BUSAN, South Korea — OK, I’ll just come out and say it: Back home in Portland, Oregon, I was a karaoke nerd. Every Thursday my friends and I went to The Ambassador, sang the songs we’d practiced at home, and saw the best and worst karaoke performances on the face of the earth.
It only followed that in Korea I’ve become a noraebang nerd, always trying to lure my friends into small rooms with purple couches and tambourines.
Whether this makes me an authority or not, I’ll leave up to you. But, I have put together some do’s and don’ts to help you get the most out of your night in the bang.
1. Encourage others to sing, but don’t pressure them. Sing duets with shy friends. Let your Korean friends know that you’d love to hear them sing in Korean.
2. Dance, perform, and act silly. Shake that tambourine. Take advantage of instrumental breaks for some killer air guitar or an interpretive dance. The crazier you get, the freer others will feel to do the same.
3. Know the words to your songs. You might even consider practicing songs at home or in one of those tiny noraebang booths you’ll find in every arcade. It’s a great way to kill half an hour before your movie starts.
4. Some great group songs include: It’s My Life, Smells Like Teen Spirit, Wannabe, Africa, Mr. Brightside, and The Middle.
1. Don’t sing too much â I would be happy to sing for 3 hours straight â if that would be fun for anyone else. But since I’m not actually Freddy Mercury, I only put another song in once my crooning comrades have reserved their next song.
2. Don’t share a song without asking â Sometimes people want to sing solo. So before hopping in on Bette Davis Eyes, make sure it’s kosher. If you do grab the second mic, don’t sing so loudly that your partner can’t be heard. Follow their lead, and let them be the star of their own song.
3. Don’t drink too much. My worst noraebang night ever featured a very drunk woman who was both off-key and so off-rhythm that she never sang one word at the correct moment. She wailed loudly on everyone else’s songs, forcing me to hide the second mic, and she sang an egregious version of Purple Rain that made doves cry.
3. Don’t trash the noraebang. Don’t hang off chandeliers, dance on unstable tables, or make a mess you’d be ashamed to make at a friend’s house. No one wants to pay for your damages or sit in spilled beer!
4. Ask before smoking. A small, confined space where you exercise your lungs is not the best location for smoking. In fact, it’s the worst.
5. Don’t senselessly overload the queue. You don’t want to reach that moment where someone says, Who the hell put this song in? How do we cancel it? Where’s the cancel button? Don’t cause that moment.
6. Skip American Pie and Like a Rolling Stone. They are boring to listen to – long, repetitive and overplayed. Don’t Stop Believing is acceptable, if only because it’s the US Karaoke National Anthem. Exercise extreme caution with Bohemian Rhapsody.
In the end, the best noraebang nights are not about great singers but about great camaraderie. I hope these guidelines help you get the most out of one of Korea’s definitive nightlife experiences.
Photos by Chris Backe and Lee Gumienny.