Back this week with karaoke advice to carry you through the weekend, it’s Duets–your very own karaoke advice column where there’s only one rule: No “Don’t Stop Believin’”.
Send your karaoke queries and quandaries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I feel pretty strongly that the only karaoke even remotely enjoyable for other people is if your voice is incredible, horrible, or if you're a PERFORMER, you know? I'm none of these. My voice is OK! I was in chorus! I'm kind of shy singing even when I’m drunk! But it's also fun!
I feel like I just seem like a try-hard wannabe during karaoke?! Like, a girl auditioning for a school play and she'll get cast, but like, in the chorus. This is not fun for anyone to watch! How can I, someone who’s not a natural-born performer, make my dumb singing at least remotely entertaining?
I have friends who go hang out at karaoke and don’t even sing – they just like it, and think the vibe’s fun. (To be fair, I also have friends who go hang out at karaoke and don’t even sing – and they hate it.) I always think the people who sing karaoke and are the “best” are the ones who genuinely seem like they’re enjoying themselves, whether they have a good voice/put on an amazing performance or not. But I get what you’re saying: It’s hard out there for a shy person with a mediocre voice. I feel like what you can really excel at here is finding the perfect song to sing – one that is not only going to flatter your voice (duh), but one that’ll surprise the crowd. Choose something they haven’t heard recently and where the pleasant surprise of the song choice will make it so you have to put in really minimal performance effort.
For example, in Joshua Tree over New Year’s, my friend Christine sang Santana’s “Smooth” – not only one of the weirdest songs to ever hit No. 1, but one that (no doubt) the saloon hadn’t heard sung in a while (or even ever?). Naturally, everyone loved it. It was the right mix of gimmick, surprise and ‘90s throwback that (usually!) gets ‘em everytime. This is a bar-to-bar thing, so you really gotta read the crowd before you dive into a song choice, but I feel like, as long as you aren’t singing musicals, it’s hard to come off as a “try hard” in karaoke. I always think that the “good singers” who sing karaoke come off as show-offs – even when I know they totally can’t help it. They’re just good singers! Still, having a too-good-to-believe-are-you-a-professional-or-something voice in karaoke can really isolate people.
What is a song people think is great for karaoke, but is always bad?
Let’s get the classics out the way: “Don’t Stop Believin’”, “Sweet Caroline”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Summer Nights”, “Baby Got Back”, “Love Shack”... These are all no-gos. No matter the crowd’s vibe, don’t sing these! No one wants to hear them.
Someone mentioned “Killing Me Softly”, which is a really good answer – if only because, every single time, people choose the wrong version (either they’re going for the Fugees remix and they get the Roberta Flack original, or vice versa) and can’t handle it. Same problem for R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)”, which (if you do karaoke often), you’ll learn also has a non-remixed version that people accidentally sign up for all the time.
Often, people will go for difficult rap songs that they don’t actually know. Those are always bad, if only because it’s really hard to recover from a rap song you can’t keep up with. I don’t need to mention it again, but: No one ever wants to hear you sing a musical. Or “Tribute” by Tenacious D.
If you do karaoke with the same group of people every weekend, maybe give them a break and change it up from your normal line-up. This is something I’m guilty of – when you hit a new bar, you want to impress them with something you know that you know – but think of your poor friends! They don’t need to hear you sing “...Baby One More Time” for the 15th time. Do a little pre-party research and try something new.
(It must be said that I support karaoke fans to sing whatever they want – just get a private room so I don’t have to hear it.)
Which brings us to this week’s (related!) playlist...
PLAYLIST: Songs That Are Perfect For Private Karaoke Rooms
Kate Bush, “Wuthering Heights”
One time I was in a karaoke room full of people and we greedily sang this twice.
Mariah Carey & Whitney Houston, “When You Believe”
A perfect duet for two completely shameless people.
Del Amitri, “Roll to Me”
Own your friends by pulling this one out of the dusty closet, and then proceed to not know any of the words.
Jessica Simpson, “I Want to Love You Forever”
This is a selfish pick. I just want to hear you do it.
Spice Girls, “2 Become 1”
Way slower than you remember. Save this for a private room where you can pass the mic around the circle like a campfire song.
Any song from any of the Jock Jams compilation albums
Try Amber’s “This is Your Night” or Vengaboys’ “Boom Boom Boom Boom.”
Sure, why not.
Dashboard Confessional, “Screaming Infidelities”
…Or any other sappy emo songs from the same era.
“Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen
Sure, it’s really fun, but no one should have to suffer through this in public. (Especially the parents who have already heard it, on repeat, all day.)
Dido, “White Flag”
This will silence a karaoke room.
All of the Counting Crows song you can stand – in a row.
Just a fun Wednesday night challenge.
P.S. Don’t forget to send your karaoke queries and quandaries to email@example.com.