The new reality-television show Killer Karaoke challenges contestants to sing while enduring physical challenges. As if taking the mic at a karaoke bar isn’t a form of torture in itself for many of us. Yet across the country, karaoke is booming.
Some devotees brave public humiliation for the opportunity to blow off steam. “I love karaoke not for the singing but for the performance,” says Joe Fairless, a New York City career coach. “It gives me an excuse to scream at the top of my lungs, jump up and down, and laugh at my friends.” Others need a little liquid courage to embrace their inner exhibitionist. “You get two shots of whiskey in me and the promise of Kris Kross's 'Jump,' and I'm happy,” says Sara Nachlis, a video researcher from Long Beach, CA.
Whatever the motivation, it’s easier than ever to find a karaoke bar, whether you prefer to front a live band at rock-n-roll karaoke nights or holler with friends in your own traditional Korean-style room. Our favorite karaoke bars guarantee a memorable night and, for travelers, the chance to sample a local scene while trying out that new song in a place you won’t be back any time too soon.
In Nashville, serious aspiring country singers come to show off their chops over karaoke at the Nashville dive bar Lonnie’s. Good Luck Karaoke in Dallas gets creative with downright weird theme nights like American folklore (“Carnie-oke”) and revenge of the nerds, while Palm Tree LA takes the nightclub approach to karaoke, with private rooms complete with bottle service and red leather couches.
Karaoke (“empty orchestra” in Japanese) dates back to the 1970s, when a Kobe-based drummer merged an eight-track player with a microphone. The first stateside karaoke bar opened in Los Angeles in 1982, and the rise of boy bands and karaoke references in pop culture—notably Scarlett Johansson’s scene in the film Lost in Translation—helped popularize the habit and spawn all-American variations. The Hip Hop Karaoke NYC series hosts occasional rap competitions, and San Jose’s Treatbot, a "Karaoke Ice Cream Truck from the Future,” rewards any singers with free ice cream.
So ready for your 15 minutes of…something? One of these karaoke bars is surely playing your song.