The anonymous Korean vloggers creating the most meditative content on YouTube
This community of vloggers in South Korea has transformed being an introvert into an aesthetic experience.
Image via @nyangsoop
The lockdown may have forced everyone into social isolation but for some, Netflix, a checklist of Animal Crossing chores and falling asleep watching a favourite vlogger was already a standard evening. If you’re new to the club, and in desperate need of some calming video content, may I direct you towards South Korea’s ‘silent vloggers’.
In stark contrast to the classic Youtube personality, a community of vloggers in South Korea have veered away from the competitive crush of loud, brand-heavy content to create something far more sedate. Nyangsoop, Aji, Ondo and Haegreendal all choose to vlog anonymously, never showing their faces, offering viewers a tranquil stream of videos that provide comfort but don’t engender envy.
Each vlogger focuses on the minutiae of daily life that too often fades from memory. There are no in-your-face sponsorship plugs, extravagant vacations or excessive product hauls. Instead these videos take you through the little things in life, like making breakfast, reading or tending to a garden, elevating the mundane into something wonderful. Whether these YouTubers are lazing in bed, sketching or cooking Korean recipes like Tteokbokki and Bibimbap, the mood is mellow and the aesthetic is dreamy. The washed-out colours and soft soundscape transform each clip into a 20 minute oasis of calm.
Videos are often silent, honing in on the distinct sounds of grinding coffee or frying an egg. Some, like Haegreendal’s ASMR Diary: Sounds from my daily life in a week are calibrated to trigger an ASMR response, while others use simply soothing music. There is minimal dialogue, most vlogs are instead narrated via captions (which are then often painstakingly translated into multiple languages by dedicated viewers).
The fans flood the comments of these videos with expressions of gratitude and relief. When Nyangsoop makes waffles, one viewer posts: “Though I know I won’t be able to make those waffles at home, I can still feel its sweetness from here.” Under a tranquil Haegreendal vlog, another offers words of thanks: “I appreciate you sharing the little moments of your everyday that translate into some of the biggest moments that connect with our minds and hearts.” One fan encapsulates it best: “This should be called ASMR for the soul.”
Nyangsoop started vlogging in September 2018, and now creates weekly vlogs for her audience of 328,000 subscribers. Her videos combine cute footage of her cat Taco with delicious food and gorgeous shots of the forest near where she lives. She films and edits for six days each week to capture the essence of her homebody routine. “I try to find the right camera angle to capture my perspective of the world,” she tells me. “Some of my simple pleasures are finding my pet cat sleeping in front of me as I open my eyes each morning, the scent of fresh bread filling the kitchen and fog surrounding the mountains after the rain. And the memories that I share with my favourite people in my house, cooking and enjoying delicious food.”
The notion of valuing small moments of happiness is particularly prescient in a country where young people shoulder a significant burden of anxiety. South Korean students compete to achieve the top academic rank in their class and study long hours into the night to prepare for the CSAT, a national entrance exam that dictates whether you’ve made the cut to glean a golden ticket to a top university. Government reports by Statistics Korea reveal that 45% of Koreans under 24 feel significantly stressed and 25% have experienced feelings of depression. The OECD ranks South Korea’s suicide rate as the highest among its 37 member countries, while the government reports that suicide has been the most common cause of death for young people since 2007.
Nyangsoop hopes her vlogs can help to ease the pressure her fans face just a little. “In South Korea, students and workers are all busily racing towards their dreams,” she explains. “It’s easy to feel anxious when you take a short rest between working. I want to tell my viewers that it’s okay to take life slowly and do the things you enjoy. These are also messages that I would like to say to my past self. I used to be filled with anxieties about the future. Now I believe in the importance of having time for yourself.”
Laura Park is a recent graduate from Gwangju, a bustling metropolitan centre in the west of the country. She follows lifestyle vlogger Onuk and echoes Nyangsoop’s thoughts on the way South Korean society has normalised the constant hustle towards a brighter future. “People lead busy lives and many think this is a virtue for young people,” she tells me. “There’s an underlying expectation in society for young people to prepare well for their future, and if you’re not engaging in any social or working activity, this expectation can make you feel guilty. Vlogs are the opposite of this notion. They express the idea that it’s okay not to do anything and to live the life you want.”
Kim Jung-suk vlogs her daily life under the moniker Aji. She only started a few months ago, first by filming herself cooking Korean dishes like kimchi soup and soybean paste stew. Her videos are all about finding the little moments of joy that we all experience but many of us overlook. In a recent popular vlog, she waters her plants as the frame is filled with the gentle glow of morning sunlight. The caption reads “spring has finally arrived; a small message of hope”. “Something I’ve constantly thought about since my mid-twenties is how to balance work and life as a woman,” Jung-suk tells me. “After getting married and becoming pregnant, I think the amount of happiness I can experience in my life can be maximised when work and life are balanced.”
Rei Suzuki* is a sales assistant in Osaka, Japan. She thinks the lifestyle portrayed by these vloggers inspires young people to live mindfully. “I like watching international vloggers because I can learn more about their culture,” she says. “These videos motivate me to live well. The more videos we watch these videos, the more we feel a sense of familiarity. It feels like we can inhabit the kind of lifestyle they portray, so we aspire to do things the way they do.”
Dr. Sheri Jacobson is the Clinical Director of psychotherapy and counselling practice Harley Therapy London. She explains that vlogs appeal to us by normalising our common humanity. “We can live vicariously through these vloggers and immerse ourselves in their world by virtue of them exposing us to it,” she says. “It's humanising, and makes us feel that we're part of the same group. That's integral, because a sense of belonging was critical to our survival historically and therefore the sense that we're similar to other people, both in their joy and in their suffering, is important in evolutionary terms.”
Dr. Jacobson tells me that by filming their daily lives anonymously, these vloggers make it easier for us to vicariously enjoy their calm daily routines and identify with their experiences. “Usually we relate a lot to facial features,” she explains. “But watching people doing activities like cooking and using their hands has a tactile quality which brings that sense of connection. Because the viewer is drawn in, they become a participant in the vlog, rather than positioning themselves as a competitor and feeling that the vlogger's life is inaccessible to them. So instead these videos become relatable and inclusive.”
By welcoming us into their world, vloggers like Jung-suk and Nyangsoop provide their viewers with some semblance of normality at a time when many of us feel helpless. Beautifully crafted, their videos give us the strength to bear the demands of the daily grind by emphasising the value of simple routines and self-care to advocate positive ways of coping. In difficult times, these silent vlogs dim the noise of the news and give us some space to find solace.