Data Stories
Still from Abandoned Buildings
Still from Abandoned Buildings
Still from Flipped Out
Still from Flipped Out
Still from Flipped Out
Still from Somewhere
Still from Somewhere
Asian American Karaoke Project
Digital Video


Karaoke has crossed over as a mainstream form of American entertainment. Karaoke bars can be found in most, if not all, American cities, and even bars in unexpected areas now have karaoke nights. With its Japanese (and Filipino) origins, and popularity across Asia, karaoke is especially popular among Asian Americans. However, English-speaking Asian Americans are not able to sing any karaoke songs by musicians of Asian heritage - most of the songs available in karaoke discs and machines are from American and European pop songs by white and black (and sometimes Latino) singers.

The selection reflects the most well-known and best-selling songs of recent times. Looked at this way, inclusion among the karaoke menu is a form of recognition as having a place in our musical heritage, and by extension, American culture. In this project, I created karaoke videos for Asian American musicians as a way of asserting a role for Asian Americans in this culture (or at least raising questions about underrepresentation in the cultural mainstream), as well as providing an opportunity for Asian Americans to sing songs from our peer communities.

The visual part of karaoke videos is notoriously disposable. Stock video of tourist landmarks, couples and walks in the park are typical. Instead, for this project, I use visuals that mirror some of these familiar subjects on the surface, but over time, reveal themselves as a complement to the way the songs are being used. They do not directly relate thematically to the song lyrics, but rather provide another level of narrative about the Asian American experience in mainstream America, negotiating our place in American society.

I recently recovered the Super-8 home movie footage from my childhood in Ohio. Shot by my father, it's a rare document of a time period before home video cameras were common, and well before YouTube made it common for everyone's childhood to be broadcast to the world. In these movies, we see the naive activities of Chinese American children experiencing Americana, becoming American - family vacations to Washington DC, amusement parks, and New England; football in the front yard, and building snowmen in the back yard. Through the eyes of adults, with consciousness of racial dynamics and the challenges and controversies over immigration and assimilation, these movies have both humor and the poignancy of knowing what issues these children will encounter as they grow up.

There are three videos currently. Each features a song by a Asian American band or musician with the karaoke subtitles overlaid in their familiar format. Like other karaoke videos, the imagery consists of a sequence of scenes from the Super-8 movies, edited to fit the song.

At the upcoming premiere presentation, the videos will be used for a karaoke event with live singers performing as the videos are screened. The videos strive to create an impact on all the participants - the singers, the musicians and the audience - that Asian Americans can and should be represented at the karaoke bar, over the speakers and on the screens, not just on the microphone.

The project will continue and expand. I am soliciting additional videos by other filmmakers and plan to continue to hold karaoke events, to use as a repository for these videos, and finally, to inject Asian American karaoke videos into the karaoke mainstream.



The Invisible Cities (Flipped Out)
Goh Nakamura (Somewhere)
Bantercut (Abandoned Buildings)

Copyright © Derek Chung