Indonesians find freedom and friendship at karaoke parties

These days, karaoke parties have become similar to a concert or rave in form and delivery, with karaoke DJs becoming stars in their own right.

Aloysius Efraim Leonard

Aloysius Efraim Leonard

The Jakarta Post


Blowing off steam: Fans of karaoke parties say it is musical medicine, as people can release stress by singing along to their favorite songs. (JP/Aloysius Efraim Leonard) (JP/Aloysius Efraim Leonard)

November 18, 2022

JAKARTA – Karaoke events held in hip bars and clubs and attended by hundreds, sometimes thousands, of participants, have become the country’s new ‘it’ party.

While karaoke clubs have long been ubiquitous in Indonesia, the festivities typically take place in private rooms at private gatherings by attendees who know each other.

These days, karaoke parties have become similar to a concert or rave in form and delivery, with karaoke DJs becoming stars in their own right. Performing at large clubs and even big festivals, these karaoke DJs perform to a hyped-up crowd of thousands ready to sing the songs back at them.

Instead of the karaoke tradition of having only one or two people holding microphones at a time, karaoke parties are about that communal ritual where everybody sings together.

Though not always, karaoke parties are frequently held with specific themes, whether it is a particular musical genre, specific era or some other unifying concept.

One of the most popular themes in recent years is a celebration of a particular band or artist.

For example, in October, thousands of tickets to the Taylor Swift Karaoke Party (TSKP) held by the Taylor Swift Indonesia Official Fanbase at Bali United Studio in West Jakarta were sold out within 15 minutes. Other venues also have routine karaoke parties, playing songs exclusively from singers Harry Styles, Olivia Rodrigo or NIKI.

Singing together as therapy

That karaoke parties have grown into a large-scale trend isn’t a surprise. Singing in a group is a big part of the Indonesian tradition of getting together.

Statistics Indonesia (BPS) notes that 107 of the 267 subdistricts in Jakarta have at least ten karaoke venues, and more than 100 festivals or music events were held in Jakarta in 2019 alone.

“There is a lot of research studying the effect of singing together, mostly in a choir. Psychologically, it can reduce stress and improve mood,” Christ Billy Aryanto, a music psychologist from Universitas Atma Jaya Jakarta, said. “I think karaoke parties and choirs are more or less the same. You’re singing the same songs together with other people.”

Billy said these events offered therapeutic effects. He saw it as a coping mechanism to release stress.

Party makers

Most karaoke parties are organized by collectives dedicated to this specific form of entertainment.

Sabina Inka and Andrea “Andri” Reza, two of the four cofounders of a karaoke event they have dubbed Videostarr, said karaoke parties were places where attendees were free to let go and sing their “guilty pleasure songs”.

Before the pandemic, “we didn’t have a lot of parties in which we could sing along,” Inka said. “Sure, there were [karaoke party DJs] Disko Pantera and Oom Leo. However, we felt they were not as diverse as we wanted them to be. We couldn’t find parties where they played our guilty pleasure songs.”

These guilty pleasure songs, according to Andri, mainly refer to pop hits from the 1990s, including tracks by the Spice Girls and Britney Spears. Various Indonesian songs also fall into this category, from easy-listening pop to dangdut. Hip urbanites sing these tracks with an equal amount of delight and irony.

“At first, we were hesitant to play songs such as ‘Teman Tapi Mesra’ [friends but romantic] by [Indonesian pop duo] Ratu,” said Andri. “But apparently, people seem to enjoy it, and we are much more explorative now with our song choices.”

Their initial idea, however, was not a karaoke party but a party where they played music videos by those artists.

“We didn’t think it’d be a karaoke party. But since Indonesians love to sing together in public, gradually, our parties became known as karaoke parties,” Andri explained.

Julius Raditya and Rayhan Mumtaz, who held the ten (all sold out) Taylor Swift Karaoke Parties (TSKPs), saw the same spirit among Indonesia’s Swifties—the term used to refer to Taylor Swift fans.

“Back in 2021, we saw that there were so many sing-along or karaoke parties in the United States. So we thought, ‘If Jakarta has always been the city where people listen to Taylor Swift the most [in Indonesia], why don’t we hold a Taylor Swift karaoke event?’” Raditya said.

So they did. They began by gathering 150 people in May 2022 in Jakarta. In just six months, Raditya and Rayhan have taken TSKP to nine other cities around Indonesia, including Yogyakarta, Denpasar and Makassar. With self-made visuals, they host 300 to 700 Swifties at each event.

Everybody welcome: Karaoke parties create communities where everyone can feel a sense of belonging. (JP/Aloysius Efraim Leonard) (JP/Aloysius Efraim Leonard)

Communal happiness

As time passes, karaoke parties like Videostarr and TSKP have become places where people feel a sense of belonging.

Andri and Inka were surprised that Videostarr had become such a phenomenon in Indonesia, where hundreds of people lined up, all dressed up.

Videostarr was not created exclusively to host a specific group of people. However, the “guilty pleasure” choice of songs resonates with many minority groups in the party scene—especially the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and women.

“One of the reasons I wanted to start Videostarr was because I went to a karaoke party [in 2017], and they played songs that were sung by women only once or twice. For the whole three hours,” Andri told the Post.

Raditya and Rayhan also noticed this song preference with their TSKP. They also saw an increase in karaoke-party demand after Swifties who attended their events started posting videos of the parties on Instagram and TikTok.

Raditya and Rayhan were surprised that the parties they started in various cities across Indonesia had reached so many Indonesian Taylor Swift fans, creating a community that went beyond the music.

Rayhan recalled, “700 people attended the TSKP in Makassar. Same thing in Malang. People didn’t realize there were that many Swifties in the city, but after they came to the party, they created a Telegram group and discussed all types of topics there.”

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