Here's how it worked: production companies would get a contract from one of the major karaoke video players. (More often than not, it was Pioneer, the undisputed king of this niche market for the '80s and much of the '90s.) Song assignments would go out to various directors who worked for the company. The directors would submit a treatment ("Friends in Low Places," featuring a dwarf, for instance), and nine times out of 10, it would be approved. The shoot would wrap in a few days tops, and then it was on to the next one.
Because the goal here was to burn through the catalog as quickly as possible, the directors of these videos had little to no supervision. Which meant you had a license to get super weird, even on the most straightforward Hot 100 songs.
"There was one video for 'Hold My Hand' by Hootie & the Blowfish," says Norry Niven, who directed karaoke videos for Pioneer in the late '80s through the '90s. "And we shot half of that underwater with two models. We shot the other half in a giant green field. We had raided this antique store and for some reason, they had all of these hands. Big, giant plastic hands. And we planted them in the field like they were growing out of the grass. We had a white horse and all these weird mirrors. It was so cool. It was such a different video."
Or you could always go riff on a crowd-pleaser: 1920s German expressionist film.
"I can't remember what music video this was for, but we painted this set as a kind of forced-perspective, [The Cabinet of] Dr. Caligari thing," says Blood. "We kind of went nuts with this set, the pieces would slide in and out while we were dollying forward. Months later, the producer wanted to make some space, so she threw the set pieces out in the back alley. My friend later saw them in one of the homeless tent villages. People were using these pieces of forced-perspective architecture as part of their house."
Apart from general surrealism and absurdity, karaoke videos did have some common tropes. Brian Raftery lays out a set of character types in his book, Don’t Stop Believin’: How Karaoke Conquered the World and Changed My Life, that includes the wandering lover ("two distraught ex-paramours who spend their time taking walks alone and frowning at nature"), the horny bugle boy ("'80s-style male fantasies, set in a world where polo shirts are always tucked into khakis and blondes are always poured into Ferraris"), and the random fly girl ("women wearing neon-colored baseball caps and doing the Hammer Dance"). "That was almost its own genre," says Raftery. "That whole late-'80s, early-'90s sort of Spike Lee, very vibrant-colored videos with people just dancing haphazardly… I think they did those because they could film a bunch of dancers and maybe not know exactly which song it was going to, so it could be reused."