Despite all my years in Japan, I still do not understand the Japanese love of karaoke. Not only is it a popular “why don’t we get drunk and sing?” activity but it’s popular enough that there are annual shows where celebrities take turns singing songs for cash. (If they can sing the song without making a mistake, their team wins money.)
My first taste of karaoke was with the teachers at my smallest school. They took turns belting out Japanese hits with surprising skill (and a little help from autotune) whilst I scanned the catalog for a song in English that both of us knew and which didn’t give me a headache. It quickly became clear, though, that the songs I knew they didn’t know and the songs they knew I didn’t like. They kept suggesting songs and I kept rejecting their ideas as I tried to explain some of my axioms of karaoke:
1–Just because I like a song doesn’t mean I know all the words.
2–Just because I know all the words doesn’t mean I want to sing the song.
3–I’m not a big fan of post “I Want To Hold Your Hand” Beatles so stop suggesting it.
4–“Let it Be,” “Yesterday” and “Imagine” are overrated.
In the end I settled on the Shocking Blue version of “Venus” which left all of us underwhelmed but guaranteed I wouldn’t have to sing again and, by extrapolation, meant I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. The next time I sang was with my then boss and involved “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” but I’ll have to save discussion of that one until the New Year season.
Sometime after that I sang “Saturday Night” by the Bay City Rollers with She Who Must Be Obeyed back when she was known as She Whose Friend Was Really Cute aka She Who Helped Sabotage My Chances With the Really Cute Friend.
The big karaoke moment though came in 1998 when for reasons I still don’t fully understand but which involved my having visited London on three occasions, I was invited to join She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed and her friends at a party celebrating the one year (or so) reunion of their trip to London. I was not only the only foreigner and the only one present who hadn’t been on their trip, I was the only male. As such, I was expected to sing because, well, because. Quite frankly, if I’d left them with the impression that “foreign men are boring” that would have been fine with me.
Instead, I was asked if I knew the song “California Dreamin'” I said “of course” and was suddenly scheduled to sing the song. I pointed out that although I knew the song, I only really new the chorus. The person who scheduled me was like “Yeah, how about that.”
To make matters worse, it wasn’t a private karaoke room, it was a stage in the bar. This meant that when a Japanese was singing no one noticed, but when a large foreigner got up there, the entire place would shut down to watch (had been there; had done that; more on that another day).
To make worse matters worse, about the time my song was scheduled to scroll up, one of my party colleagues belted out a version of a Japanese song in a near perfect Mariah Carey multi-octave impersonation.
I was, of course, no fool, and stated how I didn’t follow Mariah Carey. This turned my song into a duet that went something like:
All the leaves are brown (the leaves are brown) and the sky is gray (and the sky is gray).
Something something something (something something) on a winter’s day.
Something something something (something something) something something L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
I got through it and on the ride home I accidentally asked out She Who Would Eventually Be Obeyed and she quickly accepted. The next day we went out and never stopped dating.
So not everything about karaoke is bad; just that singing part.