For Spirit Payton, the 47-year-old “ASMR artist” behind the YouTube channel ASMRTheChew, the sounds of someone eating are some of the most beautiful in the world. “A person naturally eating is making water sounds, crushing sounds, could sound like you're walking in the snow, could sound like you're in a cave. Could sound like water’s dripping,” she says. It’s the Friday before Valentine’s Day, and she’s talking to me on the phone from her Houston home, where she’s spending the day editing a makeup video involving bubblegum pink eyeshadow and life advice.
The videos on ASMRTheChew, which cater to the tingling sensations a person may experience when encountering certain auditory or visual stimuli, may seem odd to the casual viewer. One of Spirit’s most popular clips is of her loudly crunching on a pickle while wearing a full face of makeup. Every bite — every crunch, smack, and swallow — is amplified ten-fold, and when it made the rounds on Twitter, people, in a mixture of reverence and derision, dubbed her the “pickle lady.”
But Spirit doesn’t pay that much mind. Recently, Cardi B and a couple other big names followed her on Instagram, and she just reached 300,000 subscribers on YouTube. Plus, she’s too preoccupied with her own mission of bringing ASMR into the mainstream as a natural and easy healing alternative. After all, that’s what brought her to ASMR.
Spirit began making videos in 2015 after a series of bad turns in her life: losing her burgeoning florist business, losing her home and having to live with her children in her car, and then getting diagnosed with a rapidly degenerating bone disease. ASMR became her way to relieve pain, find peace, and fall asleep. Already, flocks of people are commenting on her videos, telling her, “‘Spirit, you saved me,’” she says. “And I realize that I am a different ASMR artist than other people.”
I have been watching ASMR videos for a very long time and you stand out to me for how intentional you are with your videos being used for healing and for wellness. Why is that focus so important to you?
Some other ASMR creators bring some type of fantasy to other people, and that can be a nice ASMR. But the reason why I started my channel is because when I was going through something where I thought I was dying — because I had been told I was going to die within five years — I was listening to ASMR videos. Once I came out of it, I started really watching different ASMR videos. What bothered me was typing in and trying to find someone who has ASMR. No one came up for me. Then when it did come up, they were acting. They were still doing the same thing they all do to kind of repeat each others' videos.
It was a secret! Other ASMR creators didn't want people to know that there was ASMR communities out there. I decided that I needed to break the glass because there's people out there like me who don't know that ASMR exists and they're suffering every day. I was bedridden and I could not walk. I had to learn how to walk all over again. So when I started listening to ASMR, weird stuff started happening to me miraculously.
When I listen to a certain ASMR, I literally feel like my body is being lifted and I'm being healed. So because I feel that, I purposefully go after sharing that because I want to help someone. I go after ASMR because I feel like the world is stressed out and people have been forgotten about, people can't afford some medication. People need help. They need to feel happy.
“I’m on a mission and this mission is serious and big.” — ASMRTheChew
How did you find out about ASMR?
My daughter discovered it. It was the year of 2012. I have pain anxiety. One particular day, it was so bad I couldn't stop shaking. So my daughter laid on top of me and my son put pressure on my feet and they held me down. And next thing you know my daughter came running out the room, and she said, "Mom, I'm just gonna put headphones on your ears, that's all. Just stay calm."
She put the headphones on my head and all I heard was some light tapping, some crinkling sounds. I had no idea what was happening. Next thing you know, I woke up and my daughter told me I been asleep for two days. My daughter told me that she put ASMR on my head and then she did it again, and I was so relaxed, I just felt like I was floating. My daughter said, "Let me show you what you was watching, what you was listening to." And it was just a lady tapping on the camera, crinkling paper, and just making sounds. I was shocked. I had thought it was something like outta this world, like it was something going on with space and they were running water and I surrounded myself by a spring and mountains. The more and more I listened to ASMR, I started walking again.
Now, don't get me wrong, I have a bone disease and it's rapid, so there are gonna be some bad days. I suffer with chronic pain every single day, every single morning and night, but I'm able to live with it. I don't do no drugs or anything like that at all because I use a natural alternative and that's ASMR.
What is your filming process?
I film every day. I'm up usually around 3 in the morning and, once I get my personal self together, I set up my camera. Once I film, I go ahead and prepare myself to download my videos, then I go start my day. I go take care of bills and leave and go do things. I run to the post office to get my fanmail. I come back and I sit down for almost an hour or two every day answering comments. After I do my comments, then I edit my videos. Once I edit my videos, then I try to get them uploaded to YouTube. Then once it's uploaded to YouTube, I'm filming again.
And whatever you see me eat on camera is usually my meal or whatever I'm eating for the day. If I'm eating something that's just a little bit too much sugary or something like that, I don't even eat dinner. I don't eat nothing else. I purposely go walking. I do a little stuff to get rid of the sugar and drink a lot of water and stuff like that.
