Permission to Sing

I don’t like karaoke, but I think my perception is beginning to change. Why don’t I like karaoke? For the same reason many, maybe most people don’t like it: I can’t sing.

Yesterday, my girlfriend sent me a video of her friends at karaoke. The song was Lose Yourself by Eminem. Now that I would sing. Or rap, rather. What makes this song different than any other song? I like it. I like the lyrics. I like trying to get the lyrics right, and I don’t mind messing them up a bit in front of other people.

I realized that karaoke is not about showing off. People don’t go there to try and look good while they sing. In fact, for some, how bad everyone is seems to be half the fun. No, karaoke is not about singing will – it is about giving people permission to sing.

“Here is a safe space. Sing to your heart’s content. Nothing else matters.” Most people can’t sing, and yet most people love music. Ergo, most people would love to be able to sing but usually not enough to actually pursue that dream. Karaoke fills the gap. It offers a space for singing independent of quality, and to millions of people, that space is priceless.

No amount of listening to music or seeing the pros do it well can make up for my inability to sing. I can either commit to the long and arduous path of learning to sing or shut up and enjoy music in various settings.

Thanks to karaoke, however, there’s now one more thing I can do: I can sing without needing to improve, at least on occasion. I can enjoy the act of singing without having to turn it into a performance art or profession, and whether I use that option or not, it provides tremendous relief to both the mind and soul.

The more I think about it, the more I wish we had things like karaoke for other forms of art. Write-e-oke or Paint-e-oke, perhaps. “Here’s some paper. Just write. Write badly. It’s fine. We all write badly here. We read our work afterwards for fun, and then throw it in the trash.”

Without safe environments to practice when we aren’t good yet, many of us will never make it to good in the first place. To some extent, that’s part of the deal, but to another, we’re making improving harder than it needs to be. In fact, even if improving isn’t the goal, practicing some art is usually still worth it. That’s what we need “okes” for.

I’m not saying I’ll immediately jump on the next opportunity, but I think I’m ready to give karaoke another try. I’d really like the permission to sing.