Why Karaoke Is the Secret to Happiness I Want to Share with the World

Our karaoke at-home setup offered wholesome family entertainment during the pandemic and is now helping us make deeper connections with new friends

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a woman singing karaoke at her wedding with another woman singing with her in a pink dressCourtesy Michelle Yang
The author singing karaoke at her wedding

“Wow, this is like a natural antidepressant,” remarked our new friend, grinning after belting out the earworm “I Saw the Sign” from Ace of Base in our living room for the first time. This wasn’t news to me—a karaoke for home system has been a consistent source of joy throughout my life, and our family leaned on it particularly hard during the pandemic lockdown, when family entertainment options were few. And after our family moved across the country in 2021, our trusty karaoke for home setup helped us bond with new friends like nothing else.

I marvel at what two inexpensive microphones with built-in speakers and YouTube karaoke videos have provided us. From the songs our guests choose, we get a glimpse of the memories they’re reliving in their reverie. You can’t help but let your guard down through the music in the intimacy that it forms. Here are all the reasons singing karaoke makes me so happy.

Karaoke can be wholesome family entertainment

For us, it’s a family affair. My 9-year-old has been singing since he could barely hold the mic, and he now belts out rousing renditions of beloved Disney songs like “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” and “Colors of the Wind.” Time and time again, we see our friends’ kids’ faces light up when their favorite tunes play—we honestly don’t even tire of hearing them over and over. The kids sing and twirl with wonder in their eyes. Karaoke is an instant party, a dose of happiness for all ages.

But my history with karaoke goes way back. As a child in South Korea in the 1980s, before karaoke machines were prevalent, wedding and banquet organizers would hire a keyboard player to accompany guests as they sang their favorite songs. My father and his brothers, among the best singers in our tight-knit ethnic Chinese community, could always be counted on to perform several songs each. My cousin (who was my best friend) and I would get onstage behind them and dance and giggle our faces off, having the time of our lives.

Who else remembers laser disc players?

After my family immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, my dad invested in a laser disc player so we could have karaoke at home. We ran a takeout restaurant in Phoenix, working long hours, never taking vacations and having few days off. The restaurant industry is notoriously tough on mental health and on families—we were no exception.

Whenever my dad drove to Los Angeles to pick up restaurant supplies though, he took me and my brother with him on the eight-hour ride, which was as exhausting as it was fun. The highlight, besides the food, was when we stopped at karaoke specialty shops to buy laser discs of karaoke songs with accompanying cheesy music videos. My heartbeat quickened each time we pulled into the strip mall parking lot, as I wondered what treasures we’d find that day.

Before long, our song disc collection grew extensive. On Lunar New Year and every other major holiday, no matter how tired we’d be after the restaurant closed, we’d feast and sing. In these moments of pure joy, everyone could shine. We each forgot about our worries during my brother’s rendition of “Yesterday” by the Beatles and my dad’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver.

Karaoke helped me forget my insecurities

By the time I was in college, karaoke bars caught on and private-room setups became more popular. Because I already had so much experience with karaoke from home, this meant I could shine in my social circles, momentarily breaking out of my insecurities. Though I was a late bloomer, I remember my peers admiring my courage as I sang “I’ll make a wish for you / And hope it will come true / That life would just be kind/ To such a gentle mind”the obscure theme “Remember Me This Way” from the movie Casper starring Christina Ricci (a forgotten love song that once set our middle-schooler hearts aflutter).

In grad school, I met the man who would become my husband. During one of our first dates, we bonded over how seriously we take karaoke. Neither of us requires liquid courage, as we are both non-drinkers. And years later, when we planned our wedding, karaoke was a must, along with the live band made up of my husband’s friends and an aria performance by my opera singer bridesmaid. Seeing our loved ones take the spotlight onstage while others danced and sang along was an unforgettable full-circle moment. All this was part of an unspoken promise that our life together would always be filled with music.

Happiness is singing like no one’s watching

Who knew that more than a decade later, our karaoke for home setup would be the MVP of family entertainment? I’m so grateful for this accessible invention that many might write off as silly. For me, karaoke has been a constant source of happiness throughout my life and all its phases. So next time you have the chance, I hope you sing. Choose that song you love but are a little afraid of—whether it be Journey or Mariah Carey or Gloria Gaynor—belt it out like no one is watching and feel the catharsis.

Michelle Yang
Born ethnic Chinese in South Korea, Michelle is a proud immigrant "takeout kid" who grew up working in her family's Chinese restaurant. A former editor at InStyle and Shape, she is an advocate whose writings on the intersection of Asian American identity, body image and mental health have been featured in Reader's Digest, HuffPost, NBC News, CNN, InStyle, Shondaland and more.
When Michelle's not answering to her hilarious kiddo and demanding co-writer (a scrappy rescue pup), she's working on her memoir, Phoenix Girl: How a Fat Asian with Bipolar Found Love, forthcoming from Fifth Avenue Press. So, she's putting her expensive MBA to good use. In addition to writing, she loves exploring new areas with her family and smoking up the kitchen with spicy recipes.