FRIDAY OPEN THREAD: What’s Your Karaoke Song?

I love karaoke. My journey with karaoke began when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old and Santa brought me an E-Kara, which was a microphone you could plug into your television to transform it into a very early-2000s, low-tech, at-home karaoke system. There weren’t many songs you could choose from, which came on pre-loaded cartridges you inserted into the mic. I usually stuck to “Aaron’s Party (Come Get It)” by Aaron Carter, “Independent Women Part 2” by Destiny’s Child, or “Oops!…I Did It Again” by Britney Spears — all incredibly good karaoke songs.

In the past year, I started going to karaoke every week, a great life choice that I wrote about right here* on Autostraddle dot com as part of For Your Consideration, my series that is about a lot of things but really about my breakup and the affair that incited it. My love of karaoke is deeply entwined with the way I process emotions during difficult times. Sometimes, you really do just have to sing it out.

(*Please note that I recently confirmed that the two regulars who I speculated were Ex-Girlfriends Who Karaoke Together in that essay are indeed Ex-Girlfriends Who Karaoke Together.)

While a bar in Brooklyn is now my homebase for karaoke, my heart will always truly belong to the first consistent karaoke place I frequented, a dive bar in Chicago called Hidden Cove. My friend and roommate at the time Melanie walked right into Hidden Cove and tried to order a dark and stormy and, friends, this is not the kind of place where you order a dark and stormy. They practically laughed her right on out. Hidden Cove is the kind of place where you maybe order a round of fireball shots and a Miller High Life. Melanie and I started calling Hidden Cove “the Crusty Clam,” and I can’t remember why, but it fits. It was there that I really, truly fell in love with scream-singing through my feelings with my dear friends.

A random collection of karaoke friendship memories through the years:

  • I brought my E-Kara in to school in fourth grade and used it on one of the TVs on wheels so that I could perform the song I had written about different types of rocks set to the tune of “Oops! I Did It Again” in front of my entire class. This was my science project. We were simply asked to write a report on rocks…and I wrote a song parody.
  • Two friends visited me one summer in Los Angeles, and I made them come to a karaoke bar with a bunch of UCLA students who I did not know and it was so bro-y and we performed “Everywhere” by Michelle Branch. The next time I tried to go to this karaoke bar…it didn’t exist? WAS IT ALL A DREAM?
  • When I moved out of Chicago, I threw a going away party at Hidden Cove, and everyone sang “Come To My Window” at the end.
  • Stonewall Inn does 90s karaoke every week, and it’s always a delight, and my friend Becca and I did “Just A Girl” together and then someone paid for all our drinks?
  • My friend Caroline and I tried to do “Yeah” by Usher and uncomfortably realized how awkward it is to just say “yeah” over and over again about five seconds into the first chorus.
  • One time at a private room karaoke party, a girl announced that had not actually sang at karaoke in five years and that she would never sing at karaoke ever again. Meanwhile, no one would sing “Take Me Or Leave Me” with me, so I attempted to sing both Maureen and Joanne’s parts, but halfway through the song, the Karaoke Grinch JOINED IN and broke her five-year hiatus?! A magical moment.

My go-to karaoke artists are the Dixie Chicks, Kelly Clarkson, ABBA, Alanis Morissette, and Michelle Branch. I love to bring the mood down in a karaoke room with a rendition of “Goodbye To You” or “Not Ready To Make Nice.” I literally sang “Potential Breakup Song” mere days after breaking up with my ex. This summer, “Before He Cheats”—sung as “Before She Cheats”—became my staple. Showtunes from Grease, Wicked, and Rent are old standbys. There are songs I haven’t sung yet but have a strong urge to, like “Grigio Girls” by Lady Gaga, “Treacherous” by Taylor Swift, “Youngblood” by 5 Seconds Of Summer, and “Simply The Best” by Tina Turner.

