Top 20 Karaoke Songs in Japan: English Hits

top karaoke songs in japan

Today we look at the most popular karaoke English songs in Japan. 

While karaoke is ubiquitous around the world, Japan just happens to take it to another level. After all, it was invented in Japan: kara meaning 'empty' and oke a shortened word for 'orchestra.' Basically, a one-person band.

Most Japanese karaoke bars (especially the professional chains) have internet-connected machines, so the rankings are accurate with a decent sample size. In fact,  if you're feeling like a superstar, you can enable scoring rank for each personal performance to share (and compete!) online nationally. But that's for another story.

The top 20 song list below contains music spanning almost 50 years:

  • 1970s:  4 songs
  • 1980s:  1 song
  • 1990s:  5 songs
  • 2000s: 0 songs (Apologies to Black Eyed Peas, Usher, OutKast and Lady Gaga) 
  • 2010s: 10 songs

The biggest question is how much of the expat community and foreigners influence the list. While there's no denying that there is greater contribution than normal, Japan is 98.5% ethnic Japanese.

English is studied in Japan from elementary to high school. While not fluent speakers, the average Japanese should be able to read English. Also Western culture is quite widespread, so it's safe to assume this list reflects Japanese tastes for foreign music.  

Summary of 2015 List:

20. Dancing Queen by ABBA
19. I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston
18. I Want It That Way by Backstreet Boys
17. Good Time by Owl City & Carly Rae Jepsen
16. Story of My Life by One Direction
15. Live While We're Young by One Direction
14. I Really Like You by Carly Rae Jepsen
13. Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters
12. We Are The World by USA for Africa
11. Let It Be by The Beatles
10. Break Free by Ariana Grande & Zedd
9. Top of The World by The Carpenters
8. I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing by Aerosmith
7. A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme) by Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle
6. Shake It Off by Taylor Swift
5. What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction
4. Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen
3. My Heart Will Go On by Celion Dion
2. We Are Never Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift
1. Let It Go by Idina Menzel

Full details below include typical gender and age demographics along with other popular songs that didn't make the cut :

20. Dancing Queen by ABBA

One of the most defining disco & Europop songs of all time. ABBA's popular hit is still staying alive despite the 1970s being nearly half-a-century old. Of course, the majority of crooners are older Japanese ladies over the age of 50 when disco influenced their teenage and early adult years. "Dancing Queen" usually ranks in the 18th-20th spot year in and out.

19. I Will Always Love You by Whitney Houston

Written and composed by Dolly Parton as a country song in the 70s, Whitney Houston's cover of it in the 1992 film The Bodyguard made it one of the definitive love songs of the 90s. Stats show that Japanese women in their 40s have the greatest love of all for it. It's been on the fringes of the top 20 for several years now.

18. I Want It That Way by Backstreet Boys

Boybands make their first and certainly not last appearance in the top 20 karaoke charts. Released in 1999, Backstreet Boy's signature song may be one of the best boyband songs of all time. Men in their mid-20s to mid-30s are biggest singers. The song has been consistently on the list for several years. Backstreet's back, alright.

17. Good Time by Owl City ft. Carly Rae Jepsen

Thankfully avoiding the one-hit-wonder label, Owl City's and Carly Rae Jepsen's second hit made waves in the summer of 2012. A feel-good song that is equally enjoyed by Japanese males (48%) & females (52%) in their 20s which isn't a surprise considering it's a duet. "Good Time" might make it to the list at the end of 2016, but it's slipped three spots from last year.

16. Story Of My Life by One Direction

One Direction's folksy ballad is the group's first of three songs to make the list. It's no secret that many teenage and young Japanese women (like many screaming teens around the world) are huge fans of the group. The song slipped 10 spots from last year and might not be on the top 20 next year.

15. Live While We're Young by One Direction

One Direction's third most popular bubble-gum pop song (behind "What Makes You Beautiful" & "One Thing") attracts both Japanese men (46%) and women (54%) almost equally. Majority of singers are in their teens and 20s. A top 5 song for two years running, it's dropped considerably this year.

14. I Really Like You by Carly Rae Jepsen

Carly Rae Jepsen, like One Direction, also features 3 songs on the list. "I Really Like You" was a decent hit in the West but big in Japan. Vast majority of teens and people in their early 20s are the biggest contributors. This is the song's first appearance on the list.

13. Yesterday Once More by The Carpenters

The Carpenters have long been heavily favored in Japan and their music is still popular 40-50 years after the duo's meteoric rise. Adults over the age of 40, especially after 50, are the still belching out Carpenter songs. The group has and probably will continue to be featured in the top 15 for many years.

12. We Are The World by USA for Africa

Take the most celebrated singers of the time (1985), put them in one room, give them a cause (relief for African famine), and you get one of the biggest singles of the 80s. "We Are The World" is still well-known in Japan. After all, the 80s was Japan's economic height, power, and nostalgic feel-good era. The song is featured in many school textbooks to this day, so it's a good mix of the young and old familiar with the tune. The song has consistently been in the top 15.

