Music

When a Perfect Night Out Means Singing ‘Thong Song’ for Strangers

This story is part of an occasional series exploring nightlife in New York.

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After a co-worker brought up karaoke in conversation last week, Molly Archuleta knew exactly where she wanted to spend her Friday night.

Ms. Archuleta, who lives in Bushwick, hopped on the subway to head to Planet Rosea karaoke lounge in Alphabet City that she discovered 12 years ago.

“The best thing about it is it’s an open karaoke experience, so you don’t know what’s going to come through the door,” she said. “You have accountants coming to sing Metallica; you have out-of-towners that want to sing Celine Dion, which we will always support.”

Even with the abundance of private karaoke rooms around New York City, there are plenty of people who prefer a more communal environment. At Planet Rose, they sing their favorite songs from zebra print booths and dance along as strangers perform on faded checkered floors.

“People come in randomly to be like, ‘my mom’s anniversary happened, I want to sing her favorite song,’ or ‘my like, brother is getting married and I’m so excited,'” Ms. Archuleta said. “Everyone in life always needs some kind of safe space for release.”

Planet Rose, of course, isn’t the only bar of its kind. Plenty of New York venues host communal karaoke nights that are beloved by patrons and hosts alike.

Olive Oliver, 26, hosts Sunday night karaoke some weeks at Jadea bar on the border of Bed-Stuy and Bushwick.

She usually kicks things off by performing “Thong Song” by Sisqo — “it’s so theatrical, and it shows that you actually have a range as a singer” — and then tries to rally patrons into singing their own songs.

Obviously, I respect boundaries. If someone says ‘I don’t want to sing,’ I think that’s fine,” she said. “But whenever a shy person is OK to go up on the stage to sing something, I’m always going to be their No. 1 hype-man.”

Some nights she also hosts at Rebecca’sa Bushwick bar that’s a block away from Jade, or Chino Grandea new karaoke saloon in Williamsburg.

But regardless of where she is, her success hinges on reading the energy of the room.

“If there’s a roomful of white women, I’m probably going to do ‘You Oughta Know,'” she said of the Alanis Morissette song. “If there are old aunties or people who have like, the grown and sexy vibe, I’ll pick something from the ’90s R&B catalog. And sometimes, if I feel like I’m among the family of queer people, I’m going to sing maybe Whitney Houston or Shania Twain.”

No matter what, she’ll try her best to find common ground.

“If they have no apparent first-glance commonalities, you can at least know that they are all in the same place at the same time,” Ms. Oliver said. “If you live in Bushwick in 2022, you’ve got to have heard one Charli XCX song.”

Jade Beyers, 36, a co-owner and manager of Jade, said she’d experienced “enough karaoke for a lifetime” while bartending during its karaoke Sundays. But she still loves watching people embrace the opportunity to put on a person or do something silly.

“You can be comfortable in a space like that, where you can just be silly or forget the words and not feel humiliated,” she said. “Because there is just this undercurrent of love and care.”

Missy O’Reilly, 43, who has co-owned Planet Rose since 2007, said she doesn’t often do karaoke herself, and prefers to dance along as others perform.

“I need to be kind of drunk on eggnog and hearing ‘Christmas Shoes‘ to be motivated to sing,’ she said.

But she fully understands the importance of creating a place where regulars can connect with each other, one “where people can feel free to be vulnerable.”

“It’s such a diverse group of people that are connected through this weird, tacky place and who have just made this connection through karaoke,” she said. “Everyone’s always saying how it’s their church.”

Last Friday, Roy Marasigan — who’s known by friends as Cowboy Roy — did Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Knock Three Times” at Planet Rose as the bar cheered him on.

Mr. Marasigan, 44, works as a freelance video editor and said his odd schedule was part of why he has been coming to the bar since 2004.

“That’s the beauty of this place,” he said. “My weekends are sometimes like, a Tuesday or Wednesday night, and I can stop any night here and there’s always people here to hang out with.”

Later in the night, as he watched two people perform “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine, Mr. Marasigan began tearing up.

“There’s something about singing a great song,” he said. “The joy is just so beautiful.”

Please check websites or contact venues to confirm karaoke hours; some only have karaoke certain nights each week or month.

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