Karaoke taps into a deep human need for connection in darkness—either spiritual or actual. Even the people who claim not to like karaoke realize that they are the ones at fault. They are too embarrassed, too worried about singing poorly, or too supposedly introverted to enjoy such an apparently extroverted activity. But even these sad people tend to like going out just to watch, just to be around all that good energy.
Luckily for everyone, Seattle enjoys several extremely premium karaoke spots. The best places for performative style karaoke are Crescent Lounge, Baranof, Bush Garden, and Ozzie's. Hula Hula used to be great, but things have gone downhill since they moved to Capitol Hill and spruced up the joint by introducing iPads and apps into their (confusing) system.
The best places for private room karaoke are Seattle's Best Karaoke (naturally), Venus, and Rock Box. The first two are dives. Seattle's Best Karaoke—even though it feels like you're singing in the lobby of a temp agency—is especially good because it's BYOB. This makes the evening much cheaper, and, since the venue doesn't serve alcohol, people can bring their children to learn the lessons that karaoke teaches us about life.
As I've written before, to sing karaoke is to embrace the moment your love of song transcends your love of self. Few activities that survive within American culture encourage this kind of behavior, and we must embrace and celebrate them when we can if we don't want to become completely selfish idiots.
Not all karaoke singers think of their performance this way. Some people choose ironic songs. Very good singers pick a ballad they belt out every time. These are gutless choices, and they often receive only obligatory applause.
The people who are really into it, the people who put in serious car-time or serious shower-time, the people who are practicing in their studio apartments for an hour before going out—these people will get the true, heartfelt applause. Even and especially if they're not great singers.
For this reason, karaoke ranks as one of the most earnest genres of performance. Ironic choices don't win over the crowd. Bloodless ballads don't win over the crowd. Only good, old-fashioned, earnest expression wins.
I didn't always think this way. I used to be one of those people who were too embarrassed by my objectively bad singing to take the stage. But a few years ago, I was living in Ohio, and in an effort to combat the boredom of that place, I starting joining a friend at karaoke nights.
At a biker bar called the Smiling Skull Saloon, I watched a woman sing Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" to the same ex-boyfriend in her mind every week for weeks on end, and every time I stood and sang in solidarity with her. "Take it!! Take another little piece of my heart now, babe-ay!!!" Because fuck that guy, that's why.
At another bar, a cooperative Mexican restaurant called Casa Nueva, I watched the tiniest, most nervous man I've ever seen fight his way through Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart." He kept apologizing for his truly terrible singing during musical breaks, but he just had to get through it. He had to sing that song that night. When he failed to hit the last note and everyone rose to give him a long standing ovation, I had a tear in my eye. After watching him go through all that, I realized I had no excuse.
I started singing karaoke that night. Seal's "Kiss from a Rose." It was so terrible. I was so happy.