Song of the day: “Karaoke” by Smallpools
Chasing the Dionysian involves partaking in spontaneous song and dance when the moment calls for it. And there’s no better example of spontaneous, ecstatic, drunken song and dance than KARAOKE. The word means “empty orchestra” in Japanese, which is basically an invitation to create values and affirm the life that fills the music!
Singing karaoke at a bar is a great opportunity to meet people, bond with friends, and impress that attractive person you’ve had your eye on for the past hour (or even kill zombies). It’s also a great opportunity to make a total fool out of yourself in front of dozens or hundreds of strangers and leave the bar in disgrace. That’s why it’s important to choose a proper song for your performance. The song you pick plays a major role in determining whether you bring down the house in raucous cheers or the horrible combination of pity and jeering laughter. Luckily, I’m here to help you select correctly. Memorize this list so well that you won’t forget it even when you’re several drinks into the night.
First, I present the six criteria we’ll be using to rank my top ten guaranteed karaoke successes. Each of these is on a scale from 1 to 5, and they’ll be averaged to get the song’s overall rating.
– Icon status (IS): How famous is the song? I don’t care how much you love that Modest Mouse deep cut or Slayer’s best death metal, the crowd can’t get into that. Sing those obscure tunes on your own in the shower.
– Period piece (PP): How well does the song capture the essence of a specific period or genre of music? This is tied to Icon Status, but provides more nuance to your selection. For example, if you’re going for late ’90s boy band, don’t you dare pick 98 Degrees (or any song that isn’t on No Strings Attached or Millennium).
– Mood setter (MS): What kind of effect will the song have on the energy of the bar? A higher rating here means more upbeat, because if you’re doing karaoke the bar is probably not a chill place. There’s also a length factor here–you don’t want to overstay your welcome. “American Pie” is a classic, but it’s too slow and waaaaay too long to even be considered.
– Instrumental breakdowns (IB): Because you don’t have an instrument, you run the risk of looking pretty stupid during guitar solos or extended intros/outros, so pick songs without long breaks. For example, unless you have the world’s best air guitar skills, don’t pick “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
– Difficulty (D): You should know how good you are at singing. Now subtract about a quarter of that ability because you’re drunk. If you still know you can nail the high notes on “Beat It” or do a perfect Sam Smith impression on “Latch,” go for it. Otherwise, stay away from songs that will put you on the struggle bus. For the sake of the rankings, 1 is the hardest and 5 is the easiest.
– Crowd participation (CP): Some songs have really easy lyrics for the crowd to sing without looking at the screen. If they’re singing, your mistakes will be covered up and everyone will be having a great time.
And now, for the rankings!
IS: 4 PP: 4 MS: 3 IB: 4 D: 3 CP: 3 Average: 3.5
It doesn’t matter how high Taylor Swift’s star rises…she will never dethrone Beyoncé, who has been sitting at the top of the female pop singer world for the past decade and a half and remains as flawless as ever. “All The Single Ladies” is her best entry for this list, with its infectious finger-wagging dance and catchy chorus. The perfect selection if you’re a group of girls.
IS: 4 PP: 5 MS: 2 IB: 5 D: 4 CP: 3 Average: 3.83
Ah, to be in elementary school again and swept up in Boy Band mania! As is the case for many songs on this list, nostalgia plays a huge part in the appeal of “I Want It That Way,” and so do the computerized harmonies the karaoke machine will produce for you. If you were more of an *NSYNC person, you can sub “Bye Bye Bye” in here and get nearly identical results.
IS: 3 PP: 4 MS: 4 IB: 4 D: 4 CP: 5 Average: 4.0
Everyone likes a little attitude on the karaoke stage, and “Hollaback Girl” packs a huge punch. It’s never been so fun to spell the name of a fruit after comparing it to human feces.
IS: 3 PP: 5 MS: 5 IB: 5 D: 3 CP: 4 Average: 4.17
A song that doesn’t get a lot of attention, as most of us would like to forget that Nelly was ever a thing. But there’s no denying that the sentiment of this song perfectly matches the atmosphere of most karaoke bars: it’s all about dancing and getting a little hot and crazy. Bonus points if you actually take off some clothes while singing.
IS: 5 PP: 5 MS: 5 IB: 3 D: 3 CP: 5 Average: 4.33
I’m not sure why this one slips through the cracks so often, especially considering its dual icon status of being a Beatles song and having had Ferris Bueller sing it on a parade float. But the call-and-response is sure to engage the crowd, and you don’t have to care about your vocal quality because John Lennon basically screams the lyrics anyways. Plus the build up after the guitar solo is second only to “Shout” in getting people to start low to the ground and slowly stand up.
IS: 4 PP: 5 MS: 4 IB: 5 D: 3 CP: 5 Average: 4.33
Let’s be honest: no one knows what Shaggy is singing in the verses, and no one cares. So it’s basically an invitation for your drunk ass to blabber gibberish in a faux-Jamaican accent and gain a crowd’s adoration for it. Once you’re through that and have everyone’s attention, you get to the part where you command them to fill in the titular line. Also, this song is just hilarious. The next time I sing karaoke, this will be the song I pick.
IS: 5 PP: 4 MS: 4 IB: 4 D: 5 CP: 5 Average: 4.5
The verses of this song don’t matter at all. It attains this high ranking because it’s impossible not to reply to “Sweet Caroline” with “BOP-BOP-BOP.” After several drinks, the call-and-response only becomes more exuberant.
IS: 5 PP: 5 MS: 4 IB: 4 D: 4 CP: 5 Average: 4.5
We’re getting into the ’80s classics now, the ones you hear at every karaoke night because they’re just so damn fun to sing. Bon Jovi created one of the most anthemic choruses of the decade in “Livin’ On A Prayer,” and the passion imbued in the lyrics is sure to elicit a heartfelt performance and a matching reaction from the crowd.
IS: 5 PP: 5 MS: 5 IB: 5 D: 4 CP: 5 Average: 4.67
You probably expected to see this one up here, and you were right to do that, because it’s a fucking great song to sing. The build from the power ballad first verse to the “on and on and on and on” turns up the energy in the bar, and no one can resist trying to hit Steve Perry’s high notes. A guitar solo would normally be a markdown for these rankings, but in this case air-playing it is a fundamental part of the experience.
You could easily make an argument for “Don’t Stop Believin'” to be first on this list. It’s an absolute classic that never fails to involve the crowd and will leave you feeling like a total rock star. But I’d like to propose a dark horse candidate for the top spot…
IS: 5 PP: 5 MS: 5 IB: 5 D: 5 CP: 5 Average: 5
Maybe it’s because “Hey Ya” was released in the 2000s and that era of music hasn’t aged all too well. Maybe it’s because of the unconventional beat. But for some reason “Hey Ya” is criminally underrated as a karaoke song despite the fact that pretty much all critics agree that it’s one of the best songs of the millennium. It’s easy to dance to and still contains such endearing quirks as the opening count-off, the hand claps, and the directions to the crowd at the end. Absolutely everyone in the bar will be shaking it like a Polaroid picture by the time you’re done with them. It’s also very easy to sing, with a repetitive melody, a two-word chorus, and that part where you just get to yell the words for the last two minutes. If you have even an nanogram of stage charisma, you will own the night by the time you’re done with this.
These rankings are just one man’s opinion, and Nietzsche wouldn’t be happy if you allowed me to define your personal karaoke song rankings. So feel free to tear me apart in the comments.