On paper it would seem that singing karaoke is one of the world’s safer pastimes. It happens indoors, the singer is often sitting down, and the event is usually full of friends and family.
In China, however, karaoke has a deadly streak. At least 10 people have been killed so far this year in attacks directly related to karaoke singing.
The latest case involves the Yun family from Xi’an who gathered in one of the city’s karaoke bars to celebrate the Qixi festival – known by some as “Chinese Valentine’s Day” – last month.
The evening started well enough, a local newspaper reported, with all the family of Yun, the owner of a local noodle stall, taking part.
Centre of attention was Yun’s four year-old son. But as time wore on, it seems the four year-old got less cooperative. By 11pm (no early bath and bed for him, apparently) he was hogging the microphone determinedly.
This proved too much for Yun’s two brothers-in-law, who turned on Yu and his wife, and a fight broke out.
Sensing that Yun was getting the worst of it, a nephew ran back to the nearby noodle stall to fetch a chopping knife.
The evening ended with the two brothers-in-law lying in pools of their own blood and Yun receiving an emergency operation on the floor of the karoake club.
The nephew fled the scene but was caught and arrested the next day, after a man hunt, the Xi’an News reported.
So was this case of ‘Karaoke Rage’ representative at all? Part of the answer is simply that many people really enjoy karaoke singing and always want their own turn at the mike. But there are other factors at play too. By its nature, karaoke can be competitive. Moreover in a society which claims to value self-restraint, karaoke clubs are one of the few places ordinary Chinese can let their hair down, Gesang Zeren a professor of psychology at Sichuan University told China Radio recently.
“People are not encouraged to be aggressive and show individuality. But, in karaoke clubs, they can unleash themselves and perform anything they want,” the professor addd.
That emotional release, mixed with plentiful alcohol, can make for toxic combination.
Many of the subsequent fights are said to relate to perceived loss of face or unrequited love – slights that the victim would normally deal with privately, Zeren comments.
In one case a man throttled a waitress after she refused his advances. He then threw her over his shoulder and carried her out of the club, claiming she was his drunk girlfriend.
Such brazen behaviour is made more possible by the layout of many karaoke clubs – often vast complexes of small, dark and sound-proof rooms. Most have only a small window in the cubicle door.
This encourages not only the occasional bout of unrestrained violence. More commonly karaoke staff say amorous couples sing each other into such a state of sexual desire that they can’t hold off long enough to decamp to a nearby hotel.
Given the secluded nature of karaoke rooms the Chinese government even concerns itself with the songs sung in them. Politically sensitive material won’t be found on the machines and it can even be difficult to source songs by some popular Taiwanese artists.
Last year – around the time that former Chongqing Party chief Bo Xilai was encouraging people to “sing red” – police in the city began installing ‘black boxes’ in local karaoke clubs to alert them when illegal songs were being played.
But don’t let any of this put you off karaoke entirely in China. Besides karaoke rage is not an exclusively Chinese phenomenon. Two years ago, clubs in the Philippines removed the Frank Sinatra song My Way from song lists after sub-standard renditions also provoked a string of killings.
“The trouble with My Way is that everyone knows it and everyone has an opinion,” karoake crooner, Rodolfo Gregorio told The New York Times at the time. “I used to like My Way, but after all the trouble I stopped singing it. You can get killed.”
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