May 05

Karaoke - Air Supply are Lost in LoveFor Westerners it is sometimes difficult to understand Asia’s obsession with Karaoke. What’s so exciting about embarrassing yourself in front of your friends or even strangers with your non-existing singing skills?

Fortunately – Karaoke is more than that, it can be a favorite pastime or your dirty little secret.

Once you take your time to get the hang of it – you could have lots of pleasure and a great time enjoying yourself.

But let’s first shed some light on Karaoke and some stereotypes – on what most people believe to understand about it:

Booze, scanty clad Girls and a Microphone

The popular Karaoke we know today derived from a Japanese form of adult entertainment, where half-drunken blokes or business partners sing along with recorded music using a microphone. Usually the voice of the original singer is removed and the lyrics of the song are displayed on a TV or screen. The lyrics change color depending on the position of the song, as a guide for the singer.

Multi-storey Karaoke Temple in JapanBesides plenty of Sake to oil ones vocal cords, Karaoke comes with plenty of girlie chicks, ready to lap-dance on the performer, who don’t mind being groped at or even bringing the whole session to another intimate level. Add overpriced booze and you have a setup which would satisfy most dirty minds.

This image of Karaoke is rooted in almost every Westerners mind and certainly for a reason. Who doesn’t know some cheap Korea or Japanese movies, where all the above happens at the same time. And for sure you can find these kind of Karaoke places anywhere if you go looking for them.Portable Karaoke Machine as found in Asian Hotels

Western Media picked up on that as well, some dubious documentaries painted a shady image, while Hollywood took notice with more or less mentionings closer to reality in movies like ‘Wasabi’, ‘Rush Hour’, ‘Lost in Translation’ or ‘My Best Friends’ Wedding’.

Most people don’t know that the original Japanese inventor of the Karaoke machine simply ‘forgot’ to patent this technology. Today Robert del Rosario, a business-savvy Filipino, holds the patents to the device, now commonly known as the ‘karaoke machine’.

Today, almost everywhere in Asia, Karaoke is very popular with youngsters and adults alike. From Taipei, Manila or Tokyo to Bangkok, Hong Kong to Hanoi or Jakarta – you can find a Karaoke (or KTV) joint in every town with more or less modern equipment, disco lights, public singing rooms or separate booths for more intimate group fun or for the shy and easily embarrassed.

And it’s now catching up with Caucasians as well, with new places mushrooming all over the Western Hemisphere.

What else can it be?

Karaoke - George Michael wants your Sex or a Careless WhisperI had my first experience with Karaoke about 7 years back on the island of Bohol in the Philippines. Besides beautiful beaches and the magic ‘Chocolate Hills’ the island is plastered with Karaoke Machines. I’m sure Bohol is there no exception to the rest of the Philippines. This country is simply obsessed with Karaoke and they make you feel it. In a good way.

No wonder that most of the Live Bands you see in Hotels or Restaurants across Asia are mainly from the Philippines. Pinoy people love to enjoy themselves singing and are really talented to cheering up crowds with the right tunes.

Small shops or restaurants here have their own machines and everyone who comes along or dines in such a place is invited to show off some of his talents by singing along the tunes of Air Supply, Janet Basco, Freddie Aguilar, Roselle Nava or the April Boys and plenty of other local and international favorites.

Being skeptic at first, it took quite some convincing by other to drag me to a Karaoke place at first.

So one evening I went with some Greek guy I met there and some new-befriended Locals to one of this restaurants and we sung the night away. Some Tanduay with Coke helps to grease your throat and the more time we spent, the better we got and more fun we had. Although one must admit that most Filipinos are naturally talented singers anyway. Solos were soon followed by Duets and when the morning dawned we were all pumped up with Adrenaline and joy.

It was truly a fun session, an eye opener and I really felt alive. “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” will never sound soooo good again other than sung by yourself. ;-)

Other places, different tastes

When I moved to Singapore a few months later, I couldn’t get away from Karaoke anymore. No more excuses. Although here the experience is a bit different. Karaoke joints are more dark, dubious places – where usually groups of men hang out, although these days even girls don’t stop anymore getting their kicks in public Karaoke venues. Unfortunately, like for most entertainment options in Singapore, you can spend a fortune in just one night for a little bit of innocent pleasure. So I was even happier when I discovered that my cheap ‘Shinco’ home theatre, which could play all kinds of discs you threw at it, could play Karaoke CD’s as well. Plug in a microphone and you are set for your own home entertainment.

