Karaoke and the Five Stages of Grieving


If you've lived in Vietnam or any of Southeast Asia for any amount of time, you've had a run-in or two with karaoke. Maybe you've even enjoyed it. If you're in the right mood — namely, while you're roaring drunk — singing karaoke can be a good time. 

But if you are one of the unfortunate souls that lives next to a karaoke establishment or has neighbors that have taken up karaoke as their new hobby, certain parts of your life can feel over. You'll notice you're missing things that used to be normal, like enjoying a quiet evening, listening to music of your choosing, or being able to finish a fucking thought. 

I recently moved out of a house on a street where karaoke was very popular. If you had no context for the situation you'd have thought the street was a war zone complete with explosions and people screaming for help, since several houses would be blaring different songs at the same time.

Through my experiences and in speaking with others who've suffered similarly, I've determined that having other people's karaoke intrude on your life is the same as going through the five stages of grieving. 

It's worth noting that this is not necessarily a linear process. You can transition endlessly between anger, bargaining, and depression. It's a karaoke-hell version of samsara and requires a moment of enlightenment to break out of the cycle.

1. Denial

This first stage usually occurs when your neighbors first buy their karaoke machine, or a nearby establishment opens its doors to 'singing.' Perhaps you've just moved into a new domicile, and don't know what you've gotten yourself into yet. 

It's not so bad, initially. You tell yourself, "Oh, they're just having fun," or "It's just their son's/grandma's/buffalo's birthday" or "It's Friday night, so I'll just go out." Mostly, you convince yourself that it's a one-off, and may even consider joining in the festivities. After all, they probably have a low-rent version of Hotel California/Yesterday/My Way that you know you could nail. Besides, who wants to be a spoilsport and tell others to hush when they're having a good time?

2. Anger

After it's happened a few times, you start to get fed up. It's definitely not cute or endearing anymore, and the volume is just shockingly loud.

Who the hell wants to listen to themselves that loud anyway? And why does the echo have to be up all the way? And why can't anyone learn to use a damn microphone so it's not making that screeching feedback noise all the time? And why is everyone singing in the key of Q fucking flat? Can't anyone take a fucking singing lesson? Can't they hear themselves? How could anyone possibly be so rude and thoughtless to make the whole God damn neighborhood listen to their drunken bellowing?! Why doesn't anyone do anything about it?!

You may consider plans of retribution, like blowing out your neighbors' electricity, or something more subtle like making a stink bomb. You may also start to play death metal and hip hop at loud volumes as a way of getting back at the careless carolers, since you know locals generally hate that kind of music. 

The only positive outlet for your anger here is through creativity, usually in comparing the singing to various animal noises. You may say the singer sounds like a cat in heat/a drunken goat/an injured baboon, et cetera. The possibilities are endless. 

The only thing I can recommend is to hit the gym to blow off some steam, and maybe buy some earplugs or noise-canceling headphones. In reality, you're screwed.

3. Bargaining

You've heard the karaoke more and more, and you've developed some emotional calluses to it. It's become a part of your life — unwelcome, but familiar. 

"Well, at least it's not as loud as it was a few nights ago," you tell yourself. Or, "Hey this singer isn't so bad." Or, "This song is way better than most of the other shit they play. It's even a bit catchy." Or, "They didn't do it last night, so I at least had one night of peace."

You're just fooling yourself. You're the proverbial frog in hot water, not realizing you're just getting used to a bad situation. 

4. Depression

Maybe your neighbors have been singing frequently for a long time now. Maybe you've just been in your house or apartment for long enough to know the truth. 

It doesn't stop. It never stops. It will go on forever. This is your life now.

You've got that one song they really like stuck in your head. It won't go away. 

You dread staying at home. You start to get a knot in your stomach every time you hear a mic check. You realize just how right Pavlov was — your body is conditioned to the noise. 

This is not the soundtrack you'd expected for the dark night of the soul.

5. Acceptance

You've learned, rightly, that you cannot defeat karaoke. You're left with two options: move, or get used to it. 

Most people at this point will admit defeat and recall that discretion is the better part of valor. The tactical retreat that follows usually leads to moving to a new residence, where you will first judiciously check to make sure there's less noise. 

If you decide to get used to the noise and stay in the same spot, you're a more intrepid soul than I. I'd congratulate you on your hardiness, but I'm a bit afraid of you so I'll give you a thumbs up from across the road.


If you're going through this struggle, know you're not alone. You cannot defeat karaoke: it spreads like cancer and has no known cure. The best you can do is learn to cope. Consider starting a support group — whining about noise is a tirelessly popular topic, and you're like to find lots of commiseration. Or just, y'know, move.