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South Korea Is Saying Goodbye to Classic Karaoke Bars and Late-Night Hangouts with Co-Workers

It was once a common practice for employees to bond with their bosses in karaoke bars after work.
korea karaoke
Photo by riNux via Flickr

This article originally appeared on VICE Asia

Up until recently, a typical workday in South Korea could go up to 13 hours and end with a karaoke session. It was common practice for employees to bond with their bosses and co-workers over drinks and a song (or two, or three) after office hours, but the trend is now changing.

According to The Economist, singing rooms--locally known as noraebang--are changing along with the country’s consumers. Evolving work habits and changing recreational preferences have made them slowly go out of business, with 1,400 rooms shut down last year. In 2011, there were around 35,000 karaoke rooms in South Korea, now it’s down to about 33,000.

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On Aug. 15, South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported that karaoke rooms are going “out of fashion.” It cited a report by the KB Financial Group which found that 295 new karaoke rooms opened in the country between January and May but that 695 have closed this year.

The reason? Apparently, the practice of “enforced office conviviality” is declining all over South Korea. The country has a long-established hierarchy in office environments, where respecting the boss takes precedence over everything. Age is also important, as respecting elders is deeply rooted in the culture.

In 2018, the government restricted working hours to 52 hours a week, instead of 68, which made late-night trips to karaoke bars with workmates less common. It has also become more acceptable to go straight home after work.

But it’s not exactly the end for karaoke rooms. Many have been repurposed to cater to people’s new preferences. According to The Economist, industry analysts are predicting that new kinds of noraebang are on the rise. These karaoke bars aren’t dark and kept in basements, as seen in previous years. Instead, they’ve become more Instagram-worthy: candy-coloured and above ground.

Prices have also gone down. Instead of the previous hourly rates of about $12-17 per karaoke session, prices are now down to 41 cents per song. The rooms also now cater to couples instead of large groups, which appeals to 20-somethings and single professionals.

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