Anyone can feel like a superstar singing along with the music and lyrics of karaoke. Whether you can carry a tune or not, you can have five minutes of fame onstage in a bar belting out a melody while following prerecorded music, and song lyrics displayed on a screen. Individuals or groups choose lyrics from a book, and then pay a small fee to hit the stage. Some of the most inhibited people are the first to lose their stage fright, grab a microphone, and sing along with countless song lyrics!
Karaoke began in Japan, and comes from the combination of the words “kara,” meaning “empty,” and “oke,” meaning “orchestra,” which describes singing lyrics along with a band that is absent. It originally seemed like a passing fad, but ignited into a worldwide wildfire that nothing can extinguish. Numerous bars have weekly karaoke nights, and many are dedicated exclusively to karaoke. How did this craze begin?
The first karaoke machine was invented by Japanese musician Inoue Daisuke in the early 1970s. He played at coffee shops where customers asked for instrumental versions of his songs so they could sing the lyrics themselves at home. This inspired him to invent the karaoke machine, which was originally a tape recorder that played music without lyrics for a hundred-yen coin. At first he leased the machines, and then they started popping up in hotels and restaurants.
Karaoke’s Japanese popularity continued escalating because it created a lively party atmosphere, and a supportive environment where even the worst—or most drunken—singers were enthusiastically applauded. Finally, karaoke burst out of Japan and spread to the United States in the early 1990s. In 2004, Inoue was awarded the whimsical Ig Nobel Peace Prize for his unique melding of music and song lyrics that created friendly bonds among people. However, he never patented the machine, losing vastpotential riches to Roberto del Rosario, who invented—and patented—his own karaoke machine called Minus-One.
But regardless of who is officially credited with its invention, karaoke hit the United States’ shores like a tsunami. In 2002, Americans spent over 0 million on karaoke equipment, music and books containing song lyrics. And as karaoke’s popularity skyrocketed, so did its technology.
Karaoke spent its infancy on cassette tapes, then grew to CDs, laserdiscs and DVDs, including videos and graphics with its on-screen lyrics. Often, these lyrics are displayed on multiple screens throughout a bar or nightclub, so the crowd can witness the singer’s accuracy—or inaccuracy—in following them. In-home Karaoke machines are also available for gatherings with friends, parties, or people who’d rather keep their performances private. Karaoke-mania has also spread to video games, cell phones, the internet, and even taxi cabs equipped with Karaoke machines.
Karaoke, which was first brushed off as a passing novelty, now has a stronghold on world culture. Its winning combination of taped music and on-screen song lyrics have crowned it the king of adult musical entertainment in Japan, and made it a mainstay of American nightlife. So grab a microphone and bask in the glory of being a star—even if it’s only for a few minutes!