May 20, 2024

“Awesome, this seems like a natural antidepressant,” our new acquaintance said with a smile, having just finished screaming out Ace of Base’s hit song “I Saw the Sign” in our living room. This was nothing new to me; our family really relied on our home karaoke system during the pandemic lockdown, when there weren’t many choices for family entertainment. It has always brought me delight. And when our family relocated across the nation in 2021, our reliable home karaoke system was the single greatest tool we had for creating new friendships.

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I’m amazed at what we can do with two cheap mics that have built-in speakers and YouTube karaoke videos. We may see a hint of the experiences our visitors are experiencing in their reverie from the tunes they select. It’s impossible to resist letting your guard down when the music creates an intimate atmosphere. I love singing karaoke for the following reasons.

A healthy kind of family entertainment is karaoke.

It’s a family affair for us. Since he could hardly hold a microphone, my 9-year-old has been singing. These days, he can be heard belting out energetic covers of well-known Disney songs like “Colors of the Wind” and “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” We literally never get tired of hearing our friends’ children’s favorite songs, but we constantly witness their faces light up when they play. With amazement in their eyes, the children dance and sing. Karaoke is a happy-making, quick celebration for people of all ages.

But I have a long history with karaoke. When I was a kid in South Korea in the 1980s, wedding and banquet planners would hire a piano player to accompany guests while they sang their favorite songs—this was before karaoke machines were commonplace. Among the top vocalists in our close-knit ethnic Chinese community, my father and his siblings were always guaranteed to give several songs each. My closest friend, my cousin, and I would go on stage behind them and laugh uncontrollably while dancing, having the time of our lives.

Are laser disc players still in your memory?

To enjoy karaoke at home, my dad bought a laser disc player when my family moved to the United States in 1990. In Phoenix, we managed a takeaway restaurant where we put in a lot of overtime, never took a vacation, and only took a few days off. We were not an exception to the industry’s typically bad reputation for being hard on families and mental health.

But every time my dad took the eight-hour drive to Los Angeles to get supplies for the restaurant, he brought my brother and me along. It was as enjoyable as it was tiring. The best part, apart from the food, was when we went to specialist stores for karaoke and purchased laser discs with silly music movies to go along with the songs. Every time we parked into the strip mall parking lot, my heartbeat accelerated as I pondered what kind of riches we might uncover that day.

Soon, we had quite the collection of music discs. We would feast and sing on Lunar New Year’s Day and every other significant holiday, regardless of how exhausted we would be after the restaurant closed. Everyone could shine in these times of unadulterated bliss. When my dad sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver and my brother sang “Yesterday” by the Beatles, we all forgot about our problems.

Karaoke made me forget my fears.

By the time I started college, private room arrangements and karaoke bars had gained popularity. Having so much karaoke expertise from home, this allowed me to shine in my social circles and temporarily overcome my fears. Despite my late blooming, I recall my peers applauding my bravery as I performed the obscure theme “Remember Me This Way” from the Christina Ricci film Casper, which once made our middle schooler hearts skip a beat. I sang, “I’ll make a wish for you / And hope it will come true / That life would just be kind / To such a gentle mind.”

I met the man I would marry in graduate school. We bonded over our shared love of karaoke on one of our first dates. Since neither of us drinks, neither of us needs liquid courage. Years later, karaoke was a requirement while we were organizing our wedding. My husband’s buddies also formed a live band, and my opera singer bridesmaid gave a rendition of an aria. Witnessing our cherished ones step center stage while others enthusiastically danced and sung along was a very remarkable full-circle experience. We had an unwritten agreement that music would always be a part of our existence together, which included all of this.

Singing like no one is watching makes you happy.

Who would have guessed that our home karaoke system would become the family’s go-to source of fun over ten years later? I am extremely appreciative of this simple invention that many might consider absurd. Karaoke has brought me enjoyment every step of the way over my whole life. I hope you will sing the next time you get the chance. Whether it’s Journey, Mariah Carey, or Gloria Gaynor, pick a song you love but are a little terrified of, shout it out like no one else is around, and experience the catharsis.