Karaoke is a wildly popular pastime that involves singing the lyrics of a song while accompanied by recorded background music. It allows people to sing and interpret their favorite songs while uninterrupted by the original singer. Karaoke has obtained global popularity, with particular success in the United States and Asia.
Although original sing-along technology was born in California, the first sing-along machines were created and popularized in Japan during the 1970s. The original machines charged a small fee to play a recorded version of a song that could be sung into an attached microphone by a performer. They quickly became a popular form of entertainment at parties and restaurants throughout Japan, where music and singing had long been a traditional accompaniment to festivities.
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The popularity of this form of entertainment quickly spread throughout Asia and America, leading to the creation of karaoke bars and lounges. These places allowed a hopeful singer to perform for a crowd, using high quality sound systems to make performers into true musical entertainment for the establishment. Those who have visited a karaoke bar or lounge will note that this is a mixed bag; while some amateur performers may shock you with unsuspected talent, more often the combination of alcohol and boldness will result in horrifically off-key renditions. If you choose to visit such a bar, go with a sense of humor, and possibly earplugs for extreme situations.
Modern machines use a variety of technology to improve the experience for performers and the audience. Many will include a display screen to project lyrics for the singer and the crowd to follow along. Some include video displays to make the experience more like a music video. In hopes of helping less talented performers, some modern professional machines include a pitch-modifier, which allows the singer to put the music into an appropriate range.
The next generation of karaoke performance has spread to video gaming consoles. In 1985, the first sing-along video game was released for the Nintendo Famicon system. Sony’s Playstation 2 debuted Karaoke Revolution in 2003, judging and awarding points to performers based on matched pitch, rhythm and degree of difficulty. With games like Rock Star and Guitar Hero, hopeful performers are allowed to not only sing, but also play the instruments used in songs.
To many in the 1980s and 1990s, karaoke seemed a fad that would quietly vanish. Yet the original idea capitalized on a common fantasy: being a rock star! Joining in karaoke allows anyone to live out their muffled dreams of rocking out like Axl Rose, capturing a room with a sultry glance like Fiona Apple, or sending your ex a clear message with a full-out rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” The advent of advanced technology for the public performance arena, and the wildly successful video game takes on the concept, it seems clear the fad will continue to treat or horrify music-loving patrons for a long time to come.