Home Tech ‘Where honour and ridiculousness collide’: in praise of karaoke’s inventor, on his death at 100

‘Where honour and ridiculousness collide’: in praise of karaoke’s inventor, on his death at 100

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‘Where honour and ridiculousness collide’: in praise of karaoke’s inventor, on his death at 100

A.Received wisdom has it that haughty music critics who attack fans’ beloved pop stars are nothing more than failed musicians. This has always struck me as a slander – not against critics, who can certainly be bitter and petty, but against supposedly failed musicians. After all, how can you fail in music? Suggesting that success depends on some technical aspect, like talent or a career, seriously underestimates the appeal of music, and nowhere is the lie more spectacularly exposed than in karaoke.

Here is an arena of musical greatness in which incompetence is the name of the game. Delusions of grandeur, crazy pitch, weird stage presence? Join the party. On this small, rewarding stage, the “failed musician” becomes the most entertaining role in the profession.

We take this noble quest for granted, which is why it was alarming to learn last week that the inventor of the karaoke machine had died at the age of 100 – after walking, sashaying and warbling among us until now. ‘at the end. Who would witness a world without karaoke machines and know exactly what was missing? The visionary in question was Shigeichi Negishi, a Japanese consumer electronics genius who invented the Sparko Box machine in 1967, apparently to get the upper hand on a co-worker who had made fun of his chants in the factory. Quibbles surround the origin story — Daisuke Inoue independently invented his own karaoke box in 1971, and the karaoke bar tradition predates both — but Negishi, who won the race to make a machine available in the trade, tends to get the credit for it.

And sometimes, blame. Negishi’s invention attracted a chorus of naysayers, starting with live musicians who saw the Sparko Box as the latest robot rushing to get their jobs. In the decades since, nonbelievers have denounced the endeavor on aesthetic grounds as tedious, silly, and kitsch. I understand this bad opinion, because until last year I shared it. Karaoke bars – clandestine dens apparently populated by awkward people – are tailor-made to intimidate the uninitiated. Delicacy abounds, from the awkward mumbler to the group of chickens tragically convinced they’ve mastered Cardi B’s Bodak Yellow. But I’ve come to believe that even karaoke sinners are worthy of admiration, if they’ll just commit . Self-indulgence is mandatory. Leaving your ego at the door would be a stupid mistake.

Last year, some friends and I succumbed to the tractor beam of a karaoke bar in a crowded east London basement, with a vigilante policy banning drinks on stage and nasty drag queen hosts to make it happen. respect. Private stands have their faithful, but in this dark and fabulous place, witness to dreams manifesting themselves or being brutally destroyed, I have always been convinced by the magic of the public act. More than a nostalgic ritual, karaoke at its best is a high-stakes spectacle where honor and ridicule collide.

Not so calm… Björk. Photography: REX/Fotex

On a recent evening, I took on the sacred duty of performing Björk’s It’s Oh So Quiet. The drag queen, pointing to my heterosexual overshirt, bitterly regaled us with the edifying story of a man who had tried his hand at singing a week before, failing to exude sufficient charisma. This is clearly a warning shot, and it gets to the heart of the matter. Karaoke tests not only our steel, but also our deep sense of propriety. You have to be willing to be ridiculous – to shed humility and etiquette and basically look like a monster – to attempt transcendence.

In a room full of potential hecklers, the threat, or certainty, of a stranger’s judgment adds to the false gravity. The music begins. Tension rises in the room. You find your pose and search for the opening note, discovering that breath control is not a technical skill but a mysterious, elite art form. Maybe in the chorus, needing a distraction, you drop to your knees, your palms imploring the sky. In that moment, at least in spirit, your adoring audience shouts heartily. At the end, your friends dedicate the performance with whoops and screams, like loving parents taping their colored pencil drawing to the refrigerator.

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Karaoke’s evocation of the power of ghost stars occupies a unique space in musical fandom, one that has nothing to do with the communion of a concert through singing. Getting on stage and hyperventilating through Olivia Rodrigo’s Vampire – fumbling the bridge, perhaps, but doing it with all one’s heart – may be an act of love, but it can never be mistaken for an act of respect. Whether you want to have a little fun or attend a Stars in Their Eyes party, the role you play is fundamentally that of evil: kill your idols, amuse your friends, and banish any hope of sparking romance in the immediate vicinity.

Karaoke king Negishi practiced the discipline until his later years, proving that talent comes and goes, but stupid passion is a gift that lasts a lifetime. His invention helped expand music as we use it into a church so large that it can absorb failure and madness into its daily operation. Now that he’s brandishing the big microphone in the sky, I hope he ascends to his rightful status as the patron saint of questionable singers everywhere.

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