You can find cheap Karaoke CD’s with evergreens, classics or latest pop songs in all kinds of languages for just a few bucks almost everywhere. In Singapore the best places to shop for CDs/VCDs/DVDs are in Chinatown or simply pop over just across the causeway to JB (Johor Bahru) in Malaysia.

Oh yeah – when we were visited by my good friend Jo from Germany, of course we earned some strange looks and quite some comments of disbelief, questioning our sanity.

But what would you guess? A ball of a time at a Karaoke Box

After having tried it himself, I hardly got my hands back on the microphone that evening. The whole episode ended with him buying his own Karaoke machine just before his departure in one of Changi Airport’s Electronic Shops. Talk about another skeptic-turned-believer.

Public and clean or naughty with ‘Extras’

Anyway – if you want to give your very own version of “My Way” or “Hotel California” a try and don’t feel comfortable in shady Karaoke joints with dubious characters or prostitutes – there are plenty of clean, harmless venues around as well. Some are even in the bigger shopping malls in South East Asia.

Here some examples: in Singapore you could try for instance the KTV place in South Bridge Road, in Phuket go to the Festival Shopping Mall or Ocean Shopping Mall in Phuket Town for clean, glassy karaoke boxes without any pressuring of purchasing ‘special’ services.

In Bali there is a brand-new, flashy and well-equipped Karaoke Place on the 3rd floor of Kartika Discovery Shopping Mall in Kuta which features even the latest hits from Rihanna and Evanescence to Linkin Park.

Asian Karaoke StereotypeThey have a friendly bunch of staff, the whole place shines, is reasonably priced and they even make sure that exotic songs which aren’t available at the moment, can be requested and are ready for you next time you pop by. They have different room sizes for 4-12 persons, which are available for just a few Rupiah per hour, you can have drinks and even food in the rooms and the whole karaoke system is easily operated by yourself via a computerized screen and keyboard.

Yep, there are the other spots of adult entertainment as well. Karaoke there is maybe more a side effect than the main attraction. In some places in Bali you can have a separate room for free, if you take 2 girls with you in the room, who offer everything from simple company up to serious sexual services. I’m not sure if the term ‘Karaoke Massage’ derived from these kind of venues or from Massage Parlors, which offer additional naughty moves to willing customers as well.

Ad for Thai Karaoke ClubHowever, be prepared to pay way higher bills in more seedy or rundown venues, if you luster for this other version of Karaoke. It could even ruin more than your vocal chords; as following the latest statistics, more than 40% of prostitutes and ‘Karaoke Girls’ in Bali have already contracted HIV or even full-blown AIDS. That surely is similar in other girlie bars or adult entertainment venues all over Asia. So I hope you know what you’re doing. ;-)

What are your experiences with Karaoke? Do you love it or hate it?

Or do you even have your own Karaoke system at home? Where is your favorite spot to get Karaoke CDs or DVDs?

Do you have any special tips or funny stories to tell? Please share with other readers by making use of the comment form! ;-)

Technorati : , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!

or save article to your Facebook with 1 simple click:


written by Chris

40 Responses to “Karaoke – dirty little secret or Asia’s favorite pastime?”

  1. MikeNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Nice article. Having lived in Japan for 10 years, I definitely have a love/hate relationship with karaoke. I am pretty bad singer so I only go when I am drunk. I wonder what makes Filipinas such good singers?

  2. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    I’m not so sure either. Maybe they start very early and enjoy the day happily singing? Maybe a true Pinoy can answer that a bit more in detail? :-/

  3. lissieNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    I hate it ! I have got to say that the Philippines produces some of the most amazing bands and singers that I have come accross, though the Vietnamese are catching up fast!

  4. GerryNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    As a Pinoy (Filipino) I’ve always thought our perception of our singing talent is mostly subjective. Turns out, it’s not.

    Now to answer Mike’s question. I think Filipinos are good singers mostly because we love festivities. Every town in the Philippines, big or small, has its own “fiesta.” In simple terms it’s one big party that the whole town celebrates. (A concept brought by the Spanish to our islands. It’s a way of honoring the town’s patron saint.)

    The way these fiestas are celebrated may differ from town to town. But one thing is constant–the singing contest. We are so may ahead of the “American Idol” by 300 years!

