Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Beginner's Guide to Karaoke

It was my birthday about a month ago, and since I have to share my special day with America, I've always liked to celebrate in an elaborate, over the top fashion with my friends and loved ones. Like most years, I had no idea what I was going to do until about 5 days before, and one idea struck me as a change-up of sorts: karaoke. I recently saw the movie Lost in Translation and had the image of Bill Murray singing a My Bloody Valentine song, as Scarlett Johansson skulked around wearing a wig, so I suppose I was inspired by that for a theme. This ended up being the best idea I've had since mixing Spicy Hot V-8 with Tito's Vodka and calling it a V-9. That night my friends and I took over the Boombox in Providence and basically hogged the karaoke list because we were taught to never mingle with strangers, and it was spectacular. Now that I feel that I am a karaoke master because of this one time that I did it, I'm gonna give you my ultimate guide to karaoke.

Disco balls are always welcomed.

Set Your Goals
There are many reasons to sing at karaoke. Maybe you're a bunch of bros trying to make girls laugh by singing Selena Gomez or *Nsync (tip: make sure you're either really good at singing these or just so comically into it that they pity you). Maybe you want to pay homage to one of your favorite groups, like Hanson and sing MMMBop or any other song they wrote....which I'm sure they did...right? Maybe you want to try to get discovered by a talent ag....yeah never mind. Let's face it, the real go at karaoke is to have some good clean and hopefully drunken fun. Any other goal is you just lying to yourself, but hey whatever it takes to get you up on stage.

Stage Presence/Swagger
Let's face it, most people can't sing. This means that probably 70% of the battle when it comes to Karaoke is putting on a goddamn show. The key to this is jumping in full gear and never looking back. Never, ever half-ass a karaoke performance. People would rather have you not sing at all than be up there awkwardly and stiff as a statue. You'll waste everyone's time and it will no doubt feel like the longest 4 minutes of your life. You need to channel your inner Axl Rose with weird dance moves. Live up to the lyrics: when performing say, The Sweater Song by Weezer, go ahead and take the risk of laying down on the floor of the bar, just to make people remember you. That's what myself and my friend Radical Rick did, and it was totally worth it, besides having to throw out my jeans afterwards.
Lying on the floor, lying on the floor...I should've crouched like Ricky did.

When performing, you should aim to be like Chris Farley during his time on Saturday Night Live. He was always willing to throw around his body for the sake of a good laugh. You can easily gain the respect of the room by being a bit whacky. This can save you when you have a shitty voice and you know your version of 'No Sleep Til Brooklyn' sucks: people will remember you for being a good-timer, not a good-singer.

Putting your body on the line helps sell the performance.

Know Your Audience
You need to work the crowd like you're hustling them for money. Get other people involved! Pass that mic around like a joint at Woodstock. Many songs have filler in them such as ooh's and aaah's that you can strategically let others chime in by sticking a microphone in their face. This being said, you should also be careful when you are asked to chime in, especially when it's a stranger. I'd like to take this time to formally apologize to the woman in this picture who risked her performance of Taylor Swift's 'Shake It Off' by giving me the chance to sing along, only to have me drop some choice swear words because I hate Taylor Swift so much. I think her face sums up the situation, but anywho, sorry kinda.

Again, sorry for the salty language.

Moving on, knowing your audience can also help reduce awkward situations. You probably shouldn't sing Panic! At The Disco's super smash hit 'I Write Sins Not Tragedies' if a bachelorette party is present, since it may get weird having a whole bar say "what a shame the poor groom's bride is a whore!" in unison. We don't want to wreck any marriages before they even happen. You also don't want to get too grim at a karaoke event. I love The Smiths as much as most depressed people do, but they can really bring the vibe down as people hear you sing doomed lyrics, like in the song 'Girlfriend In A Coma' or 'Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now'. I guess the more upbeat the better in this situation. Oh yeah, also, there will never be a situation that is suitable for a Nickelback song. Ever. Even as a joke, it's not funny. Bars should have a universal policy to throw out anyone attempting to sing Nickelback.

This guy here knows to not sing Nickelback!

You should probably choose a song that most of the bar knows, and you should also know at least 80% of the lyrics already. There is no problem with looking at the lyrics on the screen, I mean, that's why it is there in the first place, but you'll like like you're drowning without your swimmy floats if you look totally perplexed and say "oh THOSE are the words!" when you realize a lyric isn't what you thought it was. The less you need the screen, the more ability you have to work on the whole stage presence thing. The most impressive karaoke performance I've ever seen was a woman in her mid 40's crush 'Give It Away' by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She didn't need the lyric screen once, which really impressed me as I am a big Chili Peppers fan, had heard that song in particular about a thousand times before, and was reading the lyrics completely blown away that they were actually what they were. She got a well deserved standing ovation at the bar, and if I had a random bundle of roses with me, I gladly would've tossed them at her.

You go girl.

