One of my favourite things to think about is all the things I’ve seen that I couldn’t possibly have seen in another era. I’m not just talking about faraway places that I would never have reached in a horse and cart, or the invention of ice cubes that come out the front of the fridge. I’m talking about all of the absolutely wonderful, ridiculous, inexplicable nonsense that I’ve seen in the past 15 years of watching YouTube.
I would estimate that around 98 per cent of the content on the video-sharing platform would never, ever have been commissioned by traditional television executives. Can you imagine a boardroom signing off on “ASMR” videos – the type where crinkling, rustling, whispering sounds are produced to send tingles down your spine? I doubt the YouTuber Dr Pimple Popper (no further explanation needed) would have had the same success in another age.
Like many people, you might find yourself indoors a little more than you’re used to in the coming weeks or months. While I endorse admirable activities such as “reading a book” or “learning French”, I think it’s important to enjoy a little nonsense from time to time. As an authority on Online Weird Stuff, I wanted to recommend some lesser-known YouTube channels that delight (and more importantly, distract) me.
Though she currently has less than a million subscribers, I have no doubt that Micarah Tewers (whose channel name is eponymous) will one day be a superstar. Tewers, 24, is the kind of true eccentric that is increasingly rare. Some fast facts: her family keep their Christmas tree up all year round, she owns rats and ducks, she lives in an RV, she was furious after having her wisdom teeth removed because the dentist didn’t allow her to keep them (“I’m paying you to steal part of me, to keep part of my body and toss it away like it was nothing”).
After this explanation, it may surprise you to learn that her channel is about sewing. An incredibly skilled seamstress, Tewers designs historically accurate costumes and shows her viewers how to recreate celebrity dresses cheaply. If you’re after a video that will teach you something interesting and topical, check out, “Why The Costumes of Little Women did NOT deserve an Oscar” – a tirade about historical inaccuracy in the 2019 remake. If you just want to laugh, go for the video entitled, “WHY THEY WON’T LET US KEEP OUR OWN WISDOM TEETH”.
Have you ever wondered what happens if you leave a leather glove in bleach for 30 days? Truthfully, probably not, and I can’t really blame you. Yet when it comes to videos-you-never-thought-you-wanted-but-can’t-stop-watching-regardless, you can’tbeat a channel called TylerTube. Here, an American man stands in his garage and conducts what can loosely be described as “science experiments” with next to no safety precautions. In the past, he’s mixed every type of glue together, deep fried golf balls, and left a chicken breast in Coke for 90 days. Don’t ask why – just enjoy the wonders of the universe.
OK, after all that, you probably need to calm down. I confess that ASMR videos have never done much for me – the initialism stands for “autonomous sensory meridian response” and refers to a pleasant tingling sensation some people get when they hear certain sounds (think the goosebumps you get when you hear powerful music, but instead it’s triggered by nails tapping on a desk). But although traditional ASMR videos don’t make me tingle, I’ve been delighted by a recent-ish trend known as “clay cracking” (simply search the term on YouTube and watch the most popular results).
An explanation of clay cracking will probably take you through the looking glass and leave you marvelling at the kind of society we’ve created, but here goes. Clay cracking is when a crafty individual creates a shape out of clay, which they then paint with nail polish. The nail polish hardens and creates an outer layer that the YouTuber in question then pushes down on. This creates a satisfying cracking sound, followed by the squishy sound of clay being smushed. I’m suddenly aware this sounds perverted – I promise it’s not perverted.
My favourite clay cracking is on a YouTube channel called Maqaroon. Run by a graphic designer from Austria, Joanna Zhou, the channel hosts a mixture of creative projects and the oddly satisfying destruction of said creative projects. I can’t explain what’s so pleasant about the sound of nail polish imploding into clay – that is beyond comprehension. Maybe just give it a watch yourself? I recommend the video titled, “Five Types of CLAY CRACKING! Testing out Viral Instagram Trend! ASMR” to get you started.
If you can believe it, I enjoy weirder videos than this. When I die, I will donate my brain to science so they can figure out why on earth I am addicted to the videos on the channel TheWolfePit, in which an American man reviews horrifying and disgusting frozen microwave meals from dollar stores. I can’t necessarily recommend you get into that, but the joy of YouTube is that whatever you’re into, it’s there. The platform hosts fascinating pop culture analysis, educational science videos, crafting tips and tricks, original recipes and, yes, a man who puts gloves in bleach.
The other joy of the platform is that once you watch one strange, unusual, unprecedented video, YouTube will recommend you more and more. Its mysterious algoithm continues to surface new creators trying out new things, which means it easily beats flicking through the same property programmes on the telly. Maybe it’s not quite as wonderful as a jet engine or ice cubes that come straight out of the fridge, but it’s still one of the unique wonders of our age.
This article appears in the 25 Mar 2020 issue of the New Statesman, The crisis chancellor