As much as we here at Billboard lacked live music in the midst of the pandemic, another cultural loss has been equally devastating to our everyday lives: the shutdown of karaoke. Concerts were how we connected best with our favorite artists, but karaoke is how we really connected with our favorite songs. Whether at a solo mic onstage in a strange, sparsely populated bar or crammed into a room with a dozen of our closest and liveliest friends, karaoke has given us pop music lovers the opportunity to not only to celebrate those tunes, but to crawl within them, to become an essential part of them. Throw in a cheap non-sequence music video, a pitcher of local beer, and a tambourine, and any random Thursday night downtown could turn into the most transcendent musical experience of your entire year.
With karaoke finally back – and please keep practicing singing safely, everyone – Billboard wanted to celebrate the art form that has given us countless examples of incomparable joy and equally incomparable hangovers over the years. Today we present our list of the 100 greatest karaoke songs of all time, a set of road-tested classics that you can find in most karaoke songbooks that are guaranteed to set your heart on fire. room. (And if not, it’s surely the venue’s fault.) In addition to the hard-won wisdom of our own staff, gleaned from decades of empty orchestral trial and error , we enlisted a few ringers — karaoke jockeys, bartenders, and owners across the country — for their own expert commentary, which you’ll find throughout our list.
So what makes a good karaoke song? Well, there is certainly no single answer to this question – a classical chant for some is a mandatory bathroom break for others, and a great performer can make a controversial choice seem inspired as easily as a dull artist can. flop with a choice not to be missed. Plus, the most beloved pop artists aren’t always the best karaoke: our list contains plenty of one-hit wonders and other 40 curiosities, but no songs from such obvious icons as the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Prince , Mariah Carey, Justin Bieber, Michael Jackson, Janet Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Guns N’ Roses or Rihanna. Some are missing because their voice is too difficult or inimitable, some because they don’t have That One Karaoke Song to dominate the rest, some just because 100 is a small number and it seemed more appropriate to use the room for artists like 4 Non Blondes and Biz Markie, whose presence at karaoke remains eternal despite being tied to a single song.
Either way, look at our list and similar characteristics will emerge: more often than not, our favorite karaoke songs are familiar, accessible, simple without being predictable, and reminiscent of a specific time and place without being hopelessly stuck there. More importantly, they all sound great at high volume and questionable pitch, and they all invite you to have fun with them. Here are our picks for the all-time true 100 – with a little help from our friends in the industry – and please feel free to grab that spare mic still sitting on the speaker. You can always use the help on the harmonies and choirs.
Additional reporting by Katie Atkinson, Katie Bain, Hannah Dailey Johnson, Jessica Nicholson, Danielle Pascual, Jessica Roiz and Christine Werthman.