Over the last two years or so, a new craze has swept over the country, and Chongqing is certainly no exception.
The traditional karaoke club scene has been incredibly popular for generations now, but the industry has recently seen a new development, that of small private karaoke booths strategically located in a variety public areas.
As you probably already know, the term karaoke is a borrowing from Japanese, and the same goes for Chinese. In Mandarin, the first four letters ‘kara’ are transliterated to 卡拉(ka la), and the ‘ok’ is left in English with the omission of the final ‘e,’ leaving 卡拉OK.
Another popular name for karaoke is just K歌, the K standing for karaoke and 歌(ge) meaning ‘songs’ or ‘singing.’
Other funny terms include the ‘Microphone tyrant麦霸’ to describe an enthusiast who can’t put the mike down and doesn’t allow others the chance to sing. 麦(Mai) is the first character of 麦克风(Mai ke feng) which is literally ‘microphone,’ and 霸(ba) is from 霸王(Ba wang) which means a tyrant or despotic king.
You might sometimes hear the term ‘princess 公主(gong zhu)’ associated with karaoke clubs. The industry has been cleaned up over the last decade, but princesses are usually attractive young women paid to accompany groups of male customers by joining in the singing, playing games, alogn with some light flirting.
Back to the point
The new karaoke booths have two seats, but can squeeze in a few more standing. They are completely sound proof, and curtains can be completely drawn to enjoy complete privacy from the outside world.
You will find these booths are quite sophisticated. They are air conditioned and suitable even for placing outdoors. High quality microphones and headsets are securely attached to the control panel, but have extendable cables that allow for ease of use, but without any clutter, either.
An ability to read Chinese and know a few well known tunes would be of enormous help if you are ever tempted to try a booth out. I am yet to find one with an English display, but there are many out of date English songs to choose from if you can figure out the controls.
The touch-screen control panel allows you to quickly find your favourite songs through generic searches, writing the name directly, or typing the initials of the desired song and choosing from the results.
On the monitor above, the music video plays with the subtitles handily displayed at the bottom. Depending on how familiar you are with the melody, or how much you wish to hide your lack of tonality, you can choose the 原唱(Yuan chang) option where the original soundtrack is played, or 伴唱(Ban chang) where only you provide the voice accompaniment.
People start their session by scanning an on-screen QR code with their mobile phone, and paying electronically through Wechat Wallet. The charge is quite similar to a typical karaoke club suite, and is usually based on the length of time used, with longer sessions having a better value per-minute rate.
The karaoke booth also records your songs, and for a fee, you can receive the MP3 file to your phone and enjoy, or even share your vocal exploits with others. Otherwise, your recordings are deleted, so you needn’t fear public exposure or shaming if you strangled the cat.
There is the option of entering your recording into national competitions, where you could receive prizes if enough people vote in your favour.
The market seems red hot, and there is a good selection of brands to choose from already. The most common one I see in Chongqing is 友唱M-Bar (You chang), something like ‘SingPal.’
You could take a slice of the action by purchasing a booth online for a few thousand dollars, and then negotiating with venues for rented floor space.
It’s now more a question of where you can’t find these booths now. Malls are almost guaranteed to have karaoke as well as the massage chairs, which are also paid for online.
I have also seen these in cinema waiting rooms, and at the local Happy Valley theme park, guests forgo the rollercoasters and entertainment for an hour’s singsong.
As competition heats up, I do wonder whether karaoke booths will appear in ever more unusal locations, like hospitals, where they could certainly help to cheer up disgruntled patients and entourage.
I will keep you posted.