Wherever you find Chinese, you find Karaoke or, KTVs. They sing in Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and abroad, in cities and the countryside, indoors and out, in pricey joints and in their own homes. Singing has practically become a national pastime for Chinese and is no longer just for the pros ; that microphone in your hand gives you carte blanche to ham it up, to let out those pent-up emotions. The sound of your own voice singing along with the onscreen subtitles frees you from any worries that your voice is not to die for. The atmosphere differs from the vacuous tension associated with speeches and can even be addictive. Singing facilities offer professional audio systems. Customers can pay per head, per hour to sing in KTVs consisting of room-lined hallways or in open Karaoke halls. Both offer food and beverage services. Staff personnel play the videotapes for customer selections from the control room. Most KTVs are equipped with computer rooms, thereby abbreviating the time needed to start and cut off songs to mere seconds. You can pick up a mike and start singing as soon as the name of your selection appears on the television screen.
KTV and Karaoke differ in that in a KTV, only those in your little room can hear you; in a Karaoke everybody in the hall can. In your cubicle, friends and family cheer you on no matter how ghastly your performance. In a Karaoke, on the other hand, someone might have the guts to actually stand up and sing, but a lack of talent could incur boos before his song even ends. In worst-case scenarios, guests from different tables might get into heated discussions. With this in mind, proprietors who are on their toes have come up with the idea of female vocal accompaniment. These ladies sing with customers who select songs for male/female duets, warble off key, change keys, or are just plain rotten singers. They smooth things over as the majority of men in Karaokes are going to focus their minds on the ladies rather than the singing.
Accompaniment tapes are an art unto themselves. Songs from this month’s hits to golden oldies are arranged in order, alphabetically or by character strokes, depending on the language used. The first thing customers do is to dive into the task of selecting songs. Favorites are placed on hits lists: broken-hearted girls intone A-Mei’s “Listen to the Sea, male victims of unrequited love drone Jacky Cheung’s “Kiss Goodbye”, strong minded babes trill Na Ying’s “Conquer” hunks knock out Jay Chou’s “Nunchukus”, Japan enthusiasts croon Ayumi Hamasaki ditties, rappers rattle off Eminem hits, and microphone hogs chant Eason Chen’s “King of Karaoke”. Singing is accompanied by laughter, tears, dancing, swaying to the music. Bring on the beer! Warm up your voices! We are not going to stop until we have partied all night!
Singers consider the amount of times a song is selected as an index to the song’s success. New albums cover songs with easy-to-remember, easy-to-sing refrains and clear melodies are chosen in hopes that they will be selected frequently. Popular songs increase the popularity of singers while boosting record sales. With the stress on intellectual property rights nowadays, KTV owners scurry to snatch up accompaniment tapes. KTV franchises sign contracts directly with record companies, so that a star’s latest songs can only be found in their KTVs thereby ensuring that fans will return and spend their money there. Some groupies in Taiwan even meet regularly at certain KTVs.
Obviously, people don’t always have money to burn or singing partners who are on call 24/7, nor are KTVs available everywhere. Consequently, Taiwan’s song culture has diversified: housewives sing along with televisions in their living rooms; cab drivers sing along with onboard Karaoke machines; older country women call radio stations with song requests; trendy kids sing along with online KTVs; tour groups sing on buses cruising around Taiwan; politicians hold sing-a-longs at election rallies realizing that rousing voters emotionally is more important than sharing political views. The joy of singing together accomplishes miracles ; making friends out of political enemies, reuniting lovers, erasing family generation gaps, and deepening lifelong bonds with friends. If your voice gets hoarse from singing, pop a lozenge or glug down a glass of pengdahai (a throat-soothing drink). If you lose your voice, you had better line up to see a doctor, because you probably have enflamed vocal chords. The love that Chinese have for singing will go down in history.