2021 marks 50 years of authenticity on stage. As we celebrate half a century of karaoke, we at Singa want to draw attention to the beautiful culture of karaoke, a culture of inclusivity, belonging, and support for all types of singers and performances.

The development of karaoke owes much to different essential milestones in technological advancement. In early 1970s, the “Father of karaoke”, Japanese musician Daisuke Inoue noticed a need for a product that would inspire people to interact with popular music. As a result, he invented the first karaoke machine, the Juke 8 (also known as 8 Juke), in 1971.

Inoue's karaoke device had an amplifier, a microphone, a coin box, and an eight-track car stereo. All you had to do was put in the coin, take the mic and sing your heart out to the rooting audience. For the first time in history, anyone could perform in a bar with the support of musical backing tracks. Inoue’s invention galvanized the culture of performance.

8 Juke, first karaoke machine
8 Juke, the first karaoke machine invented by Daisuke Inoue in 1971. Photo source

It’s okay to make mistakes

As the karaoke phenomenon spreads across the world, everyone is welcome on stage. Karaoke enthusiast Brian Raftery says in his book:

“Karaoke requires the willingness to be entertained by strangers…”

– Brian Raftery, writer, journalist in Don't Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life

The culture of karaoke is one of support. In karaoke, you are allowed to be flawed. Every karaoke singer has been in that awkward situation where they realize they actually have no clue how the song goes. Usually what happens is that the audience helps the singer out. The audience mostly cheers, even if you don’t nail the song.

Karaoke is a safe space to be vulnerable and learn about risk-taking. It’s a great setting for perfectionists to cure themselves of the constant need to be on top of their game. If you stumble with the lyrics, the audience can relate to it: they’ve been there too.

In case you’re serious about getting rid of overachieving, try “kamikaze karaoke”, also known as “killer karaoke”. In this daredevil version of karaoke, the singer has no prior knowledge of the song that has been picked for them. The challenge is to complete the piece whether they know it or not – not-so-much a walk in the park!

Break down the hierarchy

Karaoke is popular all over the world but especially hyped in many Asian countries. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the social impacts of karaoke are particularly noticeable in countries with a strict hierarchy.

For example, in several Asian countries, the hierarchical system is quite strong in many workplaces. Seniority, status, and rank play a considerable role in everything, and there are a set of norms and rules you are expected to follow – except in karaoke.

In karaoke, everyone is on the same level. It’s perfectly acceptable for you to go and sing karaoke with your boss after a long workday without feeling inferior or having to think about your status compared to your supervisor. It’s just two equals offering their best performance and sharing a good time. We at Singa highly recommend trying out after-work karaoke with your colleagues!

What about professionals?

Karaoke is by no means a threat to global stardom or musical performances by professionals. According to karaoke philosophy, anyone can perform – professionals and non-professionals, folks who can’t hit the right notes, as well as world-known artists, people who insist on singing sad songs, and party animals. In karaoke, everyone is treated and respected equally, all are there to share the merry.

In his book Don't Stop Believin': How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life, writer and storyteller Brian Raftery describes how the traditional relationship between performer and audience has dramatically been redefined, thanks to karaoke, American Idol and Guitar Hero. Although there still is a division between those with musical talent and those without, according to Raftery, talent is no longer perceived as something only professionals can access.

Raftery explains:

“Fans used to see musicians on stage and think, ‘How did they do that?’ Now they watch and wonder, ‘When do I get to do that?’. To teenagers and early twentysomethings growing up in our increasingly emulative culture, a karaoke bar isn’t just a hangout. It’s a rehearsal space.”

Everyone belongs

Many share Raftery’s unapologetic love for karaoke:

For years I’ve employed karaoke as both a stimulant and an antidepressant, and I’ve travelled the world seeking out the perfect karaoke experience, whether it’s in a Filipino bar in Vienna or a wedding reception in South Dakota.”

Raftery’s statement describes beautifully the adrenaline rush karaoke offers. Daisuke Inoue’s Juke 8 made it possible for anyone to perform in front of people. The pure intention of channeling joy, sharing feelings, and expressing oneself through a song isn’t just for the talented and well-rehearsed performer anymore. Now, anyone is welcome to offer their very own interpretation of a song and share a moment of authenticity.

In 2004 Daisuke Inoue was awarded the humorous Ig Nobel Peace Prize for inventing karaoke. The Ig Nobel praised Inoue’s invention for "thereby providing an entirely new way for people to learn to tolerate each other”.

From this perspective, karaoke isn’t just about singing anymore. It’s more about belonging. It’s also about feeling that you are enough and you matter. It’s being a part of our collective humanity and having the assurance that even if you are a terrible singer, you are still welcome to offer your song. Karaoke is a medium for building bridges and spreading happiness – little but big acts of service.

Daisuke Inoue
Daisuke Inoue at the IG Nobel Prize Ceremony in 2004. Photo source.

Read more about how Daisuke Inoue’s Juke 8 liberated singing.

Join the party! Follow #50YearsofKaraoke and @singakaraoke on Instagram, as well as @singamusic on Facebook, and celebrate 50 years of karaoke with us!

Here is a list of great party songs to get you started.