So tell me, what are your favorite songs to sing at karaoke? Does it depend on your mood? The vibe of the room? What’s a karaoke song you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t yet? Tell me about your favorite places to do karaoke, your favorite karaoke memories, your messiest karaoke memories. Do you hate karaoke? FINE. I’m willing to hear you out, but after converting that one Karaoke Grinch, I feel that I have the POWER TO PERSUADE.


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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 175 articles for us.

64 Comments

  1. I don’t have a go to karaoke song. I don’t think I’ve ever done karaoke – I am old and tune deaf.

    I do have a new contract job that I have to drive to and it’s really cut into my AS reading. But the money’s good and so is having more structure. And I’ve been watching the trees leaf out everyday as I drive by.

    And I wrote a thing! About a thing I made. To help publicize the Monument Quilt – a really awesome public art monument to survivors of sexual violence that I learned about here (thanks Carmen). I went to a display 5 years ago, when it was on your, and decided to make my own square. The culminating display will blanket the National Mall at the end of May and I’m going!!!

    Here’s the link to my article – https://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/2019/04/the-monument-quilt-a-guest-post-from-cleo/

    And here’s more about the Monument Quilt

  2. I can’t sing, but I’ve prepared a couple of songs JUST IN CASE I’m ever pushed on stage. “Blue Suede Shoes” is probably all I can pull off. IF someone could accompany me for the high notes, I would prefer to attempt “King of the Road.” Hmmm… and just thought of this…If I were hyped up (aka drunk), “Dancing with Myself.” Or maybe “Werewolves of London.” It’s probably for the best if I just stay home.

  3. Oh I have a rotation. I usually start off with Mr. Brightside or All Star before moving onto something else like Bad Touch or Africa. And I’ll end with either Don’t Stop Me Now or Chop Suey.

  4. Top karaoke song has got to be Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros but only when individually singing both parts. No duets here, just full on Jade and Alexander. I don’t love this song on its own, but as a karaoke song? It checks all the boxes. Fun. A little challenging. A great sing along. I have found in quite a few people that their favorite songs are never their karaoke songs, which is fascinating. This song certainly fits in that category for me.

  5. Oooh yes. I made the mistake of singing “Don’t Stop me Now” by Queen once. It was just a lot lol. But before that I (drunkenly without alcohol) sang “Love Shack” with two now-former coworkers. I loved scream-singing BANG BAAAANG lol.

    I also once ended karaoke at a gay bar by singing *NSYNC’s “I want you back.” Fun times.

    But if I ever get back to a karaoke area I’m gonna sing “Jolene.” I might have written a version told by a gay girl who wants Jolene (based off a real life crush)…

  6. “This was my science project. We were simply asked to write a report on rocks…and I wrote a song parody.”

    Is writing song parodies for school projects or just for life in general a Queer Thing To Do??

    I, my high school crush, and my college friends all wrote song parodies.

    • Hi, my name is Petti, and I have a karaoke addiction. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

      I absolutely love singing “Not Ready to Make Nice”. I made a video of myself singing it in my bedroom once (with a karaoke track blasting through my TV) just for funsies. It’s a cathartic song to sing; I actually sang it in my bedroom for the first time on Election Night 2016 (ugh) while “attending” a FB Live karaoke party with some friends. It just seemed appropriate. My other Dixie Chicks standard is “Sin Wagon”. I found a LiveJournal entry (hah!) from like 2002 where I said I’d really wanted to do it at karaoke but didn’t think I could pull it off. Yesterday, I came across a FB memory from 2010 that said I finally did it. I really don’t like the 53-second instrumental break (yes, I know how long it is from memory now) because I’m awkward as fuck and stand around nervously until it’s over, just to belt those last 7 words.

      “Goodbye To You” has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I haven’t actually gotten around to it yet! Not a lot of karaoke joints around here have it, or if they do, I forget about it until it’s too late or the rotation is too long to get more than one or two songs in. I’d also love to do “Lay Me Down” by The Wreckers but that’s pretty much guaranteed not to be in any songbooks.