    Winners in these contests go on to represent the town in a province-wide contest. There, they hope to be discovered by talent scouts who either get them to become recording artists or hotel singers in other countries.

    But even before aspiring singers join these town fiesta singing contests, most Filipinos are already forced to be good at either dancing or singing since we are fond of holding these huge family reunions where aunts, uncles, grandpas, grandmas and cousins get together, usually during Christmas.

    In these family reunions, the main attraction would be–you guessed it–the talent contest. You are a total loser if you have no talent to show for.

    So you see, at a very young age we are forced to become performers or risk being ostracized :)

    By the way, Chris, there’s an urban legend that a Filipino actually invented the karaoke machine. Having no one to fund his invention in the Philippines, the legend says he sold his blueprint to a Japanese manufacturer :)

  5. Nomadic MattNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    they love it ….its like their baseball.

  6. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Hey Gerry – many thanks for the interesting insight into your culture. And yes, your perception of the Filipino singing talent is anything but subjective! ;-)

  7. jermNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    i can vouch for the clean karaoke joint at discovery mall in kuta, been there many times with my german buddy and i highly recommend it (the karaoke place, not the german buddy) :D

  8. BrianNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Ummm… I was on maui for 13 years, and I had two jobs, one as a youth minister, one as a systems technician. Well I was out celebrating a contract the company I worked for one night, and had a little too much Sake. I ended up singing “Eye of the Tiger” in front of some of my kids parents. Good thing they had a sense of humor… they turned around and dedicated “Dancing Queen” to me… It was a fun night all around.

  9. CathyNo Gravatar SWITZERLAND Says:

    Your post made me read further about who really invented the Karaoke. I really believed that it was a Filipino who invented it. I was disappointed to find out otherwise. A Filipino just holds the patent.


  10. dodong floresNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Hi, Chris!
    Nice read for me, indeed. I didn’t know anything about the history of Karaoke – only here in this site.
    I used to sing in Karaoke as well. But didn’t go to shady places where your singing prowess can be humiliated in public. We usually visit Encore in SM City North-EDSA where you can avail a private room where you and company can sing to your heart’s content.
    A friend who once worked in Korea once told me that Koreans loved Karaoke as well. And I can’t believe it when I was told Freddie Aguilar’s “Anak” song is very popular in that country that Koreans sing it in Tagalog lyrics even if they didn’t understand every words of it.
    Now, that’s the pleasure of being indulged to Karaoke…

  11. her bali dreamsNo Gravatar SINGAPORE Says:

    i think you should get that “magic sing” from the philippines. its basically a ‘karaoke machine right within your fingertips’! =)

  12. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    her bali dreams – what is that ‘magic sing’ gadget exactly? Do you have some more information about it? Sounds interesting! ;-)

  13. please!No Gravatar REPUBLIC OF KOREA Says:

    What a laughable statistic about 40% of girls having hiv/aids. In reality it’s about 0.7 %. Educate yourself.

  14. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    please! – I think we both have to educate ourselves a bit more on that subject. I just checked again the available statistics I could get my hands on for Bali. They range from 3% (for 2001) to 10% (for 2007) to 30% (June 2008). So it’s less than 40% but definitely more than 0.7%.

    The highest rates of infection among prostitutes are currently to be found in Kenya and Zimbabawe (more than 80%); Cote dÂ’’Ivoire, Ethiopia and Malawi (more than 60 percent); Benin, Mali, and Tanzania (more than 40 percent). Bali is not there yet.

  15. johnNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    I only have a love relationship with Karaoke. I just love this kind of music.

  16. RyanNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Or you can check out Red Box in Greenbelt 3 in Makati. A bit pricey though. Oh, yeah, if you wanna watch the World Cup but dont want to jostle with the crowds at bars, this is your best bet.

    Oh yeah, did you know that the song ‘My Way’ has the most number of Karaoke singers being killed or maimed while singing this song in clubs across the Philippines?

