From behind the bar, he declared, “You! Hey you, you’re up!” In a state of unthinking, which is the natural state of most humans in the present (and probably past and future), I take “the stage.” Of course, it’s not really a stage as Europe has no want of such things–such decadences–to even remotely enhance the legitimacy of a karaoke night. So I stand at the edge of the bar with a mic in hand in the part of the room that has been “relegated as an area” for the purposes of letting drunk people sing. With reluctance and after taking another sip from a particularly sugary Moscow Mule, I finally look up at the screen to see that Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is what this “DJ” intends to play for me. I turn to him in a panic and declare, “That’s not my song.”
A man in his fifties with long, stringy gray hair and a matching Led Zeppelin shirt looks me up and down like I’m a prostitute he’s debating asking for services on the street, then assures, “You look kinda trendy, you can do it.” As though “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” is some hip new song that I should try my hand at. Maybe he thinks we’re still in the 80s. God knows that’s what I try to tell myself to get through the fucking day. Maybe his last acid trip was that potent. To have made him lose all grasp of what decade and century we’re actually in. And, speaking of acid, this is the man who just performed a ten minute rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit.” He would then, of course, go on to sing “Mother’s Little Helper” by The Rolling Stones, displaying a clear motif of mistrust for government- or parental-issued pills. Revealing his entire fraught psychology within the confines of this experimental karaoke space.
Surrendering to the fates of ghetto ass Euro karaoke, I sigh as I make the most of a performance that would have been otherwise wooden were it not for my unique touches: “Bitches just wanna have fun, oh cunt rags just wanna have fun. Bitches, they wanna, wanna have fun. Bitches. Wanna have. They just wanna, they just wanna.” I must have repeated the “they just wanna” lyric for roughly one minute. This had to be a remix edition. I even sat down briefly during a pause that I thought was the end before being instructed to go back up and finish what I started. Those are the karaoke (and general) rules of Europe–you can’t just walk away from something because you want to the way you can in Amérique Le Freak. So I persisted, singing a song that wasn’t mine, that I would never in a million years choose–everyone knew I was strictly Team Madonna in the once brief media war pitting between her and Lauper. Condemned to perform a track that had no bearing on my own need to exact the spreading of generational propaganda, I felt obliged to rectify the situation somewhere in between the karaoke cliches of Green Day’s “Basket Case” and No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak.” Because, for whatever reason, the 90s have an unshakeable hold on all continents. It is the great bridge between the generations trying to communicate their message of so-called importance to forebears and descendants alike. Depending on what side of time one is on, the message can be conveniently compartmentalized as follows: “You’re a frivolous lot that has effectively caused the downfall of society” or “You don’t know what it is to have come of age in an era this fucked.”
I suppose, wanting to drive home the latter point, I chose “7 Rings” by Ariana Grande, which I could later see was but a modernized version of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” A more unabashed anthem in its declaration of women preferring materialism to the purported “rewards” of a romance with any man (even one that can buy you shit upon occasion). A crew of five slightly overweight girls who had dominated a large portion (no wordplay intended) of the night with more esoteric French and Italian songs (including Richi e Poveri’s “Sarà Perché Ti Amo”) suddenly appeared to provide backup, as though Grande was a spokesperson for a generation that could transcend all language barriers. That’s why one should never underestimate the power of aesthetic when it comes to her international success. As Billie Eilish rather has. I suppose if I wanted to make an even more au courant generational statement, I could’ve chosen “Bad Guy,” but it just doesn’t have the same “going for the jugular” quality of “7 Rings” in terms of being bitingly and unapologetically materialistic. Because overpriced objects really are the only things that never disappoint you in this life.
The plus size girls next to me seemed to believe so as well, even though their dowdy appearance certainly wouldn’t indicate it. This was no frills, fresh out of fucks forever (shit, maybe I should’ve responded to “White Rabbit” with “Venice Bitch”). For they joined in immediately as unwanted backup singers when they could manage to interpret the lyrics that weren’t, “Yeah, my receipts, be lookin’ like phone numbers/If it ain’t money, then wrong number/Black card is my business card/The way it be settin’ the tone for me/I don’t mean to brag, but I be like, ‘Put it in the bag,’ yeah/When you see them racks, they stacked up like my ass, yeah/Shoot, go from the store to the booth/Make it all back in one loop, give me the loot.” At least I was given this opportunity for my rightful solo on the mic thanks to the speed of Grande’s intonation and her vocab being well out of their English-speaking wheelhouse.
By now the Led Zeppelin t-shirt guy had departed, faded into obscurity like the rest of the baby boomers, perhaps too tired to endure any further taking in of the decay that had set in after his generation’s prime. The ascension of a youth culture that had nothing of value to say, unless they kowtowed to the always uniting 90s catalogue of karaoke staples.