'Since U Been Gone' and more unexpectedly tough karaoke songs
10 years ago Sunday, RCA Records released “Since U Been Gone,” the lead single off of Kelly Clarkson’s album Breakaway. It wasn’t long before the song became one of America’s top belt-it-into-your-hairbrush anthems—and enterprising karaoke singers began attempting to put their own spin on it, only to discover a shocking truth: That ish is hard to sing.
In honor of Kelly’s big anniversary, we asked our staffers to ‘fess up about our experiences with the most surprisingly tough karaoke songs. Here are our answers—starting with the tune that inspired the question.
Lanford Beard, staff editor: I’m an alto, so a lot of Kelly Clarkson’s songs seem perfectly suited to my vocal sweet spot… until the chorus. “Since U Been Gone” is the most ear-piercing example of my former hubris. I don’t have a specific memory—maybe I’ve blacked it out?—but I still have a vivid sensation of getting to that earworm-y title phrase and sounding like a dying cat. At least with some other upper-register belters (Katy Perry’s “Firework,” for example), there’s wiggle room vocally—but when trying to emulate Kelly Clarkson’s crazy-good range, you will fail. Don’t be fooled by the American Idol’s beginnings on a glorified karaoke competition. Her original hits should pretty much all be filed under: “Don’t try this at home… and especially not at a karaoke bar.”
Marc Snetiker, correspondent: You’d be surprised at how difficult and decidedly not fun “Let It Go” is at karaoke, especially if you don’t want to sound completely horrible. Sure, it seems like it’d be a good song to drunkenly shout-belt at the people around you, but the novelty wears off by the second verse (and so do the hand gestures, once you’ve already made ice/snow/Olaf). You can fake your way through a “Lady Marmalade” or “Lucky,” fine, but you can’t hide when it comes to Idina. There’s no excuse for botching E above middle C.
Ashley Fetters, EW.com news editor: I remember—well, uh, vaguely remember—trying to sing Beyoncé’s “Love on Top” with a bunch of friends late at night in one of those private karaoke rooms. I don’t know if our voices or our ears gave out first, but approximately 12 key changes in (and I’m pretty sure that song has about 70), we just couldn’t take it anymore.
Kristen Harding, visual projects producer: I once attempted Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” during a company karaoke night. Trying to pull off Beyoncé in front of other humans is tough, but adding Kelly and Michelle into the mix is near impossible. I tried my best to embody each member of the group, but it ended up looking like I had three different, frantic personalities. I learned a valuable lesson that night: don’t do karaoke.
Kathryn Luttner, EW Community deputy director: Remember when Britney Spears collaborated with the Ying Yang Twins? Does anyone remember the Ying Yang Twins?! Anyway, the song had just come out, and I thought that if the Ying Yang Twins could talk their way through a song, my pitch-challenged voice could, too. Turns out it’s incredibly uncomfortable to rap “she think she fine, fine enough to blow your mind” in front of an audience. I tip my hat to Kaine and D-Roc.
Esther Zuckerman, staff writer: I once made the fatal mistake of making a karaoke party too heavy, singing both Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” and Pink’s “Don’t Let Me Get Me” in one session. I don’t remember particularly struggling with the vocals on either, though I certainly didn’t sing them well—but by the time I was done, I remember thinking that had I brought down the room. Singing “I’m a hazard to myself” in front of a room full of people growing steadily more drunk isn’t a great look. Still, despite the, ahem, awkwardness of some of Morissette’s lyrics, I’m pretty sure I nailed her angst.
Andrea Towers, EW Community assistant editor: “Black Velvet.” The perfect karaoke song, right? Well… let’s put it this way: Your tipsy self feels great when you start to croon in front of your friends like a rock star. Then, halfway through, you start to realize how terrible you sound. You also start to realize that your voice really hurts from trying to be sultry—and most importantly, that this is not a piano bar and no one really cares about your performance.
Samantha Highfill, correspondent: For some reason, Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” seemed like a good karaoke song to me. I knew all the words; I could belt out the chorus; I would make my father proud. But in reality, the only thing I needed for this song was something I didn’t have: breath control. Seriously, just give up or you will pass out.
Kyle Ryan, EW.com editor: We had live-band karaoke at a company party last year, and I destroyed “Everlong” by Foo Fighters. So a few months later, when a bunch of us got a private room at a karaoke place, I decided to go back to the Foos well for one of my favorite songs from 2005’s In Hour Honor: “Best of You.” The problem: It’s basically four-plus of minutes of full-throated shouting that barely alternates pitch. Also not helping things: the MIDI-level rendition of “Best of You” pumped out by the karaoke system. Said a friend afterward: “Wow, so ‘Best of You’ isn’t a good karaoke song, huh?”
Natalie Abrams, senior writer: I used to work in a restaurant that had karaoke every Thursday night. I had a blast laughing at everyone else… until I became the butt of the joke. After seeing Avenue Q one too many times, I thought that singing “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” would be totally hilarious. It turns out that when you don’t have a cartoonish voice and someone to duet with you, you just end up sounding super racist. I didn’t get very many tips that night.
Joshua Rivera, EW.com writer: I’ve never done karaoke, but Guitar Hero was pretty big among my friends. Way before Rock Band came along and added mics, my buddy and I would scream out the bridge at the end of the Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” every time. We thought it was really fun. Then we did it in a car, with other people. They don’t talk to us anymore.
Kelly Connolly, EW Community assistant editor: A friend once talked me into doing “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros—which is not exactly a rousing, bring the house down kind of song to begin with—because he needed a partner. He got distracted, and I was left alone to sing a chill but surprisingly speedy tongue twister about having someone by your side. Ironic karaoke is real, and it can happen to you.
Emily Blake, EW.com west coast senior editor: I’ve spent a sad, sad number of hours in karaoke bars. Friends and I once got to Sing-Sing on Ave. A after boozy brunch around 3 p.m. and didn’t leave until close to 1 a.m. And in that time, I learned something: No, “Falsetto” by the Dream is not a good idea. It’s hard to pull off those baby-making coos alone, but in a bar full of strangers, it’s near impossible.
Hillary Busis, staff editor: You think “Under Pressure” is all sunshine and lollipops and that killer, killer hook. Turns out it’s about 50 hours long, and over half of it is scat that sounds supremely goofy coming from anyone whose name isn’t David Bowie or Freddie Mercury. Lesson learned: Leave it to the pros. (Dee ba dee ba DEEP.)
Darren Franich, senior writer: It was college; there was a house party; someone had a karaoke machine. I asked a question. Young me, innocent me; the last time in my life that anything would ever be young or innocent. I asked: “Does it have ‘Take on Me’ by A-Ha?” I thought it would be a good song for karaoke. It is not a good song for karaoke. I forgot about the high notes. I forgot about the high notes. Curse me for being a miserable fool, I forgot about the high notes. Someone took video. There was no such thing as YouTube, nor Instagram, nor Vine—not yet, thank God. The video was destroyed. (I think. I hope.) Years later, I lay awake at night—scared, haunted, remembering. I’ll. Be. Gone. In a day or TWOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.