      My other stand-bys are “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King (best when I have bronchitis because I can’t get the grit right otherwise), “Rolling in the Deep” and “All I Ask” by Adele, “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence & the Machine, “Gravity” and “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles (honestly, I’d really love to just get up and sing her entire catalog some night) — and, when I really need to bring the cheese and camp, “I Will Always Love You” (the Whitney version). Please enjoy this photo of myself, dressed as Pam Poovey from Archer at a sci-fi convention, dramatically (and perhaps a bit drunkenly) singing it to my dolphin puppet.

      I’ll admit I’m a bit of a karaoke snob. I want to hear people sing new and/or uncommon songs that not everyone sings, even if they don’t do it spectacularly well. I have a mental bingo card of the most cliche ones. If I hit a bingo, I treat myself to a shot.

  7. my absolute fave #1 karaoke song is actually a duet, but i always manage to find someone who wants to sing it with me so that’s fine! it is…drumroll…PICTURE BY KID ROCK AND SHERYL CROW. yes of course i’m always Sheryl. no perhaps it is not surprising that i can always find a fellow queer who wants to yell “I WAS OFF TO DRINK YOU AWAY” into the mic in a country drawl. anyway my bff at school and i bonded instantly when we were talking about karaoke and we both realized this was independently our fave karaoke song. we have been known to perform it at the local bar near school which is absolutely not a karaoke bar.

    kayla one day i want to karaoke with you, i think this can happen for us, i am always down to do backup vocals 💜

  8. I lean towards the blink 182, Avril Lavigne, Mandy Moore ouevre. “All the Small Things” is a fun, safe, absurd jam.

    Recently in one of those private karaoke rooms, my friends and I did “Shallow” at least 3 times as we got steadily drunker throughout the night. 10/10 would recommend

  9. Awww man, this is making me miss the days before pregnancy and parenthood when I could just go to one of many gay karaoke bars in Nashville, get tipsy enough to actually move my body while I sing, and then get progressively more drunk until I try something too challenging like What a Girl Wants and walk off the stage in the middle of the song because it was embarrassing.

    My karaoke song choice DEFINITELY depended on the room/audience, cause there is nothing worse than not having your song recognized. If the crowd seemed old enough to remember the 80s, I would generally sing Heaven is a Place on Earth.

    If it was predominantly older lesbians at a bar, Bonnie Raitt was a pretty good bet (but not Something to Talk About because that had been ruined for me by middle aged straight women). Even something kind of obscure like “Have a Heart” would work because older lesbians love Bonnie Raitt.

    My brother (who is also gay and also a singer) and I had two duets that we would also choose from based on average crowd age, now that I think about it. Younger crowd: I Want it That Way. Older Crowd: Somewhere out There (v cute because it is one of the few Brother/Sister duets there is and Alex would play the guitar solo on the mic stand).

    Anyway, thanks for letting me relive my youth!

  10. “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks, which I have now karaoke’d to the point that I can’t do it in anything other than the most ridiculous twang imaginable

    gotta love a song about killing a problematic man <3

  11. I’ve never done karaoke, but if I did, my go-to songs would be either Me and Bobby McGee or Angel from Montgomery. I love trying to imitate Janis’s vocal runs even though I’m an alto verging on baritone, and Angel from Montgomery is right in that sweet spot.

  12. I feel a bit of deja vu with this question. I’ve mentioned it but my go-to karaoke song is Breaking the Law – Judas Priest. I feel it’s a very apt song as a trans queer and Rob Halford is the reason why dudes in the 80s were wearing gay leather outfits*. *He got his clothes from leather shops tailored to the gay S&M community and when he came out in the 90s his fans were mostly cool with it as it meant he made more songs they like. Last year was at a lbtq karaoke event and was told Come to My Window is a right of passage, which we sang as a group. Another song I’ve done in a group was 4 Non-Blondes What’s Up, which is a really fun chorus to sing. I also promised my best friend I’d singing You Can Call Me Al by Paul Simon at karaoke. She’s like it makes sense I am Jew named Al.

