|Stills from CKTV|
For many, karaoke is little more than a tipsy excuse to belt out Journey lyrics, but for others it’s a carefully honed skill, a craft, a true performance. The New York Times Magazine recently made a case for karaoke as an art form, and this month, BAMart pays tribute to an oft-overlooked—but absolutely key—element of the popular pastime: the karaoke video. A staple the world over, karaoke videos add a touch of kitsch and surprise to the overall singing experience.
Karaoke grew in popularity in the US and Asia right around the same time as MTV and music videos, so there was a natural desire to marry the two. But companies like Pioneer Electronics and Sunfly lacked the rights and funds to use official music videos for most songs, and thus opted to create their own.
Frequently shot in LA, New York, or Japan, the videos take a line or theme from a song and build a simple, literal narrative around it. Actual relation to the original songs or artists is minimal, and there’s frequently an underlying love story of some sort, plenty of 80s & 90s style, and, of course, the lyrics to the song. The beach and parks are popular settings, the endings are almost always happy, and production value is generally low-budget.
In the Pioneer video for Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” a ballerina seduces and dances with a maintenance man. Radiohead’s “Creep” becomes a retelling of the Hunchback of Notre Dame in which Quasimodo transforms into a dashing young man. The Beach Boys’ “California Girls” features plenty of women in California, but probably not the California girls they were singing about.
In a creative take on (and long overdue tribute to) this format, Bushwick gallery Cleopatra’s and artist Chris Rice commissioned custom karaoke videos from over 50 Brooklyn artists for the 2012 Shanghai Biennale. Some of these initial videos, plus new ones for a total of 75 songs, make up the CKTV exhibit currently on view at BAM. Some play on the retro aesthetic of your standard karaoke video, while others are more abstract, with neon block letters or handwritten signs for lyrics. A couple examples:
All are on display as a series of loop videos in the Natman Room at BAM through May 10, and will be enjoyed in their full glory tonight (Wed, Apr 4) at a Live Karaoke Party at BAM Fisher. Preview the song selection (and practice!) with our CKTV Spotify playlist below.