup on a camera, Dee’s definitely your gal.
3. Mukbang videos aren’t for the faint of heart (or stomach).
We reached out to a few mukbang creators for this piece, but we didn’t hear back from them prior to publication. We’re guessing that their mouths were too full for a phone interview.
Mukbang is a Korean food-based viral video phenomenon, and if the words “Korean food-based viral video phenomenon” didn’t make you immediately leave the site, you deserve this next video:
Yes, mukbangers simply sit in front of cameras and eat immense amounts of food. We’d tell you that Mukbang is unsafe and that you should absolutely never attempt anything like this, but we think that’s pretty obvious. Even so, we still sort of said it, didn’t we?
The video above, titled Shoogi’s Eating Show, has more than 7 million views. It’s not an anomaly; some mukbangers make as much as $9000 a month. The bizarre trend’s inexplicable popularity led food blog Eater to declare mukbang “YouTube’s hottest food trend,” and thanks to coverage from mainstream outlets, American content creators are joining in on the, ahem, fun.
We can’t really tell you why this trend is popular, as we couldn’t dig up any scientific research on viral binge-eating. We’re going to chalk this up to morbid fascination—there’s something oddly exciting about watching people eat pounds of food, even if we know that, on some level, it’s horrifically unhealthy.
Kids, don’t try this at home. In fact, go ahead and watch some ASMR videos instead.