Shameless singers take on classics

Patrons of all vocal ranges tackle weekly karaoke at Tir Nan Og in downtown Kingston.


Whether you’re into Journey, the Spice Girls or blink-182, karaoke gives everyone the chance to belt out a favourite tune without shame.

Amateur singers no longer need to hide their vocal talents in the confines of the shower or car — many students are turning to karaoke at night instead of going to a nightclub or bar.

Robbie Barnett-Kemper, ConEd ’14, has frequented Thursday nights at Tir Nan Og since he started at Queen’s last fall.

“I’ve been to every single Thursday except one or two,” he said, adding that he’s seen attendance at the bar grow.

“Before it was easy to get in,” he said, “now there’s a line up out the door.”

Barnett-Kemper sings karaoke with two other friends.

“We do a song every week and put on a show,” he said, adding that he also does solo performances.

While there’s no doubt that Barnett-Kemper is a regular at the Tir Nan Og, he said the bar’s popularity makes it difficult to sing often.

“When you have 150 people in a bar and everyone wants to do a song, you don’t have that much time,” he said.

The karaoke song selection process is simple. You choose a song from the selection list and submit a request slip.

Once called up on stage however, some karaoke enthusiasts overstay their welcome, Barnett-Kemper said.

“By 1 a.m, everyone won’t get off the stage because they’re too drunk. That can get fun but for others it’s like ‘get off the stage,’ ” he said.

Certain songs garner more excitement from the crowd, while others breed communal disappointment.

“No one wants to hear Journey near the end since it’s been played so much,” he said.

While Barnett-Kemper tends to choose rock songs, a crowd’s familiarity with lyrics is absolutely crucial for a good performance.

“Parts of blink-182 have talking parts and it gets interesting. You have to choose songs that aren’t [by] the Clash. Not everyone knows the words to that,” he said.

According to Barnett-Kemper, karaoke bars are a hybrid melding the bar and the nightclub.

“You can dance and sing along, or just sit and have a beer and a conversation in the back. It mends the two elements,” he said. “Everyone’s guards are down.”

Many people might be petrified to sing in public, but Tir Nan Og and other karaoke bars don’t have an intimidating atmosphere, Barnett-Kemper said.

“You assume most of the crowd is boozed up and it’s dark enough that you can just disappear after,” he said.

Though crowds can be ruthless to mediocre performers, Barnett-Kemper said.

“The crowd’s really supportive,” he said. “They can also be mean. I’ve seen people get booed by Queen’s students and I’ve seen people have their name chanted.”

Jesse Lawller has worked at Tir Nan Og, located on Ontario Street, for five years.

“We are the longest running karaoke bar in the city,” he said.

Tir Nan Og has offered karaoke for the past 10 years, starting at around 9:30 p.m.

“We get a couple hundred people,” Lawller said, adding that Thursdays attract a steady stream of regulars.

“We have a few people that take it seriously but for most people it’s just a drunken fun time,” he said. “It’s as serious as you want it to be.”

While Tir Nan Og attracts a mass of karaoke enthusiasts, there’s rarely intense competition.

There aren’t prizes, Lawller said.

“But there are drink specials,” he said. “Some people you wouldn’t expect are usually really good ... sometimes you need liquid courage.”

For Kennet Ng, ArtSci ’13, karaoke in Kingston isn’t authentic.

“White culture karaoke is mostly in a bar with a screen and two mikes hanging off the side,” he said. “To an Asian person, it’s in a secluded room with only people you know.”

Ng said his love of karaoke stems from his childhood.

“It’s been instilled in me as a pastime,” he said. “Me and my mom go do karaoke when we have nothing to do and don’t want to go see a movie.”

According to Ng, Japanese karaoke involves more than just singing.

“In Japan when you go to karaoke they have instruments, tambarines and moroccas so people can make noise,” he said. “It’s essentially like a party.”

While karaoke is an undeniably fun outing, Ng said it’s lost its original purpose at many establishments.

“Karaoke was originally invented and modeled to bring families closer together and be semi-private, but it’s expanded to this phenomenon where people sing in front of other people,” he said.

“It should be called open-mike night instead of karaoke night. When it’s paced in an open setting, you’re still with friends to have a good time, but it takes away from what it was originally supposed to do.”

Ng used to go to the sushi restaurant Asha on Princess Street every Tuesday night to do karaoke. Asha closed last year.

The Sly Fox is the only other venue in Kingston that offers karaoke.

“I go to Tir Nan Og sometimes but there are so many people so it takes like three hours for a song to come on,” he said.

No matter the venue though, Ng said Kingston karaoke crowds are always supportive.

“I have never heard a single boo,” he said. “The Kingston community can turn anything into positive feedback — if people are just screaming people will say, ‘They’re just having a good time.’

“It’s karaoke, no one’s going to judge you,” he said.

Crowd favourites are sometimes surprising, Ng said.

“If you’re at Tir Nan Og and ‘Wannabe’ [by the Spice Girls] comes on, everyone sings along,” he said. “You see some tough trucker dude singing it and you because he’s so drunk and knows all the words — he doesn’t need to look at the screen.”

Still, there are certain songs Ng personally hates to hear.

“‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is technically a one-person song but everyone does this arm sway and it becomes a bad Oil-Thigh moment,” he said.

According to Ng, country and Motown are popular genres that can come up in karaoke.

“Apparently in the Kingston community ‘Save a Horse Ride a Cowboy’ is a popular song … I think the reason why is because everyone can sing to it. It’s a fun song to sing,” he said.

“I love ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ actually. I love it because yes, everyone knows it, but there are two people singing in it and no one will take your moment.”

So why don’t people just get together to sing at home?

“It becomes a social event,” Ng said. “It’s when people get together in a room to sing loud and obnoxiously just because they like a song.”

While some people find alcohol and karaoke go hand in hand, Ng said this isn’t the case for him.

“I definitely don’t need to be drunk to enjoy screaming into a mike,” he said, adding that his go-to karaoke song is Alicia Keys’ ‘Fallin’.

“I’m not worried to perform in front of people but I’d personally rather be drunk because of how bad some people sound.”

Top 10 karaoke songs

Postscript spoke to Tir Nan Og karaoke host Blaine Hopkins to find out what’s popular on Thursday nights.

1. “Don’t Stop Believing” by Journey
2. “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen
3. “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot
4. “Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond
5. “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
6. “Ain’t no Mountain High Enough” by the Temptations
7. “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls
8. “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks
9. “Hey Jude” by the Beatles
10. “Rolling in the Deep” by Adele


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