For Your Consideration: Weekly Karaoke

for your consideration

Welcome to For Your Consideration, a new series about things we love and love to do — and we’d like to give you permission to embrace your authentic self and love them too.


Once you start going to karaoke every week, you can process your emotions in real-time via song — and dance, if you’re the kind of person who does choreography at karaoke, which maybe you should be — just like a character in a movie musical. And who doesn’t want to be a character in a movie musical? It has been your life goal since you were five years old and your parents accidentally let you watch Grease, which is why sometimes, at karaoke, you sing “Summer Lovin’” with a sometimes willing, sometimes begrudging friend.

Find a place, your place. It’s not enough to go to karaoke every week. You must go to the same karaoke bar every week, cement yourself as a regular. Because, you soon realize, there really are regulars. There’s the delightful weirdo Diana, who often brings the house down with her rendition of “Gasolina.” There’s Delilah, who somehow is always in shorts no matter the weather and sings Disney songs in the completely wrong key, but that’s okay, because the choreography is on point and she’s the first regular to start noticing you, and one night she hugs you. Even though you’re pretty sure she doesn’t know your name yet, you’re thrilled.

There’s also Dawn, who is single handedly bringing back mall goth aesthetics. There’s another girl whose name you never catch, who is always a hot mess, and who you’re never really sure if she’s dating the other regular Debra, who brings a certain slouchy energy to her performances of mostly early-aughts era pop-punk songs, or if they’re exes who for some reason keep coming back to karaoke together.

The realest regulars don’t even pick their own songs. They’re picked for them by the host, who knows what’s in their repertoire or sometimes surprises them with something new that’s still in their range. You’re not quite there yet, but you want to be. You know that true karaoke regular status is something earned, not given, but you still tip the host a little extra every week, just in case that helps.

Occasionally, you pick songs out of your range. And that’s okay. One of your friends always picks songs out of his range, and it doesn’t matter because he commits fully, and he made you cry a little bit with his Kate Bush cover that one time. (You come to karaoke specifically not to cry, but this one time feels okay.) One week, you sign up for “Bring Me To Life” by Evanescence before you’ve even had a drink yet, and you realize that’s an absurdly bold choice, so you panic and change it to “Because Of You” by Kelly Clarkson.

This summer was not the summer of “Summer Lovin.’” That was last summer and the summer before that. The worst summer of your life has followed the two best, and you wish it didn’t happen in that order, because it makes it so much harder to remember the good ones. This was the summer of angry femme pop and the occasional somber power ballad. It was the summer of Kelly Clarkson and Robyn and ABBA and Celine.

There’s an order to things at karaoke, the kind of organized chaos that scares and excites you. People have their regular songs, but sometimes they surprise with something new. Some weeks, the crowd is small, mostly just the regulars. Other weeks, there’s an influx of new people or a birthday party. Everyone’s a little too drunk. The host is a karaoke egalitarian, always makes sure to space the queue out so that no one sings twice in a row, no one gets neglected. After just three weeks of karaoke, he knows your name because of how often you ask where you are in the queue. Thankfully he’s charmed by your eagerness.

One week, you change the pronouns to a certain pop-country revenge banger to better fit your own narrative, and the crowd goes wild. So you try it again the next week and again and again and one more time because, god this feels good. When your therapist asks you what you’ve been doing to let all the anger you’ve been holding in out, you reply, without hesitation, “karaoke.” She laughs, but you’re serious.

You skip one week, and you regret it almost immediately. Instead, you spend the night waiting for someone, which is how you’ll spend the next night and the next. God, time moves so much faster at karaoke.

Every week at midnight the host plays Robyn Roulette, drawing a random name from the pile of slips to sing “Dancing On My Own.” The very first night you go, you and your friend are picked, and about ten seconds into scream-singing this perfect song that earlier in the month you accidentally listened to eight times in a row without realizing it, you realize you’re maybe relating a little too much, that this whole moment is too on-the-nose. But, hey, no one comes to karaoke to be fucking nuanced.

On a slow week when it’s mostly just regulars, the host remarks that it’s family night. It’s true that you’ve come to start calling this crew of singing weirdos your karaoke family, and it’s true that this is the one night a week when you actually feel like yourself lately. You know they aren’t really your family; most of them aren’t even really your friends. You know that the emotional intimacy you experience here is slightly simulated. Even with the actual friends who come with you, there’s a layer of protection, like karaoke is a way to press pause on the outside world while also singing your way through it.

But this faux emotional intimacy appeals to you. The strangers could piece together what’s happening in your life if they really tried, if they paid close attention to your song choices and to the off-hand comments you sometimes make on the mic before you start singing. But in truth they have no idea what’s happening, never could, probably aren’t analyzing your karaoke preferences in the way you obsessively do with them. Most people just pick songs they can sing well. It’s not that deep.

You feel safe and comfortable here precisely because there are still walls up. You’re still performing. The other regulars don’t know your last name or that you write or that you will cry before eventually falling asleep as you try to combat insomnia tonight. But they know you can hit the high note in the bridge on “Behind These Hazel Eyes.”

