Karaoke is more than just a fun way to spend an evening at the local bar or restaurant. For some people, karaoke is a way of life. Check out the classic 80’s video from Talking Heads for “Wild, Wild Life” and you’ll have a picture of the wonderful, colorful personalities that make karaoke a cultural phenomenon.
Karaoke culture has never been depicted in a more entertaining way than it was in the 2000 film Duets. It’s arguably the best karaoke film ever made. No, wait. Scratch that. It’s the only karaoke film ever made. Featuring Huey Lewis as a hustler who is trying to win a major karaoke contest, the film also stars Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Giamatti, Angie Dickinson, Maria Bello, and Andre Braugher.
The story revolves around main character Ricky Dean (Lewis) and his estranged relationship with his daughter (Paltrow). As father and daughter manage to reconnect amidst the backdrop of a karaoke contest, the lives of other characters are explored in a compelling way that reflects the character’s desire for something better out of life. Giamatti is trying to escape his workaholic nature. Bello is looking for a way out of her mundane existence. Braugher is an ex-con who craves a clean slate and the chance to start over.
As each of the characters becomes immersed in karaoke culture and enters the contest, the glory of karaoke is revealed. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, or even what you look like. For three minutes you can take the microphone and step into a the shoes of a music star. No one judges. Everyone applauds. The karaoke stage is a place where your past doesn’t matter. All that matters is the joy of the next few minutes.
Karaoke is so joyful because it provides an escape. It also encourages people to step outside of their shell. Go to any karaoke bar and you’ll see introverted individuals stepping up behind the mike to let their hair down. You could even make the argument that the karaoke stage is the last place on earth where a person is completely free to express themselves without fear of ridicule.
Singing karaoke isn’t about being good, as Duets makes clear. Although, some of the characters are certainly talented singers. It’s more about the experience. Karaoke is about a celebration of life. When a person browses the karaoke catalog, they can choose a song that reflects their ability to feel and live in the moment. Just broke up with a boyfriend/girlfriend? There’s a song for that. Feeling a need to make a political statement? Sing away. It’s all about expressing what you feel at the moment.
Karaoke is a unique phenomenon, and perhaps the reason it has become such an integral part of our culture is that it offers that fleeting moment of genuine joy which is sorely lacking throughout the majority of our day-to-day existence. We spend so much of our time caught up in paying the bills, taking care of responsibilities, and the like. Then, we turn on the television and envy those we think have it better than us. Grabbing the karaoke mike is a way to rise above that envy, feel good, and live like a rock star for a few minutes.