Norebang (pronounced Noray-bong) is a sacred institution in South Korea. In fact, norebang is a Korean icon as recognizable as kimchi. In a small town alone, you can have two to three norebang just waiting for customers to sing their hearts out.
This is my norebang story.
On a typical Saturday night in my neck of the Seogwipo woods, it’s not unusual for my host family and I to go out for dinner. This past Saturday was no exception. We all piled in the truck, and went to a traditional Korean restaurant where we ate turkey, oysters, and boiled cabbage leaves. Odd combination? Maybe. Delicious? Yes.
After we finished our meal, my host sister asked “Shall we go to the singing room?” I said, “Yes, it will be my first time.” In Korea, I have found that when my family knows when something is a “first” for me, the intensity gets kicked up a notch. My first reaction to hearing the words “singing room” was “Oh lawdy, no.” However, this story, like most in Korea, ends well.
After driving around the city for a few minutes, we arrived at the norebang on the edge of town. Once inside, there were five or six separate rooms for rent. A note for the people back home: Unlike American karaoke, which is sang in front of a large audience (typically at a bar or restaurant) norebang is for a group of people who know each other. After renting our room in the far back, which was outfitted with a vinyl sectional for seating and a multicolored disco ball, my host siblings wasted no time displaying their ability to sing K-pop songs at the highest levels possible.
My host sister, who is usually quiet, calm, and collected, started singing at voice levels I didn’t even know she possessed. After my host siblings sang a few songs, it was my turn. Even though I was with four people that I had lived with for almost three months, I was still nervous. Long story short, my nasaly rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” was a hit, with both my host siblings and parents. In fact, everyone said I did a stunning job. I eventually went on to sing “Don’t Stop Believin”’ and “Dancing Queen.”
If anything, my norebang night taught me that it’s okay to have fun, even at your own expense. If you’re ever in Korea, I highly suggest you experience norebang. It’s fun, family-oriented, and odds are, you’ll get to sit on a groovy couch straight from the 1970s.