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Overcoming My Noraebang Fears

Noraebang was one of those things that scared me about visiting South Korea. More so than any threats coming out of North Korea. Noraebang isn’t some adventure ride, scary looking food or any other traditionally frightening activity. It’s similar to karaoke boxes in Japan – you rent a private room, usually by the hour, and sing along with your friends to backing tracks. Sounds pretty tame right? For me it was intimidating because, you see, I don’t sing.

Oh sure, I wish I could sound like Billie, Ella or any number of vocalists.  Sometime even, while driving alone, I fancy myself the next Adele belting out some brokenhearted love song but then I hit the satellite dead zone and my radio cuts out unexpectedly, leaving me along without even a backing track. Quick jolt of reality. I can’t sing.

Bleecker, my travelling puffing, helping me decide which song to murder.

Bleecker, my travelling puffing, helping me decide which song to murder.

I’ll always remember the day in high school when I announced to my mom that I was going to audition for the musical. She looked at me with concern and said “Do you think that’s a good idea?” Ouch. I made it into the chorus after all but not without croaking during the singing audition and shedding some tears.

Ever since those days, the idea of singing in front of people has given me knots in my stomach. The idea of being given a microphone, a backing track and lyrics and having to carry the show got me sweating. It didn’t matter that it was with friends rather than a room full of strangers – I don’t sing.

But yet, when Pierre suggested we buy some beer and rent a noraebang room in Yeosu I was surprisingly all for it. If I was ever going to do it, now was the time – with someone who would laugh with me and not at me, no matter how badly I warbled. Noraebang is something that’s really popular in Korean culture and as such, I wanted to at least give it a go. If I could eat beondegi, surely I could sing a song without dying of embarrassment. But first, beer.

We weren’t familiar with Yeosu so we figured the best bet would be to hail a cab and say “noraebang ga juseyo” and see where he took us. It turns out that was a block down the road and around the corner. Best ₩2800 we spent. The place was silent – bad news for a place that’s all about singing – but we decided to give it a shot anyway since it was still relatively early on a Saturday night. We paid ₩20000 for an hour up front and were given two mics, sporting what looked like shower caps. We were then shown to a dimly lit room featuring a large screen tv and a special wireless keyboard device that we’d use to queue up our song choices.

But first... we primed up with some Hite outside a 7-11.

But first… we primed up with some Hite outside a 7-11.

Pierre got things going while I took a few more swigs of liquid encouragement and hesitantly flipped through the huge songbook looking for the song least likely to embarrass me. While the majority of the songbooks at noraebang will be for Korean tunes, there should be a decent section of English songs as well. You should also be aware that there’s an obscene amount of reverb on the mics – a helping hand for we vocally challenged folk but a hindrance for those who can actually sing.

After a song or two I started tentatively adding some backing vocals. Ok… that doesn’t sound too terrible. Thank you reverb. Then it was time to make my lead debut. What did I pick? Cover Girl by New Kids on the Block. I’m a tween of the late 80s/early 90s after all. Sure, I missed notes here and there and was probably off-pitch the whole time but I made it through in one piece. It was actually…dare I say it… fun. By the end of the night I caught an illness common to many newbie noraebangers…mic hogging.

Pro tip: always make sure you know how the verses go as well as the chorus when you’re choosing a song. I had to give up on one or two mid-song when it turned out I really didn’t know it after all. Newbie mistake.

Even if you can’t sing, as long as you don’t take yourself too seriously, you should definitely give noraebang a try. You just may have a great time, despite your fears. And yes, I do think it was a good idea.

5 responses to “Overcoming My Noraebang Fears”

  1. Lyndsay says:

    Well, I think you should visit Philippines soon! Why?! Famous stand up comedians are even bullying how singing or karaoke is considered our national sport now. Simply because everyone loves to sing, whether the song itself loves the one who’s singing. Anyway, we have lots of those that will surely train you how. Karaoke sellers are everywhere and the get your attention by singing with their good voices though. Yet, do not be surprised if one local who just passed by will ask the seller if he/she can sing one or two songs. If they are good, soon enough there will be instant audience and the singer will be asked to sing more belting songs. If not, people are used to it and will ignore it, some will laugh but mostly some wouldn’t just care. But yeah, visit Philippines, hang out at the mall and you’ll see what I mean. :D

    • Melissa Hogan says:

      Is the karaoke in the Philippines the kind where you get up on stage in front of strangers in a bar or the Japanese/Korean kind where you rent a private room? I’m not ready for the former yet!

    • Melissa Hogan says:

      Thanks! Seriously, singing in (semi) public is one of the things that gives me the most anxiety. I ended up having fun though.

  2. Linda says:

    I never did sing in the Noraebang when I lived in Yeosu (I taught ESL there in 2005), but I did end up singing Karaoke in Japan and LOVED it!!!!! I also visited the turtle ship while I lived in Yeosu. Ah…memories…

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