Song Selection
This is key. You should have a few trusty standbys all ready to go so you don't have to flip through the song book which is about the size of the Yellow Pages (is that still a thing?). You can't go wrong with anything 90's, unless you want to do cheesy hip-hop like Sir Mix-A-Lot or Will Smith's 'Gettin Jiggy With It'. The world doesn't need anymore of that crap. But yeah 90's are a safe bet, as are 80's hits and hip-hop of the early 00's (there still isn't a good name for that decade yet is there?). Do whatever makes you feel comfortable and gives you the most ability to hit it out of the park and earn the applause of 5+ people, which I think is a valid goal at any karaoke bar. If you're stuck for suggestions, I'll leave you with my Top 15 Safe Bets for Karaoke

  • 'Total Eclipse of the Heart' by Bonnie Tyler. This is the crown jewel of karaoke. Overused? Maybe. Still a crowd pleaser? Absolutely. Fun fact: Bonnie Tyler was named the patron saint of Karaoke by Pope John Paul II. It's a song that everyone knows, will sing a long with, and if you get a trusty companion to accompany you for the 'turn around briiiight eyes' part, you're performance becomes even more kick ass. 
  • 'Take Me Home Tonight' by Eddie Money. While he's probably playing a bingo hall in Bend, Oregon tomorrow night and sleeping in his car afterward, Eddie Money did give us a hit that is very worthy of karaoke gold. To be honest, you have a great shot of putting on a better performance of this song in 2016 than Eddie Money probably can!
Playing a VFW Hall near you!
  • 'White Houses' by Vanessa Carlton. I admit that I've wanted to perform this song before at karaoke but haven't had the guts to do it...yet. This song will most likely be performed by a group of sorority sisters with fake id's, or by bros trying to sleep with said sorority sisters. Hell of a song though.
Leader of the pack
  • 'It Was A Good Day' by Ice Cube. A bit slower, sure, but knowing all the words to this jam will impress anyone who has a pulse. I also enjoy how someone actually did the research to find out that this good day occurred on January 20th, 1992.
  • 'Last Nite' by The Strokes. Everyone knows this song. It gets the hips shaking, and there is no band on the planet cooler than The Strokes. Just look at them. This is also a karaoke friendly song as lead singer Julian Casablancas kinda always sounds like he's mumbling and performing karaoke while 70% certain of the lyrics, so it just kinda works!
They ooze cool
  • 'Chop Suey!' by System of a Down. If the crowd is deader than Ben Franklin, go a head and wake them up with your best rendition of Chop Suey!, it'll be sure to get you some looks. Don't actually do this.
  • 'Cute Without the E (Cut From the Team)' by Taking Back Sunday. When you have an angsty yet sentimental crowd, this is the tune to go with. All the teens who adored this song 13 years ago will soon adore you for bringing it back to relevance at whatever bar you are at. Who knows, you may even walk away with a thousand clever phone numbers on a thousand clever napkins.
  • 'All The Small Things' by Blink 182. This hits home for the generation who has now grown up to realize the truth behind the lyric "work sucks...I know". Also, people go apeshit crazy for Blink 182.
Thanks a lot Angels and Airwaves :-/
  • 'I Want It That Way' by the Backstreet Boys. Justin Timberlake is great and all, and *Nsync may have had more hits, but none had the karaoke capabilities that 'I Want It That Way' does. In this round of the epic late 90's boyband battle, Backstreet Boys won the 'still awesome for karaoke 20 years from now' round.
  • 'Just A Friend' by Biz Markie. A tragic tale of love that took a dark turn featuring a girl named 'Blah Blah Blah'. This is a crowd pleaser that will get everyone to at least sing the chorus with you, because for once, you've got what they need.
  • 'Semi-Charmed Life' by Third Eye Blind. Probably the most famous song about crystal meth ever. 
  • 'Summer Nights' by...idk, I guess Grease. One man's guilty pleasure song could easily win the heart of a girl obsessed with all things broadway. This has some serious risk, but the reward could also pay off big.
  • 'Surrender' by Cheap Trick. Perfect if you are surrounded by an older crowd. I had to include at least one classic rock song from the 70's, so there. I'm hitting different age groups here. So sue me. 
  • 'Wonderwall' by Oasis. I will go to my grave fighting that Blur is the better band, but I have to go with the more mainstream, realistic approach when it comes to who had the better karaoke song, which is why Wonderwall is on this list. By the way, don't sing 'Champagne Supernova.' It's too long. 
  • 'Loser' by Beck. The ultimate self-loathing song. I mean after all, how many karaoke songs can you utter the phrases 'beefcake pantyhose' and 'slap the turkey-neck'. 
And with that, you are on your way to kicking ass and taking names in the strange yet wonderful world of karaoke. Also, I'd like to give a shoutout to Rob "British Bob" Piesse who won my Instagram caption contest. It was like choosing the tallest midget, every entry kinda sucked but I guess his sucked the least, so congrats British Bob!