Asians love to karaoke. This is a fact. Some Asians may feign disinterest and claim “I hate singing” or “Karaoke sucks,” but when they are at home and no one is watching, even the most ardent critic will pretend they are in a boy band or the long lost Spice Girl. We appear to be born with an innate propensity to sing (among infants this is often mistaken for crying).
Don’t believe me? Here is a statistic everyone should know. 90% of the Asian people that I personally know have karaoked at least once in their lives. 100% of them love it. If you extrapolate this to the entire country, we can safety assume that at least 90% of Asian-Americans living in the United States also love to karaoke. That’s more than 15 million people. Amazing, right?! The remaining 10% who don’t like to karaoke probably live in Ohio and prefer cow-tipping.
This year we even karaoked during our annual holiday party at VFA. I spent all week picking out a song and practicing with my co-worker Sarah. “We have a special treat for you tonight,” announced my boss during the party, “James and Sarah are going to sing Ghetto Superstar!” We dimmed the lights and projected the music video on the 90 inch smartboard. Sarah kicked off the song with the chorus, but soon all eyes were on me so I started raping the lyrics, which include lines like “I’mma teach these cats how to live in the ghetto.” All of the words totally made sense to me since I’m from Kent, where the best restaurant in town is Chipotle.
The crowd went nuts. Not because I’m particularly gifted at rapping or singing; they were probably happy seeing two other idiots in front of the room making fools of themselves. Sometimes it’s like watching a slow train wreck—when the wrong person is on stage singing the wrong song. I once singlehandedly cleared out a Japanese bar in Los Angeles when I sang Get What You Give by the New Radicals (true story).
Fortunately, instead of running away or curling up in the fetal position, people started joining in. We sang classic hits like No Diggity and I Want It That Way. I’m just grateful my boss, who was gripping a plastic kitchen spoon that he pretended was a mic, didn’t get carried away and sing Pony by Genuine.
So why do we Asians love karaoke so much? My guess is it has to do with our culture (this might be a reach though). Asians do not have a reputation for expressing strong emotions, either positive or negative. I could be arrested for dealing drugs and my parents would be nonchalant, but all hell would break lose if I got a B+ in math. It’s the same thing with telling an Asian person you love them. I imagine my dad vomiting in his mouth whenever he says “I…uh…love you, boy.” That’s right, he doesn’t even call me son…just boy (btw Dad, I’m 30).
The way I see things, there are two only ways for Asians to express their emotions: one involves a lot of alcohol and the other is karaoke, which is clearly the safer choice. Karaoke is cathartic for Asians who bottle up such powerful emotions. What better way for a guy to tell a girl he thinks she is attractive than by serenading her with Baby Got Back. I have seen Asians use karaoke to express all sorts of emotion, from love and happiness (I Feel Good, James Brown) to shame and loneliness (Baby One More Time by Britney Spears). The truth is, sometimes we just need to use music to communicate how we feel. Karaoke helps with that. I would rather my dad sang Just The Two of Us by Will Smith than trying to hug me.
But karaokeing isn’t just an Asian thing. It is a $380 million industry in the United States. Everybody does it. Just check out the Bush Garden (Chinatown) or Yen Wor (West Seattle) on any given night and you’ll see a diverse mix of people singing their hearts out and telling everyone how they really feel.
Have you ever karaoked? What’s your song of choice?