Tell me about your infamous pickle video. I thought it was so unique to see an ASMR video of pickles, because most ASMR videos are take-out or a lot of fried food. But then you were just eating pickles, and I was like, "Oh my God, that's kind of ingenious" because it's got the best sound, which is this wet crunching sound.
Well, I didn't want to film it, it was by mistake. What had happened was, because I'm a vegetarian I just had this desire for a sub. And I went to a mediterranean type of place, and I got a veggie sandwich. It smelt so good, it reminded me of back in the day when I used to eat corned beef, and they would give me a pickle with it. So when they gave me a pickle with my sandwich it was kinda soggy and kinda skinny and I was just looking at it like, “Ew. I gotta go get me a pickle.” So I went to Walmart and bought me a pickle.
I grew up on pickles, me and my sister were talking about that the other day. We don't understand why people make such a big deal about pickles. We used to buy pickles from the truck, from the corner store. Everybody grew up in pickles in New Jersey and New York. Pickles is the thing! What's the big deal? So anyway, I found this pickle, it was new and I just wanted to try it. And I couldn't wait and I was trying to film and get set up and everything and my stomach was growling and it wouldn't stop growling before I could start filming. So I decided I would just take a bite, and maybe I can hide it and and won't nobody know. So I went to bit the pickle and I heard the sound in my ear, and when I crunched down on it, I could hear every single crunch sound and I went running to my daughter. I said, "Oh my God, listen to this."
Is that your most-watched video, your pickle video?
Yes. I get it a lot of private requests of people asking me, "When you gon eat another pickle?" And I'll be saying to myself, "Well dang. I got like..." My daughter said it don't make no sense how many pickle videos I got. I got a lot of pickle videos out there! But for some reason they just love when I do a new one.
I’ma tell you what the pickle video does: it puts you to sleep. When I went to go edit, it took me three days to get that video up. My daughter kept coming in and saying, "Mom, wake up, wake up." I was knocked the freak out. I had my mouth open, I was drooling. I was like, "Oh my God, I can't get through this video." So my daughter talked to me while I edit the video, and she was like, "Ughhh I can't take it anymore, I'm so tired." I said, "You know what? This is it. This video here."
I said, "I’ma do a video, I’ma eat a pickle, I was eating a sandwich and I was eating a pickle, but I'm not even gonna tell them that the main focus is the pickle." And guess what? People went crazy. Some people went off on me, but a lot of people was shocked. Like they just became open-minded and put the headphones on, they was asleep. So that's how I discovered the pickle sound.
“Because who’s gonna sit there and eat two heads of lettuce for you? Nobody but ASMRTheChew.” — ASMRTheChew
Underneath your pickle video you've got all these people like, "I wanna eat a pickle now!"
No, how bout: "I hate pickles but why I want a pickle so bad?"
Several people told me that they used to hate pickles but now they addicted to pickles. They love it. They can't figure out why they hated pickles. I eat pickles because it flushes out my body, it cleans me out, and it lowers the sugar that I might've been eating. Pickles is healthy! And then I drink a shot of pickle juice, it relieves the cramp and pains in my leg that I deal with, so there's logic to my craziness.
There's another video of you just eating a head of lettuce. Can you tell me about that? It's such an interesting visual because you've got this head of lettuce and you're just biting straight into it.
Well, people say that they didn't believe that a lot of my sounds are real and that they say, "Oh, I don't like her videos because she never eat nothing healthy." I know for a fact that's someone who don't watch my videos. So I was in the grocery store one day and I said, Well. Hm. I guess I'll eat healthy today! And I bought two lettuce and I decided that I'm going to make the biggest crunch sound. I decided to bite into them and eat them and that was to say that I do eat healthy. And then I ate the whole head of lettuce to say, “I like lettuce but it was for the sound.” Because who's gonna sit there and eat two heads of lettuce for you? Nobody but ASMRTheChew. And I don't know which one you saw but there's two [videos]. It's hard to eat lettuce. It tastes good, one or two pieces, or something in a salad. But to eat lettuce by itself, that is a very hard thing to do. But not for me! I don't have no problem doing that. I will survive on lettuce.
I saw that Cardi B followed you on Instagram, that's huge. How did you feel about that?
I'ma tell you something weird. If a person watches my video everyday and never misses one, they know I talk about Cardi B. I just have this love for Cardi B because I like the fact that she's able to speak her mind and not be ashamed of who she is. And one of the things I liked about her was when her teeth wasn't the way it is now, she still smiled. She still laughed. She still made people laugh. She still spoke her truth. She had a very high confidence as a young lady.
When she followed me I thought it was one of the most amazing things she could ever do for a person that she didn't have to do. And then right after her, it was Blac Chyna, it was Porsha [Williams], it was Bebe [Rexha]. It was so many different artists starting to follow me and just leave a comment and repost my video. It was just shocking because I felt like people have been re-downloading my videos, making fun of me and making jokes about me and becoming famous and not even giving me credit. So for Cardi B and different people who use my video and give me credit, I just feel like it has something to do with God, it has something to do with the energy, and God want people to know that I'm on a mission and this mission is serious and big.