Wednesday, August 17, 2005


From Wikipedia: "Karaoke (Japanese: カラオケ, from 空 kara, "empty", and オーケストラ ōkesutora, "orchestra") is a form of entertainment where an amateur singer accompanies recorded music." But Karaoke is can vary greatly depending on where you're participating in it.

In America, karaoke is a rare activity for most people and when people do participate, it's rarely at a dedicated karaoke venue. If Hollywood has its way, a random bar will have a karaoke machine with a set of very famous/popular songs and whoever gets up to sing will, despite being somewhat tone deaf, inspire everyone else in the bar to participate in a rousing choral version of whatever classic he or she is singing.

Chinese Karaoke (at least in Shanghai, from personal experience), is much more dedicated. There is an entire multi-story building dedicated to Karaoke. Rooms can accomodate anywhere from two to 20 people. The room is private, with a huge TV and a booming sound system. Smaller rooms have two microphones and larger rooms have proportionately more. You order drinks, ramn, pork chops, and gyoza straight to the big cofee table in front of the u-shaped couches that dominate the center of the room. You can sing your own song but don't usually mind some rowdy help from your compatriots. There are a million songs you can sing as long as you're given the words.

This last point is what I think make and breaks karaoke in China and America. There is a large portion of Chinese pop songs that are entirely singable. The goal of a popular song in China is often to be singable whereas in America, there is less emphasis on ease of imitation by the masses and more on innovation. Of course there are bands like Backdoor Boys and N'Suck but the likes of their "soulful ballades" are much more standard and accepted in C-Pop.
So if you're ever in Shanghai, just turn on the radio and get used to the really popular songs that are bound to be played over and over again. You'll be able to sing the tune within one or two hearings. Then get some Chinese friends together and go to the Cash Box near Jing An Temple, book a room for a few hours, and scream to your heart's content. It can be more fun than you expect.

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