Trend Alert: Mukbang

Trend Alert introduces you to the latest brands, products and services that are trending with 16-24s.

You might think that YouTube’s daily vlogs, beauty tutorials and gameplay videos can be mundane, but there’s a new trend emerging from South Korea that makes them look like action movies.

Mukbang is a Korean term for a livestream during which a person eats a meal while interacting with viewers. The host is known as a broadcast jockey or BJ, inspired by the terms DJ and VJ, and some of them have become influencers in the community, leading to brand partnerships and TV appearances. Slim girls with large appetites are particularly popular, such as BJ The Diva.

The concept of Mukbang has been around since 2009, but has only recently reached a wider international audience, as it has become associated with the ASMR phenomenon. While the original Mukbang videos were live streams, where social interaction was key, the concept has developed more into a subset of ASMR for people who enjoy loud eating noises. New influencers have risen, such as California-based Suell, whose eating videos often get over 10 or 20 million views.

There are several theories as to why Mukbang videos are so popular. One is that they appeal to people who would like to binge eat themselves, but know they shouldn’t for health reasons, so they live vicariously through the person on screen. Another is that it creates intimacy without physical interaction, appealing to those who struggle with social anxiety.

Social scientists have linked the Mukbang phenomenon to the issue of loneliness in the hyper-connected digital age. Research has found that Gen Z and Millennials are the loneliest generations yet, reporting more mental health issues than any other group, and a recent survey even revealed that students are lonelier than retirees. This suggests that digital socialising is not a suitable replacement for in-person interaction. While Mukbang might help them feel better in the short term, it also signals the urgent need to tackle this growing problem.

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