I’ve been self-soothing during the pandemic with exclusively calming activities: gardening, watching at-home vlogs, and scrolling TikTok. TikTok, depending on how you use it, may not seem like the most calming of apps. There’s a dancing llama one minute and drama with Charli D’Amelio the next. But creators like 18-year-old Halle Burns have won over 800,000 followers not for dancing or making skits, but instead cooking. Quietly. With some nice music in the background. 

“This video was like a hug,” one commenter wrote on a cooking video with over 10 million views that Burns posted in July. 

“I feel like I’m watching Bob Ross cooking edition,” another joked.

@ballehurns

have you guys ever tried panera bread’s honey walnut cream cheese? please say yes 😔

♬ Classical - Meditation Music

The blueprint for these kinds of videos began with Tabitha Brown, whose gentle, caring, and often inspirational commentary accompanied her vegan recipes. This earned her over four million followers on TikTok and an upcoming TV show on Ellen Degeneres' digital network.

@iamtabithabrown

Sunday dinner is served🙌🏿❤️ What did you guys have for Sunday Dinner today? #tabithabrown #vegan #foodie

♬ original sound - iamtabithabrown

As for Burns? She’s still in school in Atlanta, Georgia studying advertising, and has no plans to turn TikTok into her career. That’s not what you’d necessarily expect to hear from someone so close to hitting one million followers on the app. Many other creators her age are moving into houses in Los Angeles that will soon be documented on reality TV. She doesn’t even think she’d attend VidCon or Playlist Live, when in-person conventions are a thing again. Her fans aren’t really asking anything more of her either—except to please, please, please make an ASMR YouTube channel. She says she might.

When did you start using TikTok?
I downloaded TikTok over winter break and then I didn't start using it again until we were sent back home because of COVID. I think I made my first food-related one right when I got home from school. 

Did you expect to become a popular creator?
What I'm doing now [on TikTok] is purely for entertainment. I've never done anything sponsored or gotten paid promotions. It started out as just a hobby and one video happened to do really well—it was
that cracker one. I'm kind of at a loss of what to do now that I'm in school, ‘cause I don't have a kitchen. 

Have you been cooking your whole life?
Anything that is related to food has always been something that I've been interested in. I just never thought to record it. I've never studied it and I don't know a lot about it, which is why a lot of the stuff that I ended up making you can hardly call a recipe, but I love it.

A lot of people comment on your voice. Do you purposefully make your videos soothing?
In my earlier videos that I was taking a little bit less seriously, I was probably talking in a lower tone. I always filmed really early in the morning and naturally I probably don't speak loud enough. I know it's soothing, but it can also be irritating when you can't hear what you're supposed to be making in a recipe. Maybe I should invest in a mic. 

Would you ever make ASMR videos? 
I started making
a YouTube channel just with some pretty basic videos, like the story readings that I do sometimes and also just some meal ideas. I thought about trying to make my own [ASMR] and make some versions of satisfying videos that maybe aren't your typical ASMR. 

Who are some creators you follow?
I use the people that I follow for music. I try to find nice sounds and hopefully it gets those artists a little bit more publicity, and then I just follow my friends. 

Do you ever get recognized from TikTok?
Not a huge amount, but when I go out to restaurants girls my age come up to me. I had a girl take a picture with me, which was so weird. It makes me self-conscious a little bit.

What doors do you hope TikTok fame opens for you?
The most ideal thing would be to go into something cooking related. I don't really want to start monetizing [my TikTok], ‘cause I think it's easy to make something that used to be really enjoyable kind of cheesy. I had a few opportunities, but I was always scared to take them