According to this article in the New Zealand Herald — the newspaper of record in its country’s largest city, Auckland — karaoke bars in Auckland aren’t really about the singing; they’re places where people go to engage in far more sinister activities. The Herald compares the typical karaoke pub in that fair city to “an opium den of the 19th century,” and states that in such a venue, “privacy, alcohol and more than a touch of criminality combine to shape one of the city’s new dens of iniquity. Police aren’t concerned about the terrible singing of businessmen – they are worried about drug-dealing, money-laundering, gross intoxication and prostitution.” Well, at least it’s a relief that the local constables aren’t policing the vocal quality of karaoke singers.
I have to say, I’ve been to Auckland, and I’ve sung karaoke there (This occurred in January 2010, when New Zealand became country no. 17 on my World Karaoke Tour; my report on that particular H-Bomb appearance will be the subject of an upcoming blog post). But I didn’t witness any of the depraved pursuits that the Herald depicts as commonplace in its jurisdiction’s karaoke bars. I didn’t feel that I’d wandered into a modern-day opium den.
How did I miss out on all the excitement? Our intrepid reporters assert that according to a local law enforcement officer, “most karaoke bars [in Auckland] have a ‘resident prostitute and drug dealer’ on hand to meet patrons’ needs” (emphasis added). And yet no such service providers were on hand to meet my needs when I sang karaoke in Auckland. 🙂
Admittedly, it’s not all fun and games. The Herald article recounts an incident in 2000 in which the bouncer at an Auckland karaoke bar “attacked patrons with a meat cleaver.” You might wonder: why did this bouncer go all Jack Torrance on some hapless karaoke singers? Well, according to the bouncer’s own defense attorney, the victims “were singing Taiwanese when [the bouncer] wanted people to be singing Mandarin.” It’s unclear whether a person singing in the English language would have similarly inspired the bouncer to go on a rampage with a large kitchen knife. 🙂 The bouncer was sentenced to six years in prison, but he must have qualified for an early release; because just five years after the meat-cleaver episode, he was shot execution-style in a parking lot. So much for New Zealand being a placid land of sheep and hobbits . . .
Also mentioned in the Herald article are an “Asian gang stabbing” that went down at another Auckland karaoke joint in 2003; and various drug busts. But I suspect that the article goes too far in suggesting that felonious activity is a usual occurrence on the New Zealand karaoke scene — and that “[w]hat goes on in New Zealand’s downtown karaoke bars is music only to the ears of organised crime” (emphasis added). I’ve sung karaoke on six continents, in locations ranging from vast megacities to the remote Polynesian paradise of Easter Island. And I know from personal experience that all over the world, plenty of people go to karaoke bars for no other reason than that they love to sing. For those people, as for me, karaoke is a passion — not an excuse for engaging in criminal conduct. I have no reason to believe that things are significantly different in New Zealand. I don’t doubt that the vices described in the article can be found in some of Auckland’s karaoke establishments; but I think the Herald article probably exaggerates the prevalence of such wrongdoing — and unfairly maligns karaoke.