So you keep coming back to karaoke every week, because you’re good at this, and it’s nice to be liked for just being you and doing the shit you like to do. You’re already looking forward to next week. Maybe you’ll sing something new (you won’t).

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is a Brooklyn-based writer, television critic, and comedian who spends most of her time over-analyzing queer subtext on television, singing "Take Me Or Leave Me" in public places, and assembling cheese platters. She has a cat named after Piper Halliwell from Charmed, and her go-to karaoke song is "Everywhere" by Michelle Branch. Her writing can also be found at The A.V. Club and The Hollywood Reporter, and she wrote the webseries Sidetrack. You can catch her screaming in all-caps about Kalinda Sharma, Jennifer Lopez, and oysters on Twitter and Instagram.

Kayla has written 168 articles for us.

18 Comments

  1. This may be my favorite thing you’ve ever written; the sensation of perceived emotional intimacy is so REAL, y’all. Hope your winter is better than you summer (and also I recommend WINGS by Little Mix).

  2. I’ve never sung karaoke because from the time I turned 11 until today, I’ve never sung in public, which means I’ve mimed every school performance, every church visit, every birthday party for over 20 years. This is partly because my parents told me all of my childhood, until this very day, that everyone in our family is completely and genetically tone deaf and awful to listen to, and partly because when I was 10–11 my music teacher wouldn’t let me sing the girl parts because I had “a boy voice”. I’ve only very recently started to dismantle those “truths”, but I’m definitely not ready to sing in public yet.

    BUT

    “But this faux emotional intimacy appeals to you. The strangers could piece together what’s happening in your life if they really tried, if they paid close attention to your song choices and to the off-hand comments you sometimes make on the mic before you start singing. But in truth they have no idea what’s happening, never could, probably aren’t analyzing your karaoke preferences in the way you obsessively do with them.”

    YES. YES. YES. But not as karaoke, but as “Away” messages on ICQ, and as quotes in my profile on pre-Facebook social media, constantly changing, coded teenage cries for help and also super obvious messages to my crush that I could plausibly deny. “What? Oh, no I just happen to like that song that completely and utterly corresponds to what’s going on between us, and I just happened to change my profile completely unrelated to our flirting yesterday.”

  3. Well Im crying. Karaoke is the most healing, freeing, exciting, weird, and emotional part of my week. I am a Monday night regular at White Horse Bar in Oakland, one of the oldest queer bars in the country. I have come into myself BECAUSE of karaoke. I give myself permission to be exactly who I am when I am holding that mic. I dance (choreographed or spontaneously) like everyones watching (cause I love that shit). The KJ knows me and always adds my name in a second time for when I think of my next song. I’ve met cute queers, new friends, and grown closer to those who join in the sacred space. I’ve never regretted a night of karaoke, but let me tell you, I feel intense regret for not going last night! Thank you for writing this beautiful piece about an underrated art ❤️

  4. I have loved every bit of this series and every word you write (that’s true always, and I don’t tell you it enough! I should. I’ll do better.)

    But this line right here?

    “karaoke is a way to press pause on the outside world while also singing your way through it.”

    C’MON!!!!!!!! KKU YOU ARE A MASTER!! I bow at your prowess.

  5. I love this. I have to say, I love singing but I know I can’t sing. That’s why I get a bit mad when people with great voices do karaoke. I always think of karaoke as something for people who can’t sing but need to perform, maybe get a bit drunk, get some catharsis, be happy.

  6. I LOVE this! The summer after I graduated college, I regularly went to karaoke with the same group of people. We always went to the Glenwood, a cozy neighborhood gay bar in Rogers Park, which attracts a mix of older gay men, Loyola musical theatre majors, and young queerdos like me. I’ve been back a few times since, but it’s so hard to find people who want to do karaoke at 10 pm on a Wednesday.

  7. Wow this is perfect.

    I used to love karaoke late night at Old Carriage Inn in Brooklyn but it never occurred to me to try to become a karaoke regular or even to go any other time than as a joke end of night sort of deal.

    I just moved to Minneapolis and looks like a bunch of the Northeast dive bars have karaoke. Any locals seeing this please weigh in with any suggestions to try out and/or any that might be a bit more queer friendly!

  8. This is great! This has me wanting to meet friends weekly or even bi-weekly for karoke night. Last time I did karaoke I chose a song I am familiar with but the place had the extended version; so, after I was done singing, the went into a guitar solo for 2 mintues, really ruined my performance. I am not familiar with that version nor is it on Spotify, really caught me off gaurd. I also promised my (romantic)friend next time I go karaoke with her I’d sing You can Call Me Al by Paul Simon and Neil Diamond(you know the two legendary Jewish singer-song writters).

  9. I love karaoke. I’ve only done it properly like twice, but I loved it. I would do it every week just like this if I could.

    Voice dysphoria is rubbish, grindingly everpresent kicking in the wrong sort of genitals. It doesn’t matter as much doing Tracy Chapman though.

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