Play-nice karaoke was invented by the Japanese 20 years ago, but real karaoke can usually be found in a local pub. Don’t worry, there’ll be a piece of neon yellow paper in the window advertising ‘Steveoke’ or ‘Okey Dokey Karaoke’ to light the way. Once inside, there are certain rules of etiquette to which you must adhere – so the following survival tips should help you get the very best out of your night on the mic.
It’s easy to forget that karaoke was invented in Japan (“kara” comes from “karappo” – empty – and “oke” is short for “okesutura” – orchestra). Why did such a cheesy art form originate in a land famous for its delicacy and good taste?
Maybe it’s because in ancient times the Japanese used to zing up their parties by getting someone to sing while others clapped to keep time, and a singer always got big, appreciative laughs if they were hopelessly out of tune. The Japanese are historically generous about listening to other people sing, and can sing in public without getting shy. For one song only, everyone gets to feel like a professional performer, gets a big hand from the audience at the end, then claps appreciatively when someone else has their turn. Everyone’s a karaoke star!
Karaoke is brill, and here to stay. But if you really want to test yourself on the mic, stay away from those plush, private karaoke pods, where your friends all say you should be on telly and you get complimentary mojitos on tap. If you dare, go for real karaoke, hardcore karaoke; where the stakes are higher, the audience don’t know you and you might get sicced on. It’s probably the best chance you’ll ever get of showcasing your bathroom warblings in front of actual people to whom singing matters. If you’re very talented you might want to join a band or go on the X Factor, but otherwise, it’s karaoke for you. And it’s a laugh.
These tips should help you survive a real karaoke night in style…
Make friends with the host
This man (identified by his non-ironic mullet) has the power to make or break your performance. You must laugh at his jokes, and appear completely enamoured when he starts off proceedings with his own rendition of “Bat out of Hell”.
If this man doesn’t like you, he will fiddle with your microphone levels, talk through your song, or worst of all accidentally ‘forget’ to let you sing at all. If he likes you, so will the audience.
Look at the screen
Karaoke audiences are suspicious people. There will be a television showing the lyrics to your song, so focus on it. It doesn’t matter if you already know the words, if you stray from the screen you will be judged as an impostor. This will result in audience cries of “Professional!” and inexplicably, “Fix!”.
Clap other people
This is important. You might want to laugh out loud at the woman butchering the Titanic song, but remember, she might be a beloved local and therefore revered by an audience who will soon be judging you. You should smile and nod emphatically. If you want to snigger – do it in the privacy of the loos, or pass notes to your mates.
Pick the right song
There is a lever arch file full of them. If you’re any good, pick a ballad. The locals will cry and buy you drinks for the rest of the night. If you’re relying on just your charm, then a karaoke classic will always get the audience on your side. Perhaps a bit of Gloria Gaynor or Grease Soundtrack will do the trick.
Do not sing a local’s regular song. It’s bad form, and you might get beaten up.
Despite the perils associated with Real Karaoke, it is ultimately there for your enjoyment. The adrenaline that comes with performing live is hard to beat. Do a few group numbers, put in secret song requests for your mates, snog the host and if all else fails – get pissed.
Lastly, if you love the idea of Karaoke, but the only thing you want to sing is ‘Seven Nation Army’, or maybe ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ doing your best Ian Curtis impression, have a google for terms like ‘extreme karaoke’, ‘indie karaoke’ and ‘alternative karaoke’. Many areas have indie karaoke nights, or if you’re feeling really posh, indie karaoke equipment you can buy or hire for the privacy of your living room. Whatever you do, keep it real – but keep it karaoke.