Master the art of Karaoke

A karaoke fan’s advice on how to steal the show at a karaoke venue.

Women inside the room holding a microphone and singing in front of the karaoke TV.
  • Ben Groundwater
  • March 2018

There are two types of people: those addicted to karaoke, and those who’ve never tried it.

Don’t be nervous about standing up in front of friends, acquaintances and complete strangers with a microphone in your hand, ready to reproduce one of the all-time classic songs. It only takes a few bars of music to realise that something amazing is happening: suddenly, you’re Aretha Franklin, Bruce Springsteen or Tina Turner.

For the next three and a half minutes you’re anyone you want to be, and there’s nothing your friends can do but sit there and sip their drinks and appreciate your awesomeness. Maybe even sing along.

Karaoke truly is addictive, and in Asia it’s a phenomenon that knows no social or cultural bounds. Everyone is into it. You should be, too.

For travellers, a huge part of the Asian experience is picking up a microphone to join in the fun. Here’s how to become a karaoke god without offending the locals.

Billboards and lights attached in the tall buildings, while people are crossing on the pedestrian street of Narita.
The neon lights of Tokyo, Japan

Sing along

Karaoke, meaning “empty orchestra” in Japanese, originated in Japan in the 1970s, when drummer Daisuke Inoue began selling tape machines with his songs so people could sing along. The craze soon swept Asia, particularly Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.

In the box

The most popular form of karaoke in Asia is the “karaoke box”, a private room that can be hired by groups of friends or colleagues by the hour. Pub-style karaoke is a rarity, though it can be found in rural parts of Laos and Vietnam.

Stock up

While systems of service vary, all karaoke bars in Asia offer food and drinks for sale. Either stock up at the front counter before you go to the room, or order with waiters who will call in as the night progresses.


There are plenty of legitimate karaoke bars in Asia, but “karaoke” is also sometimes used as a front for more nefarious business. Use your instincts, and settle on a price before you go in – that will be a strong indicator of what’s inside.


It might seem hilarious watching some guy slaughter Adele’s Someone Like You, but it’s extremely bad form to poke fun. Karaoke is serious business in Asia. Stick to claps and cheers.


Now, friend, is not the time to demonstrate your knowledge of Thom Yorke’s extensive back catalogue. Now is the time to choose Sweet Caroline and let everyone sing the “baaahm baaahm baaahm!” bits at the top of their lungs.

No filming

Filming someone’s rendition might get you in trouble with the locals, but more importantly, it’s a serious party foul. As tempting as it is to film your friends’ performances on your phone, ain’t nobody wants to hear how bad they really sounded the next day.

Power to the people

If in doubt about song choice, go straight to a power ballad. We recommend universal fist-pumpers such as Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, I Want to Know What Love Is from Foreigner, and all-time classic Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen as good places to start.

Do it your way

While song choice is an entirely personal decision, there may be negative consequences. Be warned that in the Philippines there have been a highly publicised series of violent attacks against people singing the Frank Sinatra classic My Way badly in karaoke bars. We kid you not.


As all great performers know, you should always leave them wanting more. And that means ending your karaoke session before everyone loses interest.