July 19, 2019

A Binge-Eating YouTube Star Is Born

“YOUTUBE STAR TRISHA PAYTAS cries into Domino’s pizza boxes on her kitchen floor with the hypnotic facility of Britney Spears gyrating in a Catholic schoolgirl uniform while pleading, Hit me baby, one more time. When Trisha’s not in her LA apartment devouring delivery food, she’s sitting in fast food parking lots, sometimes bored, sometimes hysterical, always consuming—7-Eleven nachos, Burger King Mac ’n Cheetos, Taco Bell Cinnabon Delights, often with an image of herself eating and crying emblazoned across her stomach on one of the t-shirts she sells to her obsessed and ravenous fans. Trisha also releases her own music, but it’s the drive-through confessionals and chain restaurant binges that have made her iconic to her 4.5 million YouTube subscribers.

Trisha is the apotheosis of the American mukbang. She’s been recording herself eating since 2015, though the genre began in South Korea, nearly ten years earlier, when generally silent hosts started broadcasting themselves demolishing gigantic dinners. The allure was partly social. The mukbang—literally, an eating broadcast—appealed to viewers looking for companionship during their own meals, but the early videos were also, notably, often free of conversation. The promise of a virtual dinner partner, then, doesn’t fully explain the attraction of the mid-aughts mukbang. There was something inherently pleasurable about just watching someone else enjoy a really big meal.

The Korean phenomenon crossed over to the United States through a 2015 compilation video of YouTubers reacting, dumbfoundedly, to the eating broadcasts. “So wait, is he just eating?” social media star Tyler Oakley famously asked. It took only three weeks for American bewilderment to turn consumptive. On April 24, 2015—twenty-two days after Fine Brothers Entertainment released their mukbang reaction video—Trisha Paytas filmed her first.

By then, Trisha had already tried everything she could to get famous. She’d competed on the second season of Who Wants to Be a Superhero?, appeared on an episode of My Strange Addiction for her excessive tanning habit, performed on America’s Got Talent as a rapper, and spoke out on Dr. Phil against slut-shaming. She’d also, a month earlier, self-released her first EP, Fat Chicks, in the hopes of becoming the body-positive Britney Spears she’d dreamed of being ever since moving to Hollywood in the mid-aughts.”

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