11. Let It Be - The Beatles

It's the oldest song on this list and one of the most iconic worldwide. 1970s Japan was a time when post-WWII growth was in full steam and the youth rapidly embraced Western culture. And nothing was bigger than The Beatles. Also a consistent karaoke staple as a top 15 song for many years.

10. Break Free by Ariana Grande ft. Zedd

Ariana Grande's EDM (electronic dance music) song not only debuts the artist on the list for the first time but pushes her to the top 10. This is the part when lots of young ladies in their teens and 20s rock to the beat.

9. Top Of The World by The Carpenters

While not The Carpenters most famous song, it is one of the most singable. Surprisingly, distribution is fairly even between Japanese men (45%) and women (55%). While most popular with the age group over 40+, many people in their 30s are singing to it, too, despite being slightly out of their age range. This may be due to being a theme song for two Japanese dramas in 1995 and 2003 and also featured the 2010 movie Shrek After Ever. 

8. I Don't Want To Miss A Thing by Aerosmith

Aerosmith's power ballad for the 1998 movie Armageddon has aged very well in Japan and still is favored by many Japanese adults. Majority of backers are Japanese men in their 30s. Consistently a top 7-8 song. 

7. A Whole New World (Aladdin's Theme) by Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle

Disney rules. So it's no wonder that many of their animated movie soundtracks make the list. The height of it in the early 90s and captured in the Aladdin theme song, a power love ballad duet. Very popular with people in their 30s. Also a usual top-10 performer.

6. Shake It Off by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has a very strong presence in Japan and features two of her hits in the top 10. Again the majority of people shaking it off are young women in their teens and 20s. This is the song's first debut on the chart.

5. What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction

One Direction's first hit and most popular pop song rounds out the top 5. This song is well-received with teens and young adults. And it's almost an even split performed by 49% of males and 51% of females. Has been a top 5 track for three years running.

4. Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen

The catchiest pop song of 2012. "Call Me Maybe" has been in the top 5 for three years and counting. It's dominated by Japanese teens and should stay on the list for quite awhile, maybe even joining the pantheon of the steady top-20 lister.

3. My Heart Will Go On by Celion Dion

One of the bestselling singles of all time for one of the bestselling movies of all time, Titanic. Celion Dion's late-90s sweeping love song has usually been in the top 5 for many years. Loved by Japanese women in their 30s, 40s, and 50s. Expect lots of king of the world poses.

2. We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together by Taylor Swift

"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" has been a top-2 song for three years running and doesn't look to be slowing soon. Like...ever. It's heavily loved by Japanese teenagers and will likely age very well on the list for several years. 

1. Let It Go by Idina Menzel

Shocker! Ok, not really. The Frozen theme song has been #1 for two years running and most likely will be on the list for many years if not decades. Popular with women in their teens, 20s, and 30s. The cold apparently doesn't bother anyone anyway.

Honorable Mentions

Below is a list of songs that have either fallen out of the Top 20 or have been steady performers for many years, if not, decades. Songs are listed by the year of release, newest first.

Baby by Justin Bieber ft. Ludacris

Had been a top 20 song for three years but fell off the list this year. What do you mean?!

Poker Face by Lady Gaga

Lady Gaga had 4 songs in the Top 20 (3 of them in the Top 5!) in 2012 but flamed out since then despite being a powerhouse and mainstay for several years on the list. This might be foreshadowing for other recent pop artists. Beyond the edge of glory is a steep fall. 

Bad Day by Daniel Powter

"Bad Day" isn't a Top 20 song anymore but has managed to age gracefully with the 30-something crowd. Guess you don't need to sing a sad song to turn it around.

Baby One More Time by Britney Spears

Like Lady Gaga, Britney Spears had her time as the karaoke go-to queen. Still sung nostalgically along with "Toxic" and "Oops!... I Did It Again."  She's so lucky she's a star.

Don't Look Back In Anger by Oasis

Oasis had a cult-like following in the 90s and manages to live forever in karaoke parlors.

Take On Me by A-ha

The definitive music video and song of the 80s. "Take On Me" is a bit of a crowd pleaser. Apparently, "I'll be gone in a day or two" means 30+ years and counting. 

Like A Virgin by Madonna

We don't need to preach. Madonna shows that pop artists songs can age gracefully. Her other hits "La Isla Bonita" & "Material Girl" are also regularly sung.

Beat It by Michael Jackson

The King of Pop was the 80s. It's a no-brainer that Michael Jackson is a mainstay in many sessions. "Thriller" & "Man in the Mirror" also get some play time. Although we'd rather get dirty with Diana. 

Honesty by Billy Joel

Most of Billy Joel's music has a pretty decent following with the older crowd. "Just The Way You Are" & "Piano Man" round out the top 3 Billy Joel songs. But we're always looking for an uptown girl.

We Are The Champions by Queen

Almost everyone in Japan knows this one and "We Will Rock You." And of course, "Bohemian Rhapsody." (Let him go!)

Hotel California by The Eagles

The Eagles signature hit makes sure we're always checking in.

Can't Help Falling In Love by Elvis Presley

Ladies and gentlemen, Elvis is still in the building. 

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