Being modern: Karaoke


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The Independent Online

I’ll do it myyyyyyyyyyyyy waaaaaaay. No kidding. For a second, we all thought it was Frank. That’s the glory – and curse – of karaoke: it makes people think they can sing like legends; and it makes people think they can sing like legends.

Literally meaning “empty orchestra”, this wonderfully ear-defiling form of interactive entertainment was invented in 1971 by Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue, when he combined a car stereo, coin box and amplifier. The interactive entertainment gained popularity in Asia before spreading to the rest of the world.

And how. It is not only that the original tape decks have been replaced by CDs; nowadays there’s the ubiquitous dedicated karaoke boxes – small rooms with their own screens and microphones.

Maybe it’s for the best; in 2009, the karaoke machine was voted as the gadget the British most wish had never been invented, so sticking them in their own soundproofed areas rather than allowing people to warble wantonly in pubs is the best way to avoid violence. Well, that  and the invention of videogames such  as SingStar, which lets wannabe divas caterwaul the night away in the comfort of their own lounge, well away from the threat of someone yanking out the plug.

Perhaps karaoke’s finest moment came in 2003, with Bill Murray singing Roxy Music’s “More Than This” to Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation. It was a silver-screen moment that brought newfound R.E.S.P.E.C.T to karaoke, resulting in the opening that year of the Lucky Voice chain, and, later, private karaoke rooms in unexpected places (Mahiki in Mayfair boasts a karaoke room with bed and shower!).

Aretha would no doubt also give it  up for those humble souls who enter the Karaoke World Championships, which also began in 2003. This year’s contest will be held in Finland in November for anyone who fancies entering. And before that, for anyone who still doubts the maturation of this pastime, there’s yet another series of the biggest karaoke challenge of them all: The X Factor. Altogether now: “You raise me UUUUUUUUUP!”