Go to the basement of a commercial building in Seoul, down the stairwell with a row of about a dozen signs with images of slender women, microphones, and hearts, and you will find yourself in a world of karaoke establishments. Inside a room with peeling rose-printed wallpaper, sit on the couch and order some old favorites after figuring out how to work the remote control selector. “Sweet Home Alabama” comes on, and a video of a snake charmer displays on the TV set.
“Sweet Home Alabama” in India. “Smoke on the Water” in China. “Empire State of Mind” at a rural train station in Korea. The videos that go with foreign songs in Korean karaokes can be strange.
Korean songs usually well-produced music videos made specially for the song, as do Chinese songs. But for American songs, the videos are just stock footage. As Kristin Hunt lays out in a history of karaoke videos, the American industry cut budgets and stopped producing original KTV videos in the ’90’s. Instead they have random scenes of beaches, underwater life, city life, nature, and many, many places around the world.
For songs about very specific locations or topics, the contrast between the lyrics and imagery can be funny.
Is the stock footage selected at random? Or is there some kind of useless algorithm parsing the lyrics and connecting “Alabama” and homesickness to India?
It’s likely just a strange coincidence, but at two separate karaokes, they showed two separate videos for “Sweet Home Alabama,” both of which began with footage from India.
Later the first video transitioned to the scene of a tropical beach resort.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist who has lived and worked in China for six years. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, The Shanghai Daily, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, City Weekend, Silkwinds and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.