Karaoke is not an excuse to use oppressive or offensive language
By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager
Whether you love it or choose to love it in secret, karaoke is one of the purest, most enjoyable ways to spend a night out with friends.
Everything’s going great. The pitchers are flowing, you’ve got your song requests in, there’s a decent-sized crowd at the bar—when, suddenly, you notice the lyrics on the television screen, and one of those words is coming up. It might be the n-word, or the f-word, or it might be some other problematic term. Your gaze jumps from the television screen, to the singer onstage, back to the screen, and back to the singer.
The word comes and goes, without the singer missing a beat, and half of the bar is left cringing about what just happened.
It’s not enough to derail an evening or start a riot. I’ve been in countless bars where the same thing’s happened (okay, you got me: I like karaoke), and overall, nothing major comes from whatever bomb was dropped, but that’s not the point.
There’s a reason why the n-word and other similar-but-different language is inappropriate for some people to use themselves. Terms like the n-word have an extensive history of how they were used in a derogatory sense, and when black artists use the word, it’s not because they’re drunk and reading lines off a television screen. There’s meaning and purpose, which are both lacking at a weekly karaoke night.
One of the reasons people justify using offensive terms is through context. “It’s just karaoke and these are the lyrics, so it’s okay if I say [whatever word]. That’s what the song says.” Some of the finest karaoke bangers are from the ‘90s and early 2000s, and I can appreciate that. However, also remember that it was an entirely different political climate back then, and people were woefully unaware of how problematic some words were. Times have changed, public opinions have changed, and so should your approach to these lyrics.
This isn’t to say that all songs featuring certain words are forbidden from ever being karaoke favourites. You simply need to exercise an awareness and choose what to do whenever that word appears.
For example, when a triage of friends and I were making plans to sing “Monster” by Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Nicki Minaj, we immediately ran into the n-word several times in the lyrics. One friend suggested replacing the n-word with fellas, which has the same number of syllables and is simple enough to insert. My roommate also uses the word “neighbour,” though she admits to sometimes worrying the n-sound is too similar and that she might one day slip up.
You can also just skip a beat and say nothing, like what some censored versions do. There’s no wrong alternative here. No one’s going to come up to you after the song and say, “Excuse me, that’s not how the lyrics go. You did it wrong,” so just go with whatever works for you.
Karaoke is a sloppy, rowdy, and delightful experience, and it should be fun for everyone. Help foster that inclusivity by omitting offensive language from your karaoke vocabulary.