We’ve all been there. It’s 2am and after a few too many shots you and your friends are slurring and swaying your way through your best rendition of Hey Jude. While in England the word ‘karaoke’ conjures up images of dingy pubs and office parties, Korea has taken karaoke and turned it into something of a sacred institution. Norebangs (literally translates to ‘singing rooms’) are popular, commonplace, and, dare I say it, enjoyable?
If there’s one thing Koreans love besides soju, which let’s face it is often an essential part of karaoke here, it’s a good sing song. According to statistics from 2009, there were almost over 36,000 norebangs in Korea, with 1.9 million people visiting them every day. Norebangs are dotted along every street and are usually identifiable by the glowing neon signs outside them and the wailing coming from within.
They range from tiny booths in games arcades to full-blown themed suites, and no Korean night out is complete without a visit to one. Usually kitted out with a disco ball, tambourines, a song book the size of the Yellow Pages and sometimes even a dance podium, the private rooms mean you don’t have to subject strangers to your best cat-strangling impressions. Just your friends.
The room hire itself is pretty cheap and while you are expected to order some food and drink you will often receive a lot of ‘service’, the wonderful Korean custom of giving away free stuff, often crispy pork cutlet, fried mushrooms or noodles.
One word of warning; never underestimate how seriously Koreans take norebang. Just as you’ve finished laughing your way through ‘Sweet Caroline’, your Korean friend will swoop in with an emotional version of ‘My Heart Will Go On’, and maybe even shush you if you dare to talk over them…