Karaoke, or “noraebang” as it is called in Korea, is an extremely popular pastime in almost every city or town across the country, and is truly one of my favourites.
It differs to American or European style karaoke, where one would get up in front of a crowded bar with a group or friends, completely plastered and scream out the lyrics to one of a small selection of 90s hits. This, in my opinion, is not fun, and certainly not enjoyable to watch. Karaoke done Korean style, on the other hand, is a private room, perfectly sized to the number of members in your group (as small as 1, sometimes as big as 15).
Each noraebang differs from the other (in Seoul there are generally at least 2 on every street throughout the city): some are fancy, some are crusty; prices can be laughably low or stupidly high. Some even come with “helpers” – to help you sing and Have Good Time! (These ones can apparently be recognised by pictures of women on the outside.)
The best one that I ever went to was a large room that could fit about 10 people. Inside there we 3 ornate sofas and a large glass table. There was one huge flat screen on the main wall and about 4 other small screens on the side walls. At the back of the room was a staircase leading up to a mezzanine level – this came in very handy when me and my 2 girl friends sang Girls Just Want To Have Fun by Cindy Lauper, as we entertained the other members of our group below us. The selection of songs was unbelievable, with a large section of international artists as well as Korean, Japanese and Chinese. There was a set of tambourines and even a drum kit. All around were funky multi-coloured lights and neon walls to give that “disco” feel. Inside we could drink, we could smoke, we could eat snacks – the perfect night out!
If singing isn’t your thing, it’s still worth going even for the experience. More than this, it is an experience in itself just seeing the hysterical videos that the noraebang companies put alongside the lyrics on the big screens. Some are pleasant scenes of exotic locations from around the world. Others are music videos from washed-out Asian artists of the 80s and 90s. But the best the are the cheaply made “dramas”. Here is a typical example:
A man is driving in the rain and swerves across the road to his death. His girlfriend rushes to the hospital and falls to the floor in despair. After several days of walking in the rain she collapses as a good-looking man on a motorbike rides past. Next scene: she wakes up on a couch with a blanket covering her, and the man making her warm tea. They fall in love and share happy moments of walking in the park and eating noodles together, having completely forgotten the previous boyfriend.