Despite what some believe, karaoke is fit for more than the bar townies or “American Idol” wannabes. According to Raina Lee, UC Davis alumna and author of the newly released Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Ultimate Guide to Karaoke Domination, karaoke is fun for everyone.
Ultimate Guide covers it all – even those obscure details you never thought about, such as the rules of “k’ettiquette” or what to avoid eating before hitting the ol’ machine. Though jam-packed with quirky things she finds herself obsessing over, Lee said the book is centered on how to approach song choice and dance moves, along with how to make karaoke a “central social activity to bring people together.”
“It’s really important to be friendly and supportive of other people,” Lee said. “It’s one thing to just go to a bar and see bands, but at a karaoke bar everyone starts talking to each other because [they can] commiserate on how bad or how awesome [they perform].”
And karaokers should consider taking the 27-year-old’s advice – Lee has done an ethnography on the scene and witnessed some karaoke characters along the way.
“I’ve noticed that especially if you go to local bars and not hipster bars, ones that are random and in the middle of nowhere, everyone singing is dead serious,” Lee said. “They do it without irony – there is no one singing Pearl Jam for fun. They’re singing Zeppelin and they really mean it and they really practiced.”
So, how does one spot a karaoke king or queen?
“The weirdest thing is that they look like everyday people that you see at the supermarket or at Home Depot,” Lee said. “Then they’re on stage and they’re really good and they’re [also] super weird.”
Aside from expertise in the art of covering other people’s songs, Lee runs 1-Up MegaZine, a video game culture magazine. She worked in the videogame industry in San Francisco after graduating from UC Davis with a sociology degree in 1999.
During her undergraduate years, Lee was involved with KDVS 90.3 FM and Davis Community Television, and she reminisced about seeing a K Records tour performance featuring Calvin Johnson of Beat Happening and multi-artist Miranda July. In a way, college in Davis inspired the nature of Lee’s professional career, since it was here that she began to produce zines with friends.
“Zines were really big in the ’90s,” Lee said with a laugh.
Writing a book about karaoke did not occur to Lee until someone approached her about the topic. Then she hired a literary agent and began pitching the idea to publishing companies.
“I’ve always really been into karaoke and I noticed there weren’t any books on the markets,” Lee said. “People always ask me ‘How do you get so good – what are your secrets?’ So I thought I’d write a handbook.”
Ultimate Guide is sized for a purse, pocket or coffee table, and delivers an artistic overload thanks to the hand-drawn illustration style of Brooklyn graphic artist Mike Perry. Using her friends as subjects, the photos throughout the book were taken both by Lee in her karaoke bar escapades and by friend and photographer Sean Lee.
And if the book’s colorful perspective doesn’t reverse the opinion of someone who feels an antipathy toward karaoke, Lee said that such a tortured soul either “hasn’t had enough to drink” or is lying.
“I just feel like there’s nobody that doesn’t love music, and if you don’t love karaoke, then you don’t love music.”
Coincidentally, Lee’s two loves, music and video games, have recently merged into what is her current favorite pastime: Rock Band. To Lee, it’s the type of game that even gets the typical non-gamers, including girls and older people, glued to the screen.
“You get the feeling that you’re able to do all these things.… This media lets us live vicariously,” she said. “It could be one of the biggest video games ever.”
Hit Me With Your Best Shot: The Ultimate Guide to Karaoke Domination from Chronicle Books is available online at Amazon.com or at Borders in the Davis Commons. For more information, go to karaokedomination.com.
NICOLE L. BROWNER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.