    How’s everyone’s week going? Mines has been alright. Been kind of lazy as I had some stomach pains related to food, I think? I match up with at least 4 cute gals who then unmatched me the second we matched or after I use an autostraddle approved opening line(saw it like 2 years ago in an article). It’s frustrating. Also, testing out the app Zoe and holy hell there is a lot of bots, and some very obvious as they ask if I have Hangouts, which is an app Google sunsetted recently for consumers and WeChat, which is China’s biggest messaging and social media app(think WhatsApp meets Facebook, meets online shopping). I am starting to think I may become the single queer living along with multiple dogs. Ugh

    I spent my Sunday on a scenic hike through Point Dume(got the good parking spot). I even got see and hear seals, which was cool. I am hoping to spend time on Sunday with my best friend and her dog. I miss them both.

    Flowers still in bloom.

    Thank you for viewing and reading my post. Have a positive weekend!

  13. Since I actually meant to post this as my own comment and not as a reply on someone else’s, I guess I’ll repost it here. I’ll be over here dying of embarrassment. I’m new here.

    Hi, my name is Petti, and I have a karaoke addiction. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

    I absolutely love singing “Not Ready to Make Nice”. I made a video of myself singing it in my bedroom once (with a karaoke track blasting through my TV) just for funsies. It’s a cathartic song to sing; I actually sang it in my bedroom for the first time on Election Night 2016 (ugh) while “attending” a FB Live karaoke party with some friends. It just seemed appropriate. My other Dixie Chicks standard is “Sin Wagon”. I found a LiveJournal entry (hah!) from like 2002 where I said I’d really wanted to do it at karaoke but didn’t think I could pull it off. Yesterday, I came across a FB memory from 2010 that said I finally did it. I really don’t like the 53-second instrumental break (yes, I know how long it is from memory now) because I’m awkward as fuck and stand around nervously until it’s over, just to belt those last 7 words.

    “Goodbye To You” has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I haven’t actually gotten around to it yet! Not a lot of karaoke joints around here have it, or if they do, I forget about it until it’s too late or the rotation is too long to get more than one or two songs in. I’d also love to do “Lay Me Down” by The Wreckers but that’s pretty much guaranteed not to be in any songbooks.

    My other stand-bys are “Ex’s and Oh’s” by Elle King (best when I have bronchitis because I can’t get the grit right otherwise), “Rolling in the Deep” and “All I Ask” by Adele, “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence & the Machine, “Gravity” and “She Used to Be Mine” by Sara Bareilles (honestly, I’d really love to just get up and sing her entire catalog some night) — and, when I really need to bring the cheese and camp, “I Will Always Love You” (the Whitney version). Please enjoy this photo of myself, dressed as Pam Poovey from Archer at a sci-fi convention, dramatically (and perhaps a bit drunkenly) singing it to my dolphin puppet.

    I’ll admit I’m a bit of a karaoke snob. I want to hear people sing new and/or uncommon songs that not everyone sings, even if they don’t do it spectacularly well. I have a mental bingo card of the most cliche ones. If I hit a bingo, I treat myself to a shot.

  14. When I was a wee teen, I’d always get a friend together to do Barenaked ladies’ “If I had a million dollars” because I had really intense feelings at the time and thought it most polite to hide them.

    But since I don’t follow my own advice very well, I’d also do Stings “Fields of Gold” because my heart is a very romantic farmer.

  15. My husband and I got engaged with him singing John Legend’s All of Me at a gay bar we loved in Las Vegas. Karaoke has been a big part of our relationship although not as frequent since we became parents.

