Karaoke has been popular entertainment for a while at many parties and dinners in not only Japan, but the rest of the world as well. In Japan, there has always been a kind of musical atmosphere at adult parties. For example, samurais learned how to sing and dance in their education while Utagoe Kissa was a way for customers at coffee shops to sing along with live performances. Karaoke
is now the dominant form of adult musical entertainment in Japan though, and it kind of came out of nowhere.
The word karaoke comes from the fusion of two other Japanese words: kara, meaning “empty,” and oke, meaning “orchestra.” “Empty orchestra” makes sense for the activity as one sings along to a band or orchestra that is not even there.
In the early 1970s, Inoue Daisuke created the first karaoke machine. He was a popular singer back then and was often asked by customers at Utagoe Kissa, the kind of coffee shops where he played at, for an instrumental version of his songs so they could sing to them at home. Inoue recognized the potential of this kind of market, so that’s when he created the first karaoke machine, which cost 100-yen per each song. In the beginning, Inoue didn’t sell these machines, but only leased them to those interested. At the time many thought it was just a fad since the instrumental tracks kind of took away from the atmosphere of the live show. They were also considered expensive, as at the time, an 100-yen coin could pay for about two lunches.
However, it still became popular and karaoke machines started getting placed in hotels and restaurants. New businesses starting cropping up which dedicated themselves to having rooms with karaoke machines in them. Inoue later earned the Ig Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for his invention of karaoke, as it was seen as a new way to have people come together and have fun.
Karaoke machines followed the times, first using cassette tapes then moving on to CDs, VCDs, laserdiscs, and DVDs. Traditional machines started to get replaced by Taito’s X2000, which was able to get music through dial-up networks. The music it provided was quite limited, but it became popular because of its small size and its speedy updates. In modern times, fiber-optic links are making karaoke machines of even better quality music and video. It is expected that these kinds will become the dominant form in the future.
In the early 1990s, karaoke broke out of Japan and became popular in the United States along with the rest of Asia. Karaoke bars cropped up and allowed amateur singers the ability to entertain and feel like true stars. It is beginning to become popular in the United Kingdom as well, as Martha Lane Fox is creating a chain of karaoke bars called “Lucky Voice.”
Some critics argue that karaoke is only a way in which drunk people embarrass themselves, but the novelty feel that karaoke once had has been shed off. Some karaoke places have added large TV screens and even dance floors for guests. It continues to become ever more popular as the selection of music increases.