Karaoke in China: 8 Songs to Get You Started

My first time at karaoke (or KTV, as they call it here), I held the microphone for a combined total of 30 seconds. Granted, there were 20 other people in the room, but my short time in the limelight was more a result of not knowing what to sing than stage fright. After a few more similar excursions, I realized that the art of KTV lies not in musical finesse or vocal talent, but rather in the ability to cultivate an inclusive atmosphere. There is no better way to achieve this than by possessing an extensive repertoire of popular hits and crowd favorites.

While such expertise cannot be mastered in a single night, it never hurts to come in beforehand with a few good cards in your deck before you battle it out on the mic. Of course, KTV is the sort of battle where everyone’s a winner as long as they enjoy themselves so here is a starter pack of songs ranging from tried and true classics to more modern tunes.

1. 简单爱 (Jiǎndān Ài) – 周杰伦 (Jay Chou)

Jay ChouChinese difficulty: ★★★☆☆
Song difficulty: ★★☆☆☆

An industry heavyweight, Jay Chou has been around since the start of the millennium and released an album almost every year since then. His songs are catchy without being too bubblegum, but I think it’s the unique and addictive timbre of his voice that makes him so unforgettable. The song “Simple Love” in particular showcases that quality without providing too much difficulty for those who wish to follow along. (Video and lyrics)

2. 月亮代表我的心 (Yuèliang Dàibiǎo Wǒ de Xīn) – 邓丽君 (Teresa Teng)

Teresa TengChinese difficulty: ★☆☆☆☆
Singing difficulty: ★☆☆☆☆

“The Moon Represents my Heart” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” must exist in an alternate dimension where original songs need another artist’s cover to catapult them to fame. Everyone knows a different version of the song, but as someone who heard it for the first time a year ago, I can understand the timelessness which makes the song such a classic. (Video and lyrics)

3. 我的歌声里 (Wǒ de Gēshēng Lǐ) – 曲婉婷 (Qu Wanting)

Qu WangtingChinese difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
Singing difficulty: ★★★☆☆

“You Exist in my Song” is one of the few cases in which the singer compliments the song. The piece by itself is still strong enough to stir emotions, but it is Qu’s comfortable and husky tone that completes the atmosphere of bittersweet nostalgia. Her voice spreads outwards and compels others to share it by singing, an ideal quality for KTV with a crowd. (Video and lyrics)

4. 童话 (Tóng Huà) – 光良 (Michael Wong)

Michael WongChinese difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
Singing difficulty: ★★★☆☆

Overdramatic music video aside, there is good reason for the lasting popularity of “Fairytale.” Its low and slow verses that crescendo into intense choruses may dull after one too many plays but the spark is reborn once the song is sung aloud. What KTV night would be complete without a heart-wrenching ballad, anyways? (Video and lyrics)

5. 改变自己 (Gǎibìan Zìjǐ) – 王力宏 (Wang Leehom)

Wang LeehomChinese difficulty: ★★★☆☆
Singing difficulty: ★★☆☆☆

Another big name in Chinese pop, Leehom has been around since the mid-90s and is well recognized (at least according to my iTunes play count) for his ballads. He also experiments with various genres and styles, as is reflected in the rock-ish “Change Me,” with its upbeat melody and message. If you enjoy the song’s feel-good vibes, be sure to also check out “盖世英雄” (Gàishì Yīngxióng), “Heroes of the Earth.” (Video and lyrics)

6. 对面的女孩看过来 (Duìmiàn de Nǚ Hái Kàn Guòlái) – 任贤齐 (Richie Jen)

Richie JenChinese difficulty: ★★☆☆☆
Singing difficulty: ★★☆☆☆

“Hey Girl Look this Way” is to KTV what “Cha Cha Slide” is to American Bar and Bat Mitzvah. People may gripe about having to sing (or dance to) it yet again, but it’s popular for good reason. Light, fun, and accompanied by cheesy choreography, it’s a longtime crowd favorite that has not failed thus far in bringing shyer participants (myself included) out of their shells and onto the makeshift stage. (Video and lyrics)

7. 听妈妈的话 (Tīng Māmā de Huà ) – 周杰伦 (Jay Chou)

Jay ChouChinese difficulty: ★★★★☆
Singing difficulty: ★★☆☆☆

When I first heard “Listen to Mother’s Words” some eight-plus years ago I knew zero Chinese, but Chou’s soft and casual rapping coupled with the pleasant piano accompaniment stuck with me nonetheless. Hopefully those who take on the challenge of memorizing the rap are met with better luck than mine; if not, slurring and mumbling while over-pronouncing the last syllable of every line like I do is also acceptable. (Video and lyrics)

8. 至少还有你 (Zhìshǎo Hái Yǒu Nǐ) – 林忆莲 (Sandy Lam)

Sandy LamChinese difficulty: ★☆☆☆☆
Singing difficulty: ★★☆☆☆

Chinese pop music is not everyone’s cup of tea, and understandably so. The endless ballads of despairing love can tire one’s ears after so much repetition. But the softness of Lam’s “At Least I Still Have You” stands the test of time, and is one of the few classics I willingly play outside the glitzy walls of the KTV room. (Video and lyrics)

Have a favorite Chinese song you like to perform at karaoke? Let us know in the comments!