Korean Binge-Eaters Become YouTube Mainstream

With a Chick-fil-A bag perched on the table in front of her, Trisha Paytas opens her YouTube video announcing that she had a rough day. She starts eating her spicy chicken sandwich and shares with her audience that she has been emotional eating recently. The 27-minute video of her eating and talking has almost half a million views.

As a YouTube personality, Paytas attracts 4 million subscribers to her channel, blndsundoll4mj. While she offers a range of videos, her most viewed include these eating sessions, called mukbangs.

Mukbangs, or eating broadcasts, originated as a minor online-streaming trend in South Korea, but have become mainstream on YouTube. Typing “mukbang” into a YouTube search results in 2.6 million hits. They are no longer an eclectic niche, with YouTubers from many backgrounds creating them. Mukbangs can range in content, but typically include a person eating large amounts of food and sharing the up and downs of their life.

More successful YouTubers have found the key to mukbangs is in eating outrageous foods. Some of the most viewed videos feature excessive fast food, 10,000 calorie challenges, or large bowls of flaming-hot spicy noodles. These videos can generate millions of views because of their entertainment value, combining social engagement with the defeating of human digestive limitations.

Thuy-An Nguyen, an 18-year-old rising college freshman from Aurora, IL, started watching mukbangs after seeing them in her suggested videos section. She tends to favor mukbangs that demonstrate cooking rather than excessive eating.

Nguyen says mukbangs can be especially popular for those who cannot eat with others on a regular basis, such as college students away from their family. Mukbang videos draw people in because they create a social connection through the YouTuber.

“Eating at its fundamental element is a communal experience that brings people together,” *said Nguyen. “I think that in the digital age, mukbang is a kind of way to make that experience more accessible to people who lack that.”

Betsey Ranelle, 22, agrees with Nguyen’s sentiment as a Southern California YouTuber who finds connection through creating mukbangs.

“I make mukbangs because I’ve watched them for years now and it really helped me cope during times of loneliness, just listening to people who can relate,” said Ranelle. “It’s not really about the food but more of the interaction with the viewers.”

Ranelle has found a community through YouTube mukbangs, making friends with many of her viewers. She also likes mukbangs more than other video types because the discussion can range from dating advice to positivity, unlike channels that limit their focus to beauty or gaming content.

One aspect of mukbangs that attracts some (but repels others) is that they can be a form of ASMR, autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR is used in videos that create an audio experience using sounds that relax or stimulate the viewer. The chewing and sipping sounds in mukbangs can create hypnotic tingling sensations

AJ Escobar, a 19-year-old junior at Wheaton College in Illinois, understands the appeal of ASMR because he lives an audio-oriented life as a musician.

“The famous YouTubers who have capitalized on this genre of ASMR do their very best to make you feel at home in their videos,” said Escobar. “Meanwhile, you pay for their food. It’s a win/win.”

The advertising revenue generated by thousands of viewers can pay for a lot more than the food. Some can make upwards of $9,000 monthly from their videos.

However, it’s the social connection fostered through mukbangs that likely have helped make these videos more mainstream. YouTubers like Gretchen Geraghty and Olivia Jade create mostly vlog and lifestyle content, but they also have posted mukbang videos chatting with friends. Popular YouTubers like these are incorporating mukbangs, a trend that has brought them into the mainstream.

Sophia Kleo, 21, a YouTuber from Los Angeles, has been watching mukbangs for years and now has started to make her own.

“It’s a really cool phenomenon and I’m really happy to be a part of it, although I’m not solely a mukbang channel and I definitely want to expand,” said Kleo.

Like some other aspiring YouTubers, Kleo considers mukbang videos as a means to an end. Currently Kleo has about 15,000 subscribers, but she hopes to expand her platform. If the success of Paytas is any indication, mukbangs can help Kleo on her way to YouTube success.

*All interviews were conducted via Instagram Direct Message

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