Brendan Nuse '17: 我喜欢唱KTV

Brendan Nuse is the 2017-2019 Shansi Fellow to Shanxi Agricultural University. This is his first year narrative.

I’ve often struggled to respond when asked about my hobbies. When faced with this question in high school, I could rattle off a list of somewhat-interesting extracurricular activities I participated in, like swimming, running, or playing the piano. However, when I got to Oberlin, I began to spend my time on decidedly less hobby-like activities, such as “working several work-study jobs”, “being a member of an animal rights activism group”, and “spending several hours studying in the library every Friday night”. However, I’m happy to say that I now have an answer at the ready for when people ask me about my hobbies: 我喜欢唱KTV. I. Love. KTV. 

Shansi Fellow Brendan Nuse singing a song by up and coming Malaysian Mandopop sensation 李佩玲 (Jeryl Lee, pictured on screen), featuring several other KTV-goers, as well as many bottles of water.

What is KTV?


KTV, which an internet search tells me stands for “karaoke television”, refers to private karaoke rooms. Whenever you feel the urge to belt out one of your favorite Mandopop hits, you can just grab a few friends and head to the nearest KTV. Rooms are booked by the hour and priced by the size. Luckily, the KTVs in Taigu aren’t as expensive as ones I’ve been to in larger cities, so it’s easy to go frequently and not break the bank.


Any occasion can be an excuse for a KTV outing. Maybe it’s someone’s birthday. Maybe your friend is coming to visit. Maybe it’s just Wednesday afternoon and you need an hour of singing away your sorrows in a dark, loud, somewhat public place- these are all acceptable excuses to hit up your local KTV.

Xi’an- The fanciest KTV room I have ever seen. It features not only a disco ball, but also a chair and microphone that guests can “croon” into.

How Does KTV Affect Relationships?

KTV can bring people together. When my friend Emma (who is from the U.S., but lives in Xi’an) came to visit me in Taigu, I knew that we would have to go to KTV. Emma and I are a KTV dynamic duo. We’re not at all above going to KTV three times in three days. Every time that we see each other, we have to sing some karaoke- and make our obligatory attempt at tackling 华晨宇 (Hua Chenyu)’s rap/rock/screamo hit 异类 (Yi Lei. Our KTV outing in Taigu was one of the best times I’ve had here so far. I invited all of my (few) friends at the time to go. I’ve always liked having opportunities for my friends who don’t know each other to all hang out together, and this was a very good example of that. My students from different classes, my Chinese tutor, and my friend from the United States all gathered in one place to sing together- it sounds so beautiful that I’m tearing up.


However, it can also tear people apart. For my friend Allie’s birthday, we decided to go, of course, to KTV. We expected it to be a fun time full of laughter and friends. We couldn’t have been more wrong. Despite the presence of a cake (not to mention the coolest person in the world, Brendan Nuse), a fight broke out. Our other friend, Connie (韩赟琪), picked two songs she wanted to sing, but her plans were quickly foiled. Another friend, Shiny (李娟), decided to pick over 20 songs at random and put them all ahead of Connie’s songs. We skipped many of the songs, but the damage was done. By the time we got to Connie’s songs, she said “I picked those songs an hour ago, why would I want to sing them now?”. Allie and I ended up singing almost all of the songs. I would normally find this fun, but if everyone is feeling too bitter to react to your Chinese rapping, did you really rap at all?

Beyond (江远健) stops to pose during his birthday celebration at a KTV in Taigu.

What Do KTV Fans Have to Say About KTV?


That’s not all the magic of KTV, though. While writing this, I consulted Emma (mentioned above), the Queen of KTV, asking her “do you have any funny insights about KTV?”. She gave me the following:


1. Did you talk about 麦霸 or however you say it?


A 麦霸 (Mai Ba, mike hog) is a person you never want to meet in a KTV- and also exactly the kind of person I am. In the words of my student, Lewis (刘洪华), “they clutch the microphone and don’t want to let go”. Going to KTV with a 麦霸means sitting through 1-3 hours of hearing them sing bad Jay Chou cover after bad Jay Chou cover. Although 麦霸 are pretty much universally hated, some people take pride in being one. At a recent birthday KTV outing, Lewis noticed that he was singing his fourth song in a row and exclaimed with a grin, “I’m a 麦霸 today!” Of course, I also can’t possibly imagine anyone being upset about hearing me sing 10 Chinese songs about heartbreak in a row!


2. And how you always have to wait for bad people to sing and encourage them (I guess you probably shouldn’t write that).


She’s right that I shouldn’t write this, so I’ll just leave this here and move on.


3. And how people are always like “oh, you love 中国新歌声! You could be on that show!”


It’s very true that I love 中国新歌声 (Sing! China, a rebranded version of The Voice of China). It’s also true that anyone who goes to KTV with me knows this fact. I would guess that I know over half the songs that have been performed on this show well enough to sing at KTV. I wanted to watch the auditions happening in Taiyuan in January, but they unfortunately happened after I had already left the province.


4. And how people are always shocked when you sing Chinese songs.


I was never really interested in singing pop music until I came to China. The combination of watching many, many singing competition shows and being introduced to KTV led me to discover this hobby. Now, I’m only really prepared to sing Chinese songs. This makes KTV trips with my students somewhat awkward, as they often pick English songs that I’ve never heard outside of China (favorites include “God is a Girl” by Groove Coverage and “You Raise Me Up” by Secret Garden), expecting me to sing along.


5. Oh, you could put how one of your students was like “why are you better than me at singing Chinese songs when I’ve been speaking Chinese my whole life” and you were like “oh I don’t really think being good at Chinese means you can sing”.


I don’t think this needs further explanation.


Pop star Sandy Lam (林忆莲) watches the singer from the screen as they sing a karaoke track.

6. And how KTV is a good place to invite old or new friends because you don’t have to talk too much.


While on vacation in Beijing this past weekend, my friend Allie and I made the impulsive decision to meet up with a waiter from Taigu who we had met one time. Being the extreme couponers we are, the three of us were duped by a membership discount into booking three full hours of KTV. Normally, the prospect of spending three hours basically one on one with a person I don’t know would be daunting. However, in KTV, our waiter friend and I started out our three hours scream-singing 信乐团’s dramatic breakup hit 离歌 (Li Ge, Farewell Song) and ended our three hours scream-singing 腾格尔’s ode to his grassy homeland, 天堂 (Tian Tang, Heaven). It was probably the least awkward three hours I’ve ever spent with a near stranger.

The Future of Karaoke


This summer, I was introduced to something truly beautiful- online KTV. Luckily for me, my teachers for my summer Chinese language program all really liked to sing. After we sung in a talent show together, one of my teachers recommended an app called 全民K歌 to me. This app opened up a whole new world of karaoke for me. You can use the app to record yourself singing karaoke tracks. You can also choose to publish your recordings on the app so that your friends can hear them. Before, I never would have been confident (or self-absorbed) enough to post anything that I sang on the internet, but I’m proud to say that I now have 367 listens on my most popular song. That’s the magic of having supportive students- and the magic of KTV.

Ace (贾迎松) cheers on a fellow KTV-goer in Beijing.

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