  17. ChrisNo Gravatar INDIA Says:

    Getting killed over “My Way”? That’s truly a sad way to die! :D

  18. Only We Know Why | nomad4ever UNITED STATES Says:

    […] – not my type though. Then my buddy Jeremiah introduced me to this song, during one of our last Karaoke sessions in Bali – man, I miss […]

  19. Manila oh Manila! | nomad4ever UNITED STATES Says:

    […] prefer going to places with live music – and Manila has plenty of those. As we established already, Filipinos are talented singers – in most holiday destinations or hotel lobbies around Asia you will find mainly Filipino bands and […]

  20. BethNo Gravatar CANADA Says:

    Hmm, I’ve got some probable reasons why Filipinos are good singers:

    1. They start young.
    2. They love ballads.
    3. There are some great songs in the Philippines that just inspire you to sing.
    4. Singing is an affordable pastime (ie. you can sing anytime and it won’t cost you a thing) and is the main form of entertainment.
    5. They sing with their hearts.
    6. The Philippines has numerous musical influences due to its history.

  21. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Beth, those are some good points! Here in the Philippines you also have more exposure to Karaoke than anywhere else. Every little village has at least half a dozen Karaoke machines, so you can’t get away from it (which is a good thing in my view, hehe!) :D

  22. MarkNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    The Best and the Worst of Karaoke.
    In my experience the Filipino singers are terrific but the worst are the Malaysians, especially WP Labuan!
    Pure Agony!
    We eventually changed our Labuan bar into an “Expat Club” so we could kill off the Karaoke. In the Philippines customers ask if we are going to put Karaoke into our restaurants and we are considering it. They even want to sing at lunchtime!

  23. suzanneNo Gravatar NETHERLANDS Says:

    hmm, yes, better not let me go on stage. will be a sad sad eppisode..

    either way, take a look at these over the top karaoke microphones i came across. Has the world gone mad?

  24. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    suzanne, that was the case with me before also. But constant practice has changed that a bit. Surprisingly and it’s fun on top also. :D

  25. roy519No Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    Hello Chris, magic sing is microphone embedded w/ chips that hold hundreds of songs. You plug ur mike to ur TV & voila, you have a karaoke machine. They are very light, most pinoys bring theirs whenever they party. Most pinoy households have it esp those living overseas. Wow, you sing “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”? You must have a nice booming voice. ;-)
    Enjoy ur holiday!

  26. barsoomNo Gravatar UNITED STATES Says:

    I think the karaoke started in the Philippines which was called then as “minus 1”
    You put in a cassette tape and only the accompaniment comes out and the voice is cancelled out. You then sing thru a plug -in mike using the original accompaniment. Some years later, the karaoke came out.

  27. ralphNo Gravatar UNITED ARAB EMIRATES Says:

    Hi Chris,
    The shot of the ‘karaoke temple’, do you have a high res of this? i am interested in using it in a ad campaign.


  28. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    ralph, sorry, I only found this picture via Google Image Search. I dont’ have a high-res version. :(

  29. AntoniNo Gravatar BELGIUM Says:

    Hi I am Antoni from Belgium… I want to ask if someone now the karaoke De paradise ktv in Joho Bahru (Malaysia)? What kind of Karoke is it?
    I ask that coz i met a girl who work there and i was wondering what kind of job she can do??? I know her pay is 10euro per hours and she just work 5 or 6 hours per day and win more than 1000euro per month who is very high salary in Malaysia…
    Is someone can tell me what kind of job it must be???
    Thanks for ur help

  30. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    You aren’t serious about that one, Antoni, right? Have you been to any Karaoke place in Asia and especially Johor Baru? I really don’t know, if I should give you hope or the truth, but am pretty sure, you will find out eventually. Just one thing, 99% of KTV places in JB (or Batam in Indonesia for that matter) are not about singing. :-?

  31. AntoniNo Gravatar BELGIUM Says:

    thank u chris… so in that kind of place if i understand well is only about girls or prostitute… but how does it work?

  32. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    You don’t understand how to get your d|ck out of your pants or the money out of your pocket, Antoni? Sorry for being so direct, but prostitution has world-wide the same universal business model and in those KTV bars it’s no difference.

    I don’t know you or your gf, but if you are no troll (just commenting here for stirring things up), I would recommend the following: forget about that girl and move on – you can get the girl out of the bar, but not the bar out of the girl. Stories about failed relationships in this milieu are legend; not only in Thailand, but all around Asia. Just my 2 cents and sorry again, if that came over a bit rude. :-/

  33. AntoniNo Gravatar BELGIUM Says:

    thanks chris… i was ready to married that girl but after what i found, like u said better to forget her…. when i called that nite club, i ask if she was working and they spoke about a “mammy’s” or something like that, what is it?