    I have many karaoke songs with the top one being David Bowie’s Space Oddity. I also frequently sing Otherside by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, plenty of Dixie Chicks, and various 90s pop. I was actually proud of myself for doing a somewhat decent job with Melissa Etheridge’s I’m the Only One six weeks ago.

    Also, the Hidden Cove sounds like my beloved Pine Cove where my husband and I used to be regulars.

    • “not as frequent since we became parents” May I suggest singing to your kid? You can get as dramatic, silly, over-the-top, or calm and sweet as you like and no matter how many notes you flub your audience will stare at you like you are the most amazing thing ever.

      Also then eventually they’ll sing with you because you’ll have successfully brainwashed them into thinking you are normal and this is a thing normal people do. I got to duet Monty Python’s “I Like Traffic Lights” with my kiddo recently and it was awesome. Then it segued into “I Like The Ministry of Silly Walks,” which was even better. (“But only when they’re green.”)

      • We do sing to her occasionally, but it’s usually standard fare like lullabies. Although she has started singing the ABCs and then we sing it back to her.

        But we should sing to her more! She loves music and loves to dance.

        My husband also recently suggested us doing karaoke at our house and that may prompt our toddler to sing as well.

  16. A lot of my friends are really good singers, and I always feel a little under-qualified singing karaoke with them, which is why I tend to lean toward pop songs where vocal technique isn’t a prerequisite. My favorite/go-to is “It’s Gonna Be Me” by NSYNC. Also “Spice Up Your Life” or “Wannabe” by The Spice Girls. I generally really enjoy 90s/early 2000s pop anyway, so that’s my go-to genre.

  17. I only full out do one song properly which is What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes, anything else I’m just fucking around.

    Like Little Red Riding Hood for example is an excuse to howl into a microphone, various songs I’ll just cookie monster at random, Wild Thing is a Sam Kinison tribute and Eartha Kitt crossover at the same time as well as a reason for me to attempt various rock star facial expressions, and Immigrant Song an excuse to vocally speedrun a song most people can’t even keep up with.

  18. Thankfully the only times I’ve been drunk enough (and I haven’t been anywhere near that drunk in years) for karaoke to be possible there wasn’t a machine nearby, so nobody has been caught in the blast zone of my horrible singing voice yet.

  19. My go to Karaoke songs are in no particular order: Bleeding Love by Leona Lewis, Halo by Beyonce, What’s going on by 4 non blondes, Mr. Brightside by The Killers, Ocean Ave by Yellowcard, and finally, Since you been gone by Kelly Clarkson. Classics. 🙌🏼🙌🏼🙌🏼

  20. dream karaoke songs:
    -duetting “Nothin’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship
    -Madonna – Take A Bow
    -any ABBA

    #1 go-to:
    Madonna – Like A Prayer (almost blacked out singing this once)

    ones I’ve done with varying success:
    Sheryl Crow – If It Makes You Happy
    Roy Orbison – Pretty Woman
    duetting with my brother: Boyz II Men feat. Mariah Carey – One Sweet Day

  21. Okay, I’ve never done karaoke ‘cos I can’t sing (or dance), but I’ve always wanted to. My #1 song to do is Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero”, but I’d prolly be willing to do anything I know the lyrics to.

  22. I realize this post is from Friday and it is now Tuesday but! My go-to karaoke song is “Shoop” by Salt ‘n Peppa. It’s mostly rapping, so no real singing skills required! Spice Girls “Wannabe” is also a solid choice, as is TLC “No Scrubs.”

    Not a solid choice, though? “Say My Name” by Destiny’s Child. You *think* you know the words but I can assure you you DO NOT. The one time I tried it (in a private room situation, thankfully) I bailed like one verse in because there are a whole lot of lyrics to that song that I never even realized existed.

    My proudest karaoke moment, though, was my friend & I getting cut off by the host at Lucky Chang’s during a VERY drunk rendition of “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” from Footloose. Our guy friends were our back up dancers. It was very bad (but fun).

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