Karaoke. The word conjures all kinds of visions_possible stardom, abject performance terror, or just head-shaking bewilderment. Ten years ago when the Japanese craze had only recently arrived in the U.S., Rob Drew was drawn to the phenomenon as subject of research. What he discovered will fascinate and surprise you, whether you're a student of popular culture or just curious what's going to happen next Saturday when you get up to sing your first song at the corner bar. Karaoke Nights is both a keen observation on the external behavior of deejays, performers, and audience and an intimate portrait of the emotional roller coaster that is the internal life of a karaoke singer. Drew lets you feel just what itOs like to be the performer_agonizing over the song, feeling the nervous anticipation, analyzing your performance. At the same time he provides a probing analysis of the varied roles karaoke plays in popular culture and how it can guide an understanding of Olocal musicO and the relationship of ordinary people to stardom.
Karaoke Nights is a beautifully written and wise book that combines ethnography, essay, and autobiography in equal measure. Rob Drew discovers in karaoke a sociological parable about what it means to perform our identities for strangers, in a world drunk with celebrity, using materials manufactured by others. Drew's narrative effortlessly blends painstaking observation and personal experience with a wide and sophisticated reading of cultural and social theory. Karaoke Nights rehearses once again the song that all fine ethnography sings—about how we struggle to make ourselves recognizably human in the presence of others. It is an endearing and passionate work.
Rob Drew's book analyzes a rich material in an exceptionally thorough and inspiring manner. I have rarely encountered an equally strong sense of presence in the experience of music media use. . . . Drew combines a phenomenological analysis of [karaoke's] intensified feelings and social relations with a clear sense of the structural and material frames within which these experiences are set. In all, this book is almost as irresistibly likable as a good karaoke night.
There aren't that many academic page-turners, but I honestly couldn't bring myself to put this book down. What makes the book come alive are the descriptions of countless amateur performances, each of which is made to seem at once unique and representative of larger cultural concerns. In terms of its substance, originality, and vividness, it ranks with the best ethnographic studies of popular culture to date.
This book is poignant, funny, and . . . always surprising. Drew stitches his theoretical analysis into the story with a lightness of touch that suggests great confidence, just as his first-person, ethnographic-present account of the karaoke experience reveals a brave and honest participant. This is a remarkably honest book, full of insights that transcend karaoke itself. It can teach us a good deal about the nature of popular music and pop cultural ethnography.
American Studies International, October 2003, Vol. Xli, No.
- Bill Labrie
This book must rank among the most engaging academic titles in recent memory. Whereas other scholars in the social sciences. . . hide their topic behind oblique language , Drew's prose lays all bare like a longshoreman belting out 'Cracklin' Rose' in a neighborhood bar on a Thursday night. His choice of a topic for his thesis required the same dose of nerve (perhaps chutzpah is a better word) the typical Karaoke participant shows when taking microphone in hand.
Communication Research Trends, Vol. 22 (2003) No. 4
- Laura L. Ellingson
Drew's extraordinary ethnography of the world of Karaoke combines vivid narratives of performance with critical commentary on the popular music industry, celebrity culture, and social norms surrounding public performance. . . . Drew and his fellow performers embrace 'the radical notion that culture is ordinary—that music is not marginal to daily life, something to be supplied by a chosen few artists, but a necessary part of living'. . . . Instructors of ethnography will find that Drew's conversational writing style, engaging narratives, and thoughtful connections between theory and everyday life form an outstanding exemplar of contemporary ethnographic work. Perhaps most impressively, Drew accomplishes the difficult feat of artfully interweaving abstract postmodern, performance, and social theory throughout his descriptions and reflections on Karaoke performances. The result is an accessible and fascinating discussion that is deeply grounded in rich details and illustrative of the real-world implications of 'high' theory for contemplating—and celebrating—contemporary life.
Cambridge University Press, Vol. 23/1 - 2004
- Adam Behr
A highly readable book . . . deftly provides a simultaneous account of the joys and embarassments of the rituals of public performance. . . . In his assiduous attention to the characters inhabiting this world, he covers not only the performers but the emcees and non-performing members of the audience as well . . . a satisfying read. . . . His forthright and unapologetic defence of karoake is nicely offset by an amiable prose style that is as adept and professional as the karoake performances are rough and ready, but no less honest.
Text and Performance Quarterly
His book provides insightful analyses of the everyday rituals for karaoke performers and the cultural significance of karaoke, while serving as a model for blending cultural studies, performance studies, and media criticism. . . . Drew weaves theory with observations, participant observation, and interviews in a way that allows the reader not only to more fully understand the business of organizing and emceeing karaoke shows, but also to feel the nervousness and awkwardness of performing and to gain some insight into the dreams that are held by some performers.
Journal Of Contemporary Ethnography
The power of Drew's ethnography lies in the way he is able to describe the experience of karaoke so that it makes plausible sense to the reader who begins with no idea what karaoke is all about and would never, ever think of doing it himself or herself. . . . Drew's super descriptions of romantic behavior, flirting, team performances, and other types of karaoke interaction make his book difficult to put down before finishing.
Prologue: Give It a Shot
Chapter 1: Karaoke Stateside
Chapter 2: What Would You Think if I Sang Out of Tune?
Chapter 3: Singing the Self
Chapter 4: Relating in the Limelight
Chapter 5: The Authority Song
Chapter 6: Good, Old Karaoke