Last Night a KJ Saved My Life

Media Jeweler on the democratizing power of karaoke.

Media Jeweler began life, more or less, as an instrumental group. Words popped up here and there, as  framing devices, or rhythmic elements, or hints at theming. Media Jeweler was a band as a machine,  each musical element a cog in the wheel, rock instrumentation distilled to its core. Nothing on top of  anything else — horizontal in structure — hierarchy removed from rock ’n roll. But, as they are wont to  do, the rules started to bend.  

Can you feel it, see it, hear it today? 
If you can’t, then it doesn’t matter anyway 

Karaoke has always been in the periphery — after the gig, after practice, or at somebody’s birthday, a going-away party. Maybe just a day off in Osaka. A different type of performance, a different flavor of vulnerability, a different spotlight on a different piece of your heart. An alternate wellspring to the  American Dream — everyone can be a star if they put their name on the list.  

Taking the stage, the karaoke star becomes a vessel for artists living and dead as their words scroll by  to the beat of the ghost orchestra. Choruses echo through the karaoke bar, ingrained in the public  consciousness. To whom do these songs belong? 

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain: 
Scaramouch, Scaramouch, will you do the Fandango? 

Despite continuing improvements in communication technology, the microphone remains our primary  conduit for public self-expression, a handheld monolith that allows one to be heard by many. Before we  could hear each other’s thoughts like ticker tape in our pockets, we gave people who had something to  say microphones and we listened to their anointed words.  

Doesn’t everyone have something to say into a microphone? Doesn’t everyone deserve a chance under  a spotlight? 

Blame it all on my roots:  
I showed up in boots 
I wanna be the only one you come for 
I want to be your brother and your sister too 

Karaoke is the democratization of the microphone, a liminal space between play and performance,  personal and private, id and superego. The karaoke stage — often an unmarked but understood partition  of the communal floor space — is a place of near total freedom. You can shed your emotional  exoskeleton or build it up thicker; often, both at once. Karaoke is almost always a transmogrifying act:  do you really know someone unless you have seen them furrow their brow leaning into the high notes? 

Like the castle in it’s corner 
In a medieval game 
I’m blue, da ba dee da ba daa 

When you’re handed the microphone and the Sunfly beast appears mid-belt, you’re at the implausible  crossroads of power and vulnerability. It’s agency on display in a way that makes sense only  contextually in the high-decibel haze. When we sign up to sing, we are signing a contract quietly  enforcing mutual respect and humanistic understanding. After the last bar, we applaud human spirit and  the simple power of participation. The karaoke stage prioritizes the purity of play to a degree absent  from most other leisure activities and performance spaces. It’s an open portal into temporary unbeing  where anyone can be anyone for three and a half minutes — no strings attached. It’s Andy Warhol’s 15  minutes but infinitely reprisable, communal, and accessible. 

Da ba dee da ba daa, da ba dee da ba daa 

Fundamental elements of Western music, major and minor chords, are often explained as one sounding  happy, and the other sad. We describe music in emotional terms. We turn towards music for feeling, and  we turn towards poetry to understand feeling. More or less. In fact, it seems that, for most, poetry is the  main appeal of music. It’s incredibly rare that an instrumental track will break through and find a place  on the pop charts. Music is the perfect vehicle for poetry, it provides an emotional backdrop to set the  tone and shape how the words are received. The goal of lyric-based music is to connect on an  emotional level with its audience. Theoretically, karaoke represents the ultimate achievement of this  goal. Each slip of paper proffered to the KJ contains the title of a song, that the person submitting it has  such a strong connection to, that they wish to perform it, and embody its meaning and melody for a  room full of friends and strangers to witness. 

Oh yeah, life goes on long after the thrill of living’s gone 

For our previous release, 1-800-SUCCEED, we put up a karaoke version of one of the few worded  numbers, partly out of love for karaoke, and partly for the absurdity of the idea that anyone would ever  choose to perform such a brooding, sparse song from a wholly unpopular project. What higher  achievement is there for a songwriter, than for someone scanning the hundreds of laminated, beer soaked pages barely contained in a 2-inch 3-ring binder, to stop their finger on your song — not Elton  John’s—but your song, and scrawl its title beside their name to be added to the queue?  

Down by the river on a Friday night 
A pyramid of cans in the pale moonlight 
They told me I was going to lose the fight 
Leave behind my wuthering, wuthering 
Wuthering Heights 

Perhaps when we die we are transported to the front of a long line of all the dead artists and celebrities  whose songs we have desecrated during the karaoke process. As we walk down the line of ghosts, they  take turns slapping the shit out of each karaoke offender one by one with a wet velvet glove, until our  faces are raw and we are penitent and smiling. 

Media Jeweler is an LA-based post-punk band. Their album The Sublime Sculpture of Being Alive is out August 13, 2021 via Fire Talk.