February 3, 2013 by Julia
Last night the girls and I went to a local bar (attached to a motel) for some good old-fashioned karaoke, in honor of my 34th birthday. I almost flaked out and told people to just come crash at my place with wine and a movie instead (due to the usual mommy tiredness, and the cold outside – got a lot of flak over that excuse), but then I was talked back into the karaoke, and I’m SO glad we stuck with the original plan.
I’ve only karaoke-d 2 ½ times (the first time I attempted to sing a song in a bar in outer NYC I completely flubbed it – hence the “half”). But my small experience has taught me that it is a great thing because:
It doesn’t really matter if you’re a good singer or not. People aren’t expecting brilliance; they just want to see you have fun.
It’s actually pretty entertaining to watch. Back-to-back, we saw a young Goth couple (he wore full-on Edward Scissorhands-style buckle gear, she looked like Marilyn Manson in an elfin cape) snarl out metal, a soulful older woman with swaying backup singers bring down the house with “Midnight Train to Georgia,” and a nearly toothless, clearly intoxicated white man sing and rap something with a sexual subtext that I think was called “Daddy’s Home”…while dancing with curvy women in the audience who were totally feeling him. He knew what he was doing! It was crazy! He didn’t even have to read the lyrics. He seemed like the kind of guy who was there every week, so maybe he just does that song every time, and all the other regulars expect it from him. Also, there is such drama. Some people seem to want to sink into a pit on the stage as they sing, others fancy themselves Christina Aguilera, and at one point a Patti Labelle sound-alike stepped in to help out a younger girl who was having a little trouble with her song. We wondered if that was offensive to the other girl. The people-watching here is even better than at an airport. Yes.
It’s really fun to discuss what songs you should sing and/or your friends should sing. Also, it’s fun to psych each other up for a performance. Lots of laughing and fun nervousness and bonding through the silliness of it all. It’s more memorable than your usual dinner or movie or whatever.
It’s a thrill to get up there on a “stage,” folks, and once you do it, you want to get back up there and do it again. It’s so much harder than you think it will be, once YOU’RE the one looking at the lyrics on the monitor. So basically the first time you sing, you feel like you’ve screwed up, and you want to go back and do better the next time. A little bit of that feeling, mixed with the desire for one night of stardom, mixed with the craziness of actually singing for strangers like a real singer….whooo-boy. It’s fun! Well, I like to sing. Fiona thinks I sing a little too much at home. So maybe I’m biased. But I assume there are similar feelings for people who people don’t actually sing much, too.
You can adopt a persona totally different from your actual self. For instance, I like to sing angst-y, angry girl songs – Fiona Apple, Alanis, Madonna. That’s so not me. Okay, maybe the angst is, but not the “I’ve been careless with a delicate man” part, or the “every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you FEEL it!!” part. Ooh, I gotta do some Garbage next time, or Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Grrrrrl power!!!
Now for some pointers:
Only sing songs that you truly know the melody to. Remember that the singer’s voice won’t be there to guide you along, and some of these backtracks give you no direction at all. For some reason, Alanis songs have messed me up twice, because the back tracks were so hard to follow. (I sang “You Oughta Know” last night, and couldn’t figure out what key it was in. Other than the fact that I was in a completely different key than the back track, I tried to bring the rat-a-tat-tat bitchiness and had fun in the process.)
Which brings me to…if you’re going to fail, fail BIG. In fact, do everything big and loud. It’s probably not as over-the-top as you think it is, and it will read better to a goofy (drunken) crowd.
Don’t take yourself too seriously, even if you’re really, really good. Make that especially if you’re really good. The crowd might just turn against you. Now is not the time to mention that you went to Julliard on a full scholarship. A “Yeah, baby!!” would serve much better as a spoken intro.
Sing songs that people will recognize. More than half the battle is engaging your audience, and they will forgive a multitude of sins if they like your song. There’s a reason the American Idol judges harp on about song choice.
Mock swagger is good, especially if you’re doing Sinatra. Holding out a note for a long time is good. Feeling the music is good. Don’t focus so much on your performance quality that you forget what you’re singing about. If you feel it, the notes will come. (Cue Field of Dreams soundtrack.)
And last but not least, support your fellow amateurs with lots of whooping and clapping. Double the amount of whooping for your actual friends.
We’re totally doing this again soon. In fact, anytime I get a hankering for another tattoo, I’ll just do karaoke instead! Is this going to be a year of thrills, or what?