If music is universal, singing knows no borders, and karaoke evokes equal fervour throughout the different continents, its approach still differs from one country to the next.
Let’s start our tour around the world with the inventors of karaoke: Japan. Karaoke has become the favorite pastime of Japanese employees to round out a long day in the land of the rising sun. Like in the rest of Asia, karaoke in Japan is often practiced in closed establishments offering a private space contrary to that of many western countries where karaoke machines can be found in public bars, clubs, cafés and restaurants.
Always a leader in the karaoke industry, the Japanese are betting on a new kind of karaoke. Orchestral karaoke is quickly catching on as the new form of entertainment in which the participant plays their own instrument and can choose to sing and play collectively alongside other unknown singers and players. A fun little tidbit: the first weddings thanks to “orchestral karaoke” have already been reported.
In the Philippines, karaoke is more of a family experience and a national home pastime. A good part of the population possess some form of equipment that allows them to transform their television into a karaoke machine (think KaraFun but limited to your television!)
With large portions of its population originating from the Philippines, Australia has caught the karaoke bug.
China, longtime closed off to this activity, has quickly evolved as an active player since the 90s when hundreds of thousands of karaoke bars and boxes began cropping up like mushrooms throughout the country. Mahjong-karaoke restaurants can now be found proposing this old-time tile game and karaoke at the same time.
On the other side of the Pacific, in North America, amateur singers can be found taking part in karaoke in restaurants and bars where singers gather to belt out a tune or to just let go on a night out with the friends. Karaoke has become so popular that instrumental karaoke groups can often be found playing live and accompanying karaoke singers. Even certain cities have become karaoke representatives, like Portland, in the States, known as “ the capital of karaoke” or it’s north-eastern neighbors in Toronto, Canada where the karaoke scene is just as active.
Fun fact number two: today, a new phenomenon is spreading across the US. More and more karaoke is going back to its roots targeting the Asian-American population (and succeeding!)
In the UK, for America's cousins, the word karaoke became a normal word in the language by the end of the 80s and is still largely socially and geographically rooted. Karaoke in the UK was first adopted in Scotland and Wales and larger areas amongst blue-collar workers.
Still, karaoke has yet to completely catch on in other major European cities. Italy for example has a yet to popularize this pastime.
But just over the other side of the Alpes, in France, the rise of karaoke came to a halt in the 90s due to oppositions between music moguls (like Pioneer and Sacem), France’s performing rights society. Since then, however the practice has thankfully made its return thanks to popular TV shows that have integrated once again into homes (think The Voice and Name that Tune).