Fashion

Slow Living With Korea’s Silent Vloggers

In a loose white shirt and pants, a Korean woman who never shows her face washes white onions. Through subtitles, she explains that she’s making kimchi bokkeumbap. The camera focuses on her hands as she chops the onions into chunks. There’s no background music, no talking. She fries an egg, and you can hear the sizzling oil, a faucet running in the backdrop. She eats this simple meal alone at a small table, a white napkin used as a placemat. After, she starts the laundry, explaining that she stopped using fabric softeners after finding out they contained fine plastics. The camera zooms in on the washer, the gray clothes tumbling inside. While completing some evening work, she takes the time to pour water into a glass, adding dried beet chips to tint it pink. When she wants a break, she goes for a walk with her dog and orders a bingsu. She showers, washes dishes. At the end of the night, she tucks herself into bed. We never see her face, and as the video fades to black, I wonder, How did I end up here, a year into the pandemic, watching an anonymous woman on YouTube?

Let’s rewind to early 2020. As Covid reached the East Coast, my husband and I had hunkered down in our Brooklyn apartment. I was pregnant, my husband was a resident physician who didn’t know if he’d be sent to the “frontlines,” and we were afraid. In those first few months, when news and sirens were constant, I lost focus. I couldn’t work. I worried. I cried. In the evenings, unable to partake in any of my usual pre-pregnancy vices, I binged TV. At first, I gravitated toward drama, action, heightened emotions and stakes. Give me all of Ozark, Itaewon Class, Succession, My Mister. For a while, I wanted to saturate myself with fictionalized lives, thus obliterating my own. But a year in, these shows were no longer the sedative I needed. My mind felt overstuffed with Zoom meetings, Zoom classes, Zoom hangs. Instead of blitz and spectacle, I craved something calming and easy, preferably in Korean, which is my comfort language. My friend Deb directed me to silent vlogs on YouTube. This was a growing community, she said, and perhaps I’d find what I was looking for.

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That is how I ended up watching 슛뚜sueddu for the first time. It seems I’m not the only one. Her 10-minute “summer night routine” video has been over two million views. Like the other Korean vloggers in this growing internet niche, 슛뚜sueddu films herself completing tasks that we tend to rush through, like drawing the curtains or wiping down a countertop. These creators are predominantly women, and the videos are decidedly domestic. While they may seem old-fashioned or outdated, to reflexively devalue the household setting is to miss the larger intent. Rather, in a year when the whole world has been stuck at home, these silent vloggers are part of a “slow culture” movement, emphasizing an appreciation for silence and simplicity. Often, there’s a connection with minimalism, with some providing tips on how to reduce waste and live a more sustainable life. Put together, these creators embody the sort of mindfulness many of us have sought, particularly in this past year.

It’s clear these vloggers are fulfilling a need—they have huge, devoted followings. There’s 해그린달haegreendal, a stay-at-home mother whose most popular video—“11 different egg dishes I’ve tried for the first time”—has been viewed 8.9 million times. It’s not only about the eggs. The video opens with a dreamy shot of wind ruffling white curtains, birds chirping in the background. Through subtitles, 해그린달haegreendal explains, “I disliked ordinary things when I was younger. I thought that the ordinary was shabby.” As the video continues to show an egg frying in a pan, the message is clear. Embrace the ordinary. Then, there’s 수린suzlnne, a college student whose most watched video, at nearly 2 million views, is 50 minutes of her studying in silence. Can it get more ordinary than that?

How did I end up here, a year into the pandemic, watching an anonymous woman on YouTube?

These videos aren’t obviously exciting. The subtitles and deliberate camera angles take away any sense of voyeurism. The shots focus on small, familiar moments. Therein lies the charm—the videos are a hit not despite their quiet calm, but because of it. The vloggers are adept at creating a dreamy, warm aesthetic with soft, earth-hued colors. There’s very little conversation, highlighting instead the sounds of everyday life—coffee grinding, pen scratching on paper. If there’s music in the background, it’s soft and ambient. The videos are visually and aurally beautiful, but the audience devotion runs deeper. In the comments section for 슛뚜sueddu’s “summer night routine,” viewers gushed. One person thanked 슛뚜sueddu for reminding her of the joys of living alone, revealing that she had recently separated from her husband. Another said, “this is a really peaceful video, it just makes me feel like my life is together 🌼.”

How interesting that watching an anonymous woman made these viewers feel like their lives were better. How very different from the usual influencer culture on social media, which is so deeply rooted in making others desire your life, in creating feelings of jealousy and want, which then prime us for sponsored ads. YouTube stars are often loud, with catchy slogans and swag. The focus is often on their face and looks, especially for women. These silent vloggers strip all of that away. Without a clear identity, any one of us can be this calm, collected figure. Even me.

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In this time of self-marketing and self-branding, these anonymous videos feel like an antidote. As many people have turned towards yoga, self-care spa kits, and other forms of mindfulness to fill the void shaped by our information-saturated society, these women remind us that taking care of ourselves isn’t about buying fancy products and relying on capitalist indulgences for our self-worth. Rather, it’s about paying attention to the small moments that make up our day.

These videos helped me when I felt like I was languishing, stuck in the same rut of activities, restless and unsatisfied as so many of us have been the past year. The vloggers are earnest in a way that feels untrendy, too sweet for our snarky internet culture. Yet that’s what I loved about them most. The more I watched, the more my perspective shifted. Instead of rushing through the unending tasks that come with working from home while raising an infant, I found myself focusing on the slant of light coming in through the living room windows, the sharp scent of parsley in the kitchen from my husband’s cooking. The umbrella plant greening on the windowsill. The red cheeks of my son asleep in my arms. The longer I lingered, making space for these small pleasures, the more my life seemed to open, time stretching to give me a moment to breathe. These Korean vloggers may be anonymous, but they are powerful. They remind us to be thankful, to live with intention, to be.

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