A lesson in karaoke for my Korean friends

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A lesson in karaoke for my Korean friends

Traveling in Australia last January, I was often asked, “Do you like karaoke?”
The Australians I met seemed to have the impression that all Koreans liked karaoke. This embarrassed me at times, because I’m not one of those Koreans. It’s not that I don’t like singing ― it’s just that karaoke, at least the way my Korean friends enjoy it, can be an isolating and exhausting experience.
Last year my classmates planned a small birthday party for me. We had dinner, then went to a pub and had a pleasant time talking over beer. So far, so good ― but then we went to a karaoke room.
I don’t know how my friends felt, but for me, that changed the mood. Everyone started to concentrate on their own songs ― and on sounding like a professional singer.
If someone’s performance wasn’t going well, he’d push the button that stopped the song (and kept anyone from seeing how the listeners had rated him). There was little conversation. Everyone was preoccupied with how they sounded.
But karaoke doesn’t have to be that way, as some non-Korean students showed me recently. Two weeks ago, some Dutch students invited me to a party in a spacious karaoke room they’d rented. As the party went on, people started to break the ice, getting up on the small stage.
Frankly, the first Dutch singer was like a wet blanket. His rendition of his song was close to unrecognizable. Other Korean guests seemed to feel the same way, and began taking the stage, apparently to show them how it should be done. The Koreans sang very well, and the Dutch students applauded.
But there was something different: The Dutch students applauded for everyone. They didn’t care whether the singer was good or not. They just enjoyed the mood, and enjoyed singing together on stage. They didn’t even care about repeating a song that somebody else had already sung ― a faux pas for Korean would-be karaoke stars. That party was for everyone, not just the good singers.
Tomorrow I’m going to a classmate’s birthday party. We’ll probably go to a karaoke room. I’ll feel like I’m on a lonely island in a sea of superficial gaiety. But I’ll sing anyway, in the hope that this time the evening will be about friendship, and not about who can turn out the best version of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.”

Ms. Kang is an intern at the JoongAng Daily.

by Kang Jin-ae
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