A couple of weeks ago, I was on a bus, deep in an Instagram hole, when I suddenly noticed that the commuters around me were giving me serious side-eye. That's when I realized everyone else could hear the slurping soundtrack on the videos I was watching. The methodical, repetition of squish squish squish, to the untrained ear, could sound like the world’s smallest whoopee cushion, or worse some kind of high-pitched Smurf porn, when in actuality it’s the sound of the latest internet obsession: slime videos.
Here's one with over 240,000 views:
This isn’t the same slime that was poured onto the heads of every kid that stepped onto a Nickelodeon set in the 90s. It’s slightly less liquid, it’s not sticky and it’s not necessarily green. If you grew up in the 90s you probably remember this as Gak: the stretchy, brightly colored, delightfully squishy toy manufactured by Nickelodeon and Mattel. There's been home-brew recipes for Gak floating around the internet for decades, but sometime around a year ago this childhood pastime found a new platform. Today if you search the hashtag #slime on Instagram, you’ll find over 600,000 posts, most of them by young girls.
Accounts dedicated entirely to slime videos are not uncommon. One account, @slime_baew, has over 185,000 followers. The account mostly posts slime videos, but every so often, there is a selfie or a photo from an amusement park which reveals the mastermind behind the popular account: a Thai girl in her early teens, donning a blossom-pink hijab and classic Adidas shell toe sneakers. Most of the videos are her sinking her fingers into various tubs of glittery goo, then pulling them out just as quickly, making that distinctive noise.
This account has been an inspiration for other young girls to start their own slime accounts, like @pnysweetdeco, who also lives in Bangkok. (Thailand and Indonesia seem to be the hot bed of internet slime activity, which is probably why it’s commonly referred to as “Thai slime.”) The 14-year-old behind @pnysweetdeco learned how to make slime on YouTube and started her Instagram account last year, but has noticed a recent uptick in popularity.
“I think people know slime now because I’ve got many followers in a few months,” she told me by Instagram direct message. She got so many followers that she started selling the slime herself; she takes orders over the app LINE and ships her own recipes within Thailand.
It’s difficult to get a sense of just how large the Instagram slime market is, but there are multiple "slime stores" on Instagram selling it.
One reason for the burst in popularity may be because it is extremely cheap to make in the first place. As hobbies go, this is a manageable addiction, using ingredients that you may already have around your house. Recipes vary, but all of them use a base of glue; add a coloring of some kind, often acrylic paint; and then the magically reactive compound hiding in your laundry room: borax. If you don’t have borax you can substitute laundry detergent, though the process changes a bit. In fact you may have made slime, or flubber, or gloop, in science class as a demonstration of a classic polymer reaction, changing your sticky glue into a stretchy, putty like elastomer.
Another teen I talked to, 16-year-old @h.oest, said making slime reminds her of her (earlier) childhood. She lives in Buenos Aires where slime videos have taken over her social feeds. The visual language of these videos mean they travel easily; everyone speaks the universal language of slime noise. So a video made in Indonesia is just as relevant in Argentina where she lives. Her own videos have gotten over 50,000 views:
“We used to make slime in school and it was really fun, so when I saw slime videos were a trend I just thought it would be fun to make an account!” she told me. “I think I like slime videos because they remind me of my childhood and all the fun I had, also I really like the sound, I don’t know how to explain it but it is really satisfying for me."
If this sounds familiar, you may already be acquainted with the world of ASMR videos and "brain orgasms." In the past couple of years ASMR videos featuring people whispering into microphones, brushing hair, or tapping nails have gained wild popularity on YouTube. Some people experience a tingling response to the sounds and claim it helps them relax. Slime can produce a similar type of noise. In the wide range of possible things you could do with slime, most of the videos take the same form: a pristine tub of virgin slime which is then poked at repeatedly, producing a distinctive sound.
“I think they are popular because people like and enjoy the sound,” said @h.oest.
It’s difficult to really describe what all the slime videos have in common other than they are indeed, deeply satisfying to watch. Most of them involve transient states of matter, part solid part liquid substances that seem to defy the laws of physics. The appeal of these videos rests in a somatic desire to touch or feel what’s on the screen. They may just be a new kind of visual ASMR, providing some kind of relaxation to viewers through a deferred physical experience.
Luckily there are hundreds of thousands of videos out there for you to test this theory on. Or you could pop over to YouTube for a quick tutorial on how to make slime yourself at home. Who knows? You could be the next Insta-slime-star.
Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.