Illustration by CARISSA BAUTISTA
Some things just aren’t as fun doing alone. Karaoke, for example, is predicated upon the very basic human desire to peacock, and the equally ingrained Pinoy need to cram as many vocal somersaults into a single syllable of song. Without an audience, either would literally be like singing in the shower — satisfactory only if you’re particularly great at singing, not quite as rewarding if you’re counting on your stage presence or everyone else being drunk.
Of course, this isn’t true for everyone. This article, in fact, was supposed to be all about the virtue of enjoying things alone, the very social practice of KTV included, but that just seemed unnecessary given the plot twist that went viral of late. All I know is that the idea of singing to an empty room, which is pretty much what we’ll be doing over the next many months, is no longer as enticing as it used to be.
Not too long ago, we were able to board these huge flying buses that would take us to other countries without a bother, where we would do this thing called exploring: walking around all day, entering crowded buildings, tasting things and even licking our fingers if said thing was good, and squeezing into public transport — personal space be damned! — unmuzzled and carefree. On one of these trips a couple of years ago, I came across a females-only hitokara a few blocks from my hotel in Shibuya. As an expert on Doing Things Alone, I decided solo karaoke was worth adding to my portfolio.
I was pleased to learn that a female hitokara room looks and smells the same as a unisex group karaoke room. It’s not fitted with pink curtains, nor does it serve sugary cocktails only. The room stunk of old leather, Lysol, and ghosts of cigarettes past. I ordered a jin tonikku and a small basket of fries, and set my limit to one hour, forgetting that time operates differently on the KTV plane. It was nine o’clock on a Saturday, and the next thing I knew, the harmonica was fading out. Is singing all the parts in Bohemian Rhapsody (including the guitar solo) as much fun as attempting Aegis with friends? Depends WHEN you ask.
The room stunk of old leather, Lysol, and ghosts of cigarettes past. I ordered a jin tonikku and a small basket of fries, and set my limit to one hour, forgetting that time operates differently on the KTV plane.
Back when being social was socially acceptable, short periods of solitude released me from the mundanity of small talk, feigning interest, or paying attention. I would thoughtfully digest the thoughts and sensations handed to my brain. I’d have time to process my feelings and identify which adorable disorder had decided to latch on to my personality that day.
Now? I crave the solitude just as much. I demand it in between “quick calls” and “quick runs” to the grocery; I pine for it right before a social video call and roll myself in its weighted arms right after. Peace and quiet, it seems, will always be a need because the world will never cease to introduce new sources of anxiety. If it’s not terrible traffic, it’s a global pandemic.
One thing I didn’t expect to miss was singing in a crowded room, elbow-to-elbow with bellowing friends, thinking every five minutes, “Which glass is mine again?” — not caring to wait for an answer. Now that I am so painfully aware of the projectile force of droplets that come from singing, the infographic now an enduring cave etching in my brain, karaoke will never be the same. (I can’t believe we sang Heart songs to each other’s faces. What a cruel, inhumane practice, come to think of it. I’d imagine Billie Eilish would be a considerate choice, if ventriloquism was a solution at all.)
Are we doomed to enjoy this once-social pastime solo, forever? An optimist would say no. A pessimist would say yes. A germophobe won’t even touch the topic. (Ha, see what I did there?) A karaoke lover? She’s still hopeful, but knows better than to key in “6977.”