There may be no experience on earth as unifying and freeing as karaoke. There’s the person onstage, shedding their fear and inhibition; there’s the cheering audience, who wants nothing more than for you to succeed; and there’s that magical moment of harmonic convergence when both realize what “success” even looks like – the performer having fun as their truest, most vulnerable self.

It’s a feeling I imagine “real” performers feel before being stolen by their celebrity, when someone’s performance is packaged, monetized, and scrutinized. Karaoke is a cathartic release in its most public and liberating form: all eyes are on you to pretend you’re in the shower or jamming in your pajamas alone, singing as if nobody’s listening and dancing like nobody’s watching. The feeling should be familiar to a Blerd, unabashedly loving what you love and leaving it out there for the world to see, daring them to call it anything but awesome. That’s much of why I love karaoke.

Call 'em. Call each and every one of 'em.
Call ’em. Call each and every one of ’em.

The crossroads between black culture, nerd culture, and music is a busy intersection, maybe even more so than you think. Whether you’re with other Blerds or the only one in the karaoke room, here are ways to can steal the show, connect with kindred souls, and rep your nerd.

Pick “Obscure” Songs
Because they’re really not obscure. Not to 2 or 3 people in that room, anyway. Throw in that jam you thought only you and your closest sibling knew from childhood, and watch as someone else’s eyes light up like the 4th of July. There, you’ve just made an amazing new friend through the eternal bonds of the empty orchestra. They’ll exclaim how they thought they were the only one who knew the song, just like you thought the same, and you’ll run through the lyrics together in 4 minutes of geeky bliss reminiscent of an 8th grade experience you thought was yours alone. Always try an obscure song. It’s a gamble, but like Yu-Gi-Oh you must believe in the heart of the cards, and the rewards far outweigh the risk.

Cue the Soundtrack
We’ve had guilty-pleasure movies as far back as we can remember, only as kids they came without the guilt. We hadn’t been taught to be ashamed of happiness yet. That, combined with TRL, gave us the ability to recall every major soundtrack from the worst movies of all time.

You remember the Godzilla song? Of course you do! Puffy was in the penthouse, and then there was an explosion, and then dude starting rapping! Mid-music video, Diddy flew up in an elevator and burst into a hundred white doves! It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and somebody else in that karaoke room remembers it perfectly. They’ll scream right along with you to those classic opening lines:

“Hear my cries, hear my calls, lend me your ears, see my fall”

Want to try another one? Finish this sentence:

Wild wild west, Jim West, desperado…

The question isn’t even if you know it; it’s how long you continued rapping it in your head until continuing to read this article. Let’s be clear – no one should know the lyrics to this song. This movie should not exist. It is, objectively, one of the worst Hollywood movies of all time. But none of that matters, because Will Smith had Dru Hill on the track right when you wore out your tape deck listening to Enter the Dru! And now it’s going to bring you together with a group of friends. One of you is Will Smith, the other is Sisqo, and you get +900 crowd points if you remember when to interject the background harmonics. The crowd will go wild.

Whether RZA on the Blade soundtrack or Tevin Campbell on A Goofy Movie, you have an arsenal of karaoke jams at your exposure. Tool up and grab the mic.

Blackstreet, Mya, Mase, and introducing Dil Pickles
Blackstreet, Mya, Mase, and introducing Dil Pickles


Find the Music that Made You
Speaking of Tevin Campbell, what other songs do you remember from when you most impressionable? What music were you listening to at the height of Saturday Morning Cartoons? Pick those songs, because they’re the soundtrack to your childhood when you were to become a Blerd without yet knowing the term. It could be Blink-182 just as much as Mariah Carey; it could be old school hip-hop as much as classic R&B. It comes without genre or recommendation – it just has to be during that time you were coming to learn what you liked, and recorded from the radio during the Top 8 at 8 when you were burning out your tape deck.

Uncover the Secret Blerd Bars
Hidden in hip-hop songs are so many nerd references you’d swear they were writing verses while watching cartoons. Even Immortal Tech slips in subtle nods, referring to having “jealously in your voice like Starscream.” Find those bars and yell them in dedication! Lupe Fiasco circa-2006 and Childish Gambino circa-2011 were particularly both bold and genius with theirs, waiving their Blerd flag high with bars referring to video games, comics, and toons.

Pay homage to those bars, man. When rapping over Gambino’s “Bonfire,” grip the mic with both hands before pointing to your favorite Black nerd in the audience. Look them in the soul when you rap:

“Shoutout to my Blerds, they represent the realness.”

Or watch the adoration in the crowd as you and select others rap Lupe’s Gold Watch. “I love Street Fighter 2, I just really hate Zangief // Only Ken and Ryu, I find it hard to be Blanka.” Watch faces in the audience – full of both envy and support – as they betray their feelings of being left out and wishing they’d played 2D fighting games growing up. No one mixes dork and bravado quite like blerds. It’s all Black. I love us.

LUPE Fiasco
“Hood’s where the heart is, nerd’s where the words from // Don’t represent either, because I merged them”

A “good” karaoke-er isn’t measured by their voice or skill – if you have that going for you, I hope you’re pursuing a “real” stage – they’re measured by how much you can let yourself go, to allow everyone to really see you. A “good” karaoke-er is Dr. Suess’ quote personified on the mic:

“Do what you want and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer in New York City. His forthcoming debut book "Piccolo Is Black" is a celebration of the common adaptations we made while non-diverse pop culture helped us form identities. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @JordanMCalhoun

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