As you may or may not know, writing for Popblerd is merely what I do during the day; at night, I dive headfirst into the glamorous world of karaoke, where I make my money congenially badgering people into singing in front of strangers. (I also do the “Cupid Shuffle”, like, a lot. It’s a dance comprised of four simple steps, which really speaks to my
whiteness dancing abilities.)
But the simple fact remains that, while karaoke has gained a lot of traction as a form of entertainment in the last decade or so, it’s not perfect. Digital files are tricky things. They skip or glitch out from time to time, and certain companies aren’t exactly invested in making the beats of the sound resemble the originals. (Hence the robotic, downtuned version of Prince’s “Kiss” I sang that one time. How am I to impress with my dog-whistle falsetto when the highs aren’t even that high? Sigh.)
And lyrics are no different: mondegreens, the name given to casual lyric flubs, have been around forever. KissThisGuy.com exists because someone once thought that Jimi Hendrix was excusing himself to go make out with a dude; everyone’s dad claims that they invented the famous “bathroom on the right” CCR flub; even I thought as a youngster that Axl Rose was singing about “hedonistic greed” and not things that are “hazardous to breathe” in “Paradise City”, although I still maintain that my lyric illustrates a wonderfully dystopic vision of a soiled paradise. But when you’re in the game of providing singalongs for the drunken masses, one would assume that you’d double-check your lyrical content, lest you flood the marketplace with lyrical faux pas like the following.
6. “Daughter,” Pearl Jam
The real lyric: “Don’t call me daughter/ not fit to.”
Botched karaoke lyric: “Don’t call me daughter/ not fatal.”
It’s not like it’s entirely surprising that someone would mishear a Pearl Jam lyric; after all, frontman Eddie Vedder is basically the poster boy for mush-mouthed rock singers. Early b-side and fan favorite “Yellow Ledbetter” has a pretty terrific karaoke track, which tries to actually add lyrics where they don’t really exist (Vedder famously improvised his way through an epic blues jam, so the tune really has no official lyrics); but the file for “Daughter” drops the ball entirely, especially in the refrain. Thematically, grammatically, “not fatal” doesn’t fit; were we to transform the original lyric into a proper sentence, it would read something like “Don’t call me daughter, for you are not fit to do so,” which is a complete and coherent thought. “Not fatal” accomplishes nothing, although it’s interesting to note that a later (excellent) b-side of the band’s is entitled… wait for it… “Fatal”. Everything comes full circle.
5. “Slow Jamz,” Twista & Kanye West featuring Jamie Foxx
The real lyric: “Some Minnie Riperton would definitely set this party off right.”
Botched karaoke lyric: “So many different tunes would definitely set this party off right.”
“Slow Jamz” is a magnificently fun karaoke song; it’s all the fun of singing an actual slow jam, with none of the boredom. That’s mostly due to Twista’s delightfully fleet-footed verse, and Kanye’s ambling, sing-songy flow, wherein he astutely observes that Michael Jackson has looked both black and white in his lifetime. Jamie Foxx’s chorus shouts out a number of famous soul men and women famous for their baby-makin’ music, including Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, and Ready For the World; when the karaoke file’s scrolling lyrics arrive at Foxx’s ode to Minnie Riperton, however, they ignore Foxx’s specificity and claim that “so many different tunes” would be perfect for the party at hand. Theoretically, it works in context, although Ms. Ripperton’s snubbing is quite egregious.
4. “Loser,” Beck
The real lyric: “Soy un perdedor/ I’m a loser, baby.”
Botched karaoke lyric: “So open the door/ I’m a loser, baby.”
As you can imagine, quirky hits from bygone eras are particularly en vogue when it comes to karaoke selection, and none moreso than this vocally unchallenging, instantly recognizable classic. Beck’s lazy, improvised stream of non sequitur imagery means nothing when you add it up, so flubbing the verses wouldn’t actually be so bad, but the famous refrain takes the biggest hit here. A random door opening wouldn’t exactly be out of place in this kooky jam, but considering that “soy un perdedor” is the direct Spanish-language translation of “I’m a loser”, it seems like a pretty big oversight. (Cue lazy karaoke typist trying to transcribe Beck’s original lyrics: “What the… is that Spanish? Ah, that language is all gibberish anyway. Sounds like something about opening a door to me. Amurrica!”)
3. “Run This Town,” Jay-Z featuring Kanye West & Rihanna
The real lyric: “Can’t be scared when it goes down.”
Botched karaoke lyric: “Can’t be staring nickels down.”
Jay-Z’s massive comeback hit is a modern-day karaoke staple, and with good reason: it’s great fun as a song, and neither Hova and Kanye’s verses or Rihanna’s hook are complicated enough to bomb. The formula’s there, but my regulars like to play this fun little game with me called “let’s recruit Drew to do the hook on any and all modern rap songs”. Which is all fine and dandy (although it means I regularly screech my way through the “Love the Way You Lie” chorus), but this little number is a different beast entirely. Let’s just say that I’m not the best enunciator, and on the “staring nickels” line, I routinely get head-turns from patrons convinced they just heard me drop a particularly incendiary slang term that’s quite prevalent in modern hip-hop.
So I’ve taken to singing the original lyrics in an exaggerated fashion, pronouncing all my consonants with impeccable diction, and that’s cleared up that problem; but the “staring nickels” line still strains credulity, conjuring images of Rihanna trying to bend coins with her mind or some such nonsense.
2. “Poker Face,” Lady Gaga
The real lyric: “I’ll get him hot/ show him what I’ve got.”
Botched karaoke lyric: “I’ll get him hard/ show him what I’ve got.”
I’m willing to give this one a free pass because they pretty much both mean boners. Still incorrect, however.
1. “Starships,” Nicki Minaj
The real lyric: “My name is Onika, you can call me Nicki.”
Botched karaoke lyric: “My name is a n*gga, you can call me Nicki.”
It’s not a stretch to think that Nicki Minaj would liberally drop the n-bomb in the middle of one of her raps, as evidenced by every other rap she’s ever done. (She’s been compared to a female Busta Rhymes in the past, who generally uses the word as a device to bounce from one sentence to the next. It’s his version of the space bar.) And it can be equally difficult to transcribe Nicki Minaj’s rapid-fire, heavily-accented flow. (If only there were some sort of massive network of interconnected pages one could connect to and verify her words, life would be so much simpler.) Still, it seems weird even for Nicki to claim that the word is her name, but you can call her Nicki for short — and that’s because she never said it. The phrase gets edited out on the radio, even, so karaoke isn’t the only medium at fault for mishearing her words, but somehow it’s more problematic when drunken white girls (the only people who sing Nicki Minaj songs) try to navigate the phrasing, and are taken off-guard and thrown wildly off-track by the monolith of a cultural no-no suddenly thrown into their path. (This, or they say it anyway because they’re drunken white girls and society gives them a pass. It’s a strange world we live in.)
In either instance, it’s an improbably lyric choice, chiefly because Minaj’s birth name is… wait for it… Onika. OMG IT ALL MAKES SENSE.
So it’s time to sound off in the comments section: karaoke-goers, have you ever encountered these lyrical faux pas? What are some of your head-scratching favorites?
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- Michael Vedder