It was New Year’s Eve, and I was in a mood.
There were a handful of contributing factors, but mostly I was feeling glum and being a baby about it. After a few halfhearted small-talks with friends, in which I mostly looked off at the wall and rarely ventured past a five-word sentence, I was on track for a night of feeling sorry for myself while the people around me drank cava and watched the ball drop.
It was about 10:00 p.m., and I was weighing the social cost/benefit of leaving the party early and Lyfting home. At this point, the host of the party brought out a microphone and began hooking it up to the TV.
“Alright. It’s karaoke time! Who wants to sing first?”
Over the next few hours, I shifted from a state of morose silence to gleeful, boisterous mirth. I sang three songs up in front of the TV, and several more from the couch in chorus with my friends. For me, singing, whether in a karaoke bar, in a church choir, or in my car with the radio blaring, works like a sort of mood reset. It’s an act that brings me to a place where anxiety doesn’t exist, and the whole spectrum of internalized emotion can be organized neatly into couplets.
I’m not trying to sell some foolproof trick for happiness. Please don’t misinterpret my sentiment here. But I think there’s something to be said for belting it out every now and then, and that doesn’t go just for all you former choir geeks. That goes for everyone.
Like many of the readers of this blog, I grew up attending a Christian Reformed Church. A noteworthy boon of growing up in a Sunday School-going, Psalter Hymnal-flipping environment is this: singing is a part of life. For everyone. You sang in a huge group with a piano (or something along those lines) plunking out the melody for you, so you didn’t have to be Nina Simone to participate and take pleasure in the act.
As an adult, many of my friends and acquaintances now didn’t grow up in a Protestant church. They didn’t know an environment as a child where singing was something you just did every week, and—possibly because of this—some of these people hold on to an assumption that singing in public is something reserved for the “talented.”
I don’t blame them. With the combined prevalence of video recording devices and media sharing platforms, public shame is a looming threat at all times. If you try to do something creative or vulnerable in front of other people, you risk the epic fail. I wonder how that affects our consciousness.
But people have been singing to each other since approximately Forever B.C.E., and I think there’s a reason. You don’t have to be good at it to take pleasure in it. I believe this is true for many creative outlets, but I’ll make the biased claim that singing is unique in its universality. People sing, have always sung, and will continue to sing.
So, attention all readers: give karaoke a try. You might be surprised.
For the hesitant karaoke first-timers, I’ve included a list of tips:
1. Choose a safe space. Karaoke bars full of strangers can be daunting. Fear not! A great alternative is a private karaoke room. Round up a half-dozen close friends and book it for a few hours. You’ll get a room roughly the size of a dorm equipped with a TV, a few mics, and usually some comfy couches. That way you only have to belt out “Defying Gravity” in front of people who love you anyway. Honestly, they’ll probably belt it out with you.
2. Find your song. It doesn’t (necessarily) have to be in your ideal vocal range, but it should be a song you know pretty well. My go-to is Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.” Think of a song you always sing along to when it comes on the radio. Pick that one.
3. Consider backup. Karaoke duets are a ton of fun too. If it’s your first time and you don’t want to feel “Under Pressure,” let your friend belt out Freddie Mercury’s part while you stick comfortably to the Bowie lines.
4. Visualize. The cliché is to picture the audience in their underwear, but I usually visualize just being alone. It’s a lot easier to hit all those notes when no one is watching, so pretend you’re in that place. If you can sing in the shower, you can sing karaoke.
5. Consider liquid courage. It’s not necessary, but having a drink helps most people with the aspect of nerves. Plus, it’s readily available at most karaoke venues.
6. Get up there and sing.
Sing because it’s human.