Lindsey isn’t a very good singer. Nor is she a particularly bad singer. That, and a typical weakness for attention from strangers, is what makes her at her happiest while performing karaoke. Ever since she discovered that belting Tammy Wynette and 4 Non Blondes in front of crowds substituted perfectly for therapy, she’s been pressuring her friends to listen to her sing weekly at a plethora of karaoke bars across NYC. Meanwhile, while not singing, she’s developed very strong opinions about what constitutes the proper etiquette of karaoke–everything from song choice to mic-handling technique. Her opinions (while regarded trustworthy by some of the greatest karaoke’ers in town) are her own, so feel free to disregard. After all, if you’re just dying to sing “Don’t Stop Believin'”* you’ll probably just go ahead and sing it. Send your karaoke questions for Lindsey to karaokeconfessional AT gmail.com.
I want to sing ’Mambo No. 5’. Should I?
Short answer? No. Long answer? Depends. Hey, it’s your life.
But because you asked: no matter how terrible you are, you’ll definitely get laughs once you launch into the beginning of Lou Bega’s 1999 hit. But as you warble along, if you’re not ready to truly commit to the music, you’ll find yourself repeating those awful choruses over and over and over again. That is because “Mambo No. 5” fits nicely into a category of karaoke songs that all have what I like to call “The C’mon Ride The Train Problem.” That’s when a karaoke song is incredibly appealing, yet when you sing it you realize there are actually only about five or so words total–and you are required to repeat those words over and over. Inspired by Quad City DJ’s “C’mon Ride It (The Train)”, this problem affects musical gems across the board: from Sade’s “Smooth Operator” to, yes, “Mambo No. 5.”
So if you’re willing to Monica, Rita, Sandra, Jessica, etc. your way though this one, by all means. If you’re reading this and you’ve already submitted your karaoke slip (trust me, this is entirely likely!) why not substitute a few of your two-syllable friends’ names into the performance? There’s nothing like improvising lyrics during karaoke, especially if you can make them relevant to the audience–trust me, it always KILLS it when I insert my friends’ accomplishments into Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” One thing I’ll never do is advise not to sing a song, because it’s all about your interpretation. Unless it’s from a musical, but I’ll save that rant for another time.
I want to sing a song that someone else already sang. Can I?
Let me get this straight. You’ve been humming the same song all week, surreptitiously looking up it’s lyrics online, even practicing in the shower. You’re ready to kill it at karaoke, and soon after you arrive, right before you submit your slip, your worst nightmare occurs. Some idiot starts singing YOUR song. I don’t even know what’s worse: if they do a good job or if they do a bad job. Either way, you’re devastated. And I totally I feel you! Karaoke seconds as therapy for most of us, and if you don’t get that ideal release (heh) then what’s the point? But for the crowd’s sake, you might not want to Q up next–even if the KJ allows it. A karaoke without the crowd fully behind you is not worth it.
How about a different song by the same artist? Maybe a song that’s the same genre will do the trick? If you’re really not OK with these suggestions, and don’t want to change karaoke spots, there is a way out. If you’re planning to hang out and do karaoke for a few hours, I would recommend you wait for a natural turnover of the crowd (at most bars this happens around midnight or so) and you can probably go ahead and sing that song. Just be aware that if your song is something so-very-irritating (see: “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-A-Lot) you might get some backlash at making people suffer through that twice. Even if you are the word’s greatest MC.
*I will never, ever encourage you to to sing “Don’t Stop Believin'”.
Lindsey Weber is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her karaoke bar of choice is Montero’s Bar & Grill and she limits herself to singing “What’s Up?” by 4 Non Blondes only once a month. You can follow her on Twitter: @lindseyweber. Send your karaoke questions for Lindsey to karaokeconfessional AT gmail.com.