Here are the songs you think will bring the house down, but, for various unexpected reasons, will not.
Maybe someone will read this and the next time they’re flipping through the karaoke songbook, they’ll pick a clever, entertaining, three-minute song. Or, at the very least, they won’t pick Don’t Stop Believin’.
This list of bad karaoke songs has nothing to do with how well you sing. I don’t think good singing is a factor in karaoke — in fact, really good singers often induce more eye rolling than really bad singers. “Ok, we get it, you think you’re auditioning for a revival of Phantom. Can you just wrap up I Have Nothing now?” This list is all about the songs that you think will bring the house down, but, for various unexpected reasons, will not.
Here are 11 deceptively bad songs to pick at karaoke…
1 | Proud Mary, Tina Turner version
Karaoke s not like being in Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous. Proud Mary has two tragic flaws as a karaoke song. One: The fast part of the song doesn’t kick in until you’ve slogged through a full 2:30 of dragged out anticipation. And two: Once the fast part does kick in, you’ll be so desperate to win the crowd back that you’ll run through all of your Tina Turner dance moves within seconds, leading to you monotonously repeating them — or eventually going stationary — over the last few minutes of the song.
2 | We Didn’t Start the Fire, Billy Joel
You don’t remember We Didn’t Start the Fire as well as you think you do; it moves too fast for you to sing as you read. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone try an ambitious song where everyone expects them to fail — and having those expectations promptly met.
Also avoid REM’s It’s the End of the World As We Know It (and I Feel Fine), Blues Traveler’s Hook and any of the songs from Animaniacs.
3 | Thong Song, Sisqo
It seems like a funny throwback but, believe it or not, Sisqo was not as complex of a lyricist as history might suggest. Once you get past the initial verse and a few choruses, the rest of your karaoke performance is just you singing “Uh huh, oh yeah, say it again, uhh, uhh, ahh, uhhh, ahhhhh, oooooh” until the song mercifully ends.
4 | Bohemian Rhapsody, Queen
There are four parts to Bohemian Rhapsody: The tragic story of the beginning, the “I see a little silhouette” operatic section, the headbanging part, and the short, final coda. There’s a reason Wayne’s World skipped the first part and jumped right into the opera and the headbanging. The beginning is SO long and SO slow that the rest of the song can’t possibly compensate. The first three-plus minutes of the song are all either slow and boring or lyricless guitar solos.
5 | Don’t Stop Believin’, Journey
I can guarantee someone already performed it earlier that night and someone will perform it again later that night. Show at least a modicum of creativity.
6 | Paradise by the Dashboard Light, Meatloaf
I love the song, but karaoke songs should ideally be three or four minutes. No one wants to see you — and you don’t want to be up there — stretching into the NINE-minute range. Paradise by the Dashboard Light seems like a good duet but it’s five minutes too long, there are too many dead stretches, and the long Phil Rizzuto baseball metaphor part feels like pure torture when you’re standing up there with everyone in the crowd angry and judging you.
7 | I Got Lost in His Arms, from Annie Get Your Gun
I don’t mean to pick on this song — I’ve never listened to it — but I randomly picked it as a stand-in for all obscure showtunes. I personally don’t like showtunes at karaoke — I don’t think they’re in the spirit of it — but I get that people love singing them. Popular ones are alright, since everyone can enjoy them; the key to appreciating showtunes is knowing the showtunes. When you pick an obscure one, it’s far too self-indulgent.
8 | Waterfalls, TLC
The official karaoke version absolutely ruins Waterfalls because it cuts out the Left Eye rap. Waterfalls without the Left Eye rap is actually a pretty boring song. Now — you COULD launch into the rap verse, since the karaoke version just leaves a giant instrumental interlude in its place. But you’d have to have it memorized perfectly, or else you become the cliched mediocre rapper.
ALso note: This same rap cutting phenomenon happens with the karaoke version of Rebecca Black’s Friday. They cut out the entire rap by the dude toward the end. I know this because I tried to karaoke this song.
9 | Mmmbop, Hanson
It seems like a really funny song choice — HANSON, right?!?!?!? — but the laughs stop after the title appears on screen. After that, the song is filled with lyrics that are surprisingly hard to nail as you try to stick to a melody you don’t really remember. Once you get past those lyrics, then it’s almost two minutes of you just repeating “mmmbop” to diminishing returns.
10 | Rapper’s Delight, Sugarhill Gang
Rap is really, really hard at karaoke. Unless you know the lyrics perfect without having to look at the screen, you’ll get lost; rap moves too quickly. And Rapper’s Delight also has the second strike of being way too long. You’ll lose the beat quicker than you expect — then you’re stuck up there for four or five more minutes.
11 | Paradise City, Guns ‘n Roses
We’ve all seen Can’t Hardly Wait and connected the dots: Singing Paradise City can make the biggest nerd cool. But the karaoke version is NOT cool. It’s seven minutes. There are a ton of really, really long instrumental breaks (I counted five). The chorus feels less entertaining when you’ve repeated it a dozen times. And the lyrics are more complicated than you remember, leading to a lot of talking to catch up rather than singing. All that being said — it’s probably still better than karaoking November Rain.