  34. ElephantNo Gravatar SPAIN Says:

    Or you can check out Red Box in Greenbelt 3 in Makati. A bit pricey though. Oh, yeah, if you wanna watch the World Cup but dont want to jostle with the crowds at bars, this is your best bet.

    Oh yeah, did you know that the song ‘My Way’ has the most number of Karaoke singers being killed or maimed while singing this song in clubs across the Philippines?

  35. ChrisNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Elephant, thanks for the tip. Will try it out next time I will be in that area. Yup, the phenomemon about ‘My Way’ is well documented on the internet. Also mentioned here in Comments 16/17. Still I wonder if it’s maybe just an Urban Legend? ;-)

  36. EricNo Gravatar INDONESIA Says:

    Hi, we are in bali and start a new entertainment concept:
    i t’s more fun than Karaoke, and you can fell the emotion about being on stage with a band.
    Our unit are made of 2 to 4 musicians and we have all the song re written by french professional musicians. I t s definitely a lot better than the minus one version…
    To know where it’s gone take place and when send us a mail at:

  37. ChrisNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    Eric, sure sounds like fun. Although there are quite a few venues offering that already, for instance Bounty and other have an open mic with lyrics for interested singers and a background. But Bounty is in horrible condition and who knows, if you pull it off in a different way and with some certain standards, it might just work. Good luck! ;-)

  38. jerrahNo Gravatar PHILIPPINES Says:

    I love this topic! XD

    I’ve always thought the karaoke machine was japanese made. “Karaoke” sounds more japanese than filipino. But, somehow, saying it’s a filipino creation, it would make sense on the fact that filipinos LOVE to sing. :-?

    & wow! I didnt know karaoke places have that darker shade. Seems to me that when you say karaoke or KTV here in Philippines, the only thing that comes to mind is singing. Now that i think about it, there could be some of those KTV bars who does shady things in them. After all they are private. But a lot of people prefer the cheaper but public karaokes that’s just a block away from your house, or the ones in the malls w/ glass windows but soundproofed OR have one yourself! We do. My uncle is an engineer who’s business is making & renting karaoke machines & we owned one of his machines (w/c is so loud the whole neighborhood could hear you sing. But apparently nobody cares whether you sing well or you’re out of tune. Someone singing somewhere is a natural occurrence. LOL.)

    Anyway, as what one commenter said, we kinda have this “talent show” tradition in family gatherings. I think it’s the family influence too that has something to do w/ that. Like in my family, we do that “talent show” thing. But everybody have a performance, young & old – although, that was back then. & i hated those events for, as someone who’s unfortunately (well maybe not) born in a musical family (at least from my mother’s side), everybody can sing except for me. I cannot perform. I cant say i was ostracized but it gave that feeling of being different. Everybody can sing, sing & dance, sing & play an instrument or play two different instruments (& sometimes more). Sometimes, my older male cousins would joke that I’m probably adopted but the elders, on the other hand, would say that I’m special (in their wise-elder-mode). Whatever that “special” is, but apparently im the only one in our clan who can draw, design (clothes or make bead jewelries) & make anything that has something to do w/ colors & shapes. So i guess that’s it? LOL.
    Anyway, im currently learning guitar (thanks to my uncles who always gives tips) & I can now play piano too. As for singing, well my female cousin would push me (more like whine til i cant take it anymore) to sing. I guess they’re not giving up on me & my inability in music.

    & i’ve got my …er… 1st karaoke experience too… w/c i find weird but it was nice.XD

  39. paul sheehanNo Gravatar AUSTRALIA Says:

    ;-) what a great, honest array of comments- going to Kuta in 5 days with my Philippine partner- much fun karaoke to be had

  40. Ajay GoyalNo Gravatar not found Says:

    Oh my God, Chris :) I started singing at Karaoke’s from Bangalore, India, and loved it so much that sang in Karaoke’s in Moscow also after that. I am deeply and madly in love with Karaoke singing.

    I was termed as the Rockstar in Moscow by Russians, and their mafia too :) I started singing while watching and listening to songs on normal TV also since then, and found out that I was quite good at it, everyone looked at me in awe while I sang.

Leave a Reply

Hey, if you want a picture to show by your comment, why not get a gravatar?

;-) :twisted: :roll: :oops: :mrgreen: :lol: :idea: :evil: :cry: :arrow: :?: :-| :-x :-o :-P :-D :-? :) :( :!: 8-O 8)