I was recently trying to explain to a friend exactly how amazing Noreabang (pronounced NO-REE-BHAANG) is when he said to me “Yeah, I went to Karaoke night at this pl-” SHUT UP. Don’t even compare the holy grail, the sweetest heaven that is noreabang to your stupid thursday night at T.G.I Friday’s.
Noreabang is a tradition. It is a culture. It is a release.
It is one of the best things in South Korea and in actuality one of the best things in the UNIVERSE.
Everyone does it in Korea. Drunk English teachers sing their faces off till 6am following a hard night of drinking, blowing off steam so we can teach better come Monday. The hardworking Korean students sing at 4pm in between school and academy. Boys out on the lash. Girl’s night out. Families. Entire school staffs. Drunk ajashis(old dudes).You can’t go wrong, come one, come all.
Noreabang literally translates to “singing room”. They have them all over Korea and elsewhere (I’ve seen a couple in L.A). Instead of going up in front of a whole bar, you enter a private room. They range from cheap and basic rooms to lavish penthouses. The cheap ones usually have a couch, a worn carpet, a crap tambourine and a mic. And they’re still very capable of giving you an unforgettable night. Personally, I love NRB so much that I have no problem coughing up a little more dough for a straight up luxurious experience. Ironically, I usually did this at Luxury, a chain of upscale noreabangs.
We did it BIG at the Lux. This palace of song spared no expense flying in marble from the Taj Mahal and snacks from the GS25. They also featured huge bay windows overlooking city lights, wall to wall black leather couches, at least 4 tambourines and nice cozy slippers. The message was loud and clear, HEY NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKERS, WE KNOW YOU DIRTY SCUMBAGS DON’T TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES AT YOUR CRAP APARTMENT BUT THIS PLACE IS MUCH NICER SO TAKE THEM OFF AND TRY ON THESE KOREAN LOAFERS and even though my heel stuck out the back of the loafer by about 4 inches…it was comfy as hell son. It really was. The only downside w Luxury was they didn’t allow outside alcohol. I didn’t mind the rule until the one time they enforced it. NOT COOL. I had to take a tambourine home to even the score. Still, they were good people and I remember them fondly. Some people don’t know this but there is an even higher level of NRB. Unfortunately, I never made it there. A friend who shall remain nameless (*DAVE*) told me all about it. At certain noreabangs, guys go in and sit around singing while “helper girls” sit with them, all the while flirting with them,feeding them and pouring drinks into their mouths. (In Dave’s defense, his school took him. Every other day. For a year. He didn’t like it but the culturally sensitive Dave didn’t want to offend anyone.)
People approach singing in different ways. It’s fun to see different styles on the mic. Some people just yell every song the same way. Others sing pitch perfect renditions of your favorites. Some are nervous, some are crazy, some are crazier, some are better than others. Some hold back a little and others let it fly. I always loved watching people sing. I really felt it let me know a lot about them, like what songs they liked and how drunk they were. The drunker the better, by the way. THAT IS INDISPUTABLE. For the best and most honest performances, one has to be wasted. Or at least buzzed.
Americans have football. Brazilians have futbol. Koreans have noreabang. I’ve been stunned by Koreans singing. They’re truly next level. I’ve seen teachers from my school put tissues in their noses and ears and jump around on tables. I’ve heard dudes deliver note perfect renditions of all kinds of English and Korean songs from ballads to rap. However, the all time number one performance I ever heard was my friend Hee Hoon singing “Lately” by Stevie Wonder. He gave me chills, he was that good. It’s not just that he sang it perfectly but he sang it with such overwhelming emotion. I had never even heard the song till that night but it is one of those things I will never forget. Later on, I would find out that Hee Hoon had been born a poor, blind, black child.
The whole thing is about letting loose. When you lose your inhibitions and swing for the fences, it doesn’t get any better. It doesn’t matter what you sound like. And don’t discount the fact that when you go all out with your friends and let it rip on the mic, those are friends for life. It’s like serving in a war together, it’s like winning a championship. That room is the locker room and if you’re in there, you’re part of the team. Now, are you going to pull your weight or are you going to choke? You’ve got to look into that foxhole (couch) next to you and see if that soldier (singer) is locked and loaded (mic + tambourine) and then make a pact that you will be there for each other (band). Trust. Songs. Drunken.