I Finally Understand ASMR

Penn Badgley. Photo: JB Lacroix/Getty Images

ASMR, the internet phenomenon where people whisper or chew or breathe into microphones to millions of avid viewers, has never made much sense to me. That these videos somehow relax or stimulate our broken brains — and make YouTube stars out of the whisperers and chewers and breathers — seems bleak.

And then I saw this clip of Penn Badgley whispering. It’s a captivating 39 seconds that has convinced me that ASMR is real, and extremely powerful.

In it, the former Gossip Girl actor addresses his role in You, the Netflix show in which he plays a charming and handsome serial murderer:

You” Bagley whispers and then swallows — a swallow that made me … shiver?

“I’m not sure what to say about it except that, as I said before, it’s a little bit of a meta progression of Dan Humphrey — just now he’s murdering people — and now, No-One. Can. Get. En-ough. Of. Him.”

Badgley says this last part bobbing between the microphone on his left and right, the effect of which is hypnotic. I realize that I’m sweating as Badgley goes on to ask why people are horny for a murderer, which at this point seems a little unfair:

“Why is that why are we so attracted to murd-er-rous peo-ple? Why are we so willing to forgive them? No matter who they murdered, no matter how violent they are towards women, how is it that we’re willing to forgive this guy?”

After the scolding — which unfortunately made me lightheaded — Badgley goes on to take responsibility for the character:

“I know it’s probably my fault because of the way I play him. And the way I look. So my apologies.”

Well, okay. What he should be apologizing for is ravishing millions of decent, unsuspecting people with a 30-second ASMR video, but I suppose he’s blissfully unaware of what he’s done.

I Finally Understand ASMR