The Internet is full of interesting things to read outside of The A.V. Club—no, really! In our periodic Read This posts, we point you toward interesting or noteworthy pieces that caught our eye.
As both a pastime and a spectator event, karaoke occupies a place low on the entertainment hierarchy, just above tractor pulls, Larry The Cable Guy vehicles, and monster truck rallies. The medium is supposed to be inherently derivative, a matter of limply, drunkenly, and amateurishly recycling pop songs in lieu of creating something genuinely new and original.
But that doesn’t have to be the case. In a fascinating article for The New York Times, critic Dan Kois writes passionately and compellingly of a karaoke renaissance in Portland that is radically reinventing the medium and elevating it to an art form. Kois writes of a citywide wave of mania for karaoke, taking readers through the world of puppet karaoke, live-band karaoke, and the creative process of obsessed KJ (or karaoke jockey) John Brophy, a standout of the scene who assembles karaoke tracks for decidedly unlikely subjects (Radiohead, DangerDoom, obscure dialect comedy records) through a meticulous, complicated process involving sampling, live instruments, and painstakingly assembling tracks layer by layer.
This karaoke renaissance can be attributed to a number of factors: a strong Japanese influence on the city, an abundance of bands and musicians, and the city’s famous contingent of hipsters, eccentrics, and folks following their bliss wherever it may lead. In a bit of understatement, Kois quotes one of the city’s karaoke enthusiasts observing, “People in Portland are passionate about their weird pursuits”
The article is bound to divide readers. Kois’ sincere, poignant enthusiasm about Portland’s karaoke scene is infectious, but the more cynical might look at what Kois depicts as karaoke heaven and see a hipster hell of self-consciously quirky iconoclasts showing off for their equally insufferable friends. Read for yourself and decide.