With bars, restaurants, and other gathering spaces across the country closing as a safety precaution to help limit the spread of the coronavirus, and millions holed up in their homes practicing social distancing, virtual happy hours have become the new norm for getting shithoused with your friends. While these online gatherings have been a blessing for socializing and supporting each other through this crisis (though not reason enough to put on a bra), I, an extrovert, felt compelled to kick it up a notch. One of my favorite activities under normal circumstances is karaoke, and I figured that there had to be a way to continue the experience of draping my body over a karaoke jockey's speaker while singing En Vogue's "My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It)" with my friends on an online forum.
The karaoke bar near my work has been the go-to spot for countless happy hours and birthdays. It's seen me at my best, and my worst, embracing me at both extremes. On one particularly infamous occasion, I got physically carried out of the joint while wearing boots I forced back on even though my socks were somehow soaked in beer. As a hardcore karaokephile, nothing can keep me out of that darkly lit, laser beam-filled room. Well… nothing except the outbreak of a deadly virus. A degree in virology isn't necessary to know that karaoke microphones are probably a petri dish of COVID-19 bacteria and god knows what else. (A karaoke mic infected me with a serious cold just a few months ago.) Saddened by my inability to torment a group of friends and strangers with a drunken rendition of "Since U Been Gone," I verbalized my lament on Twitter, posting, "Solemnly looking out of my window, a single tear gathering in my eye, I ask myself 'will I ever karaoke again?'”
I realized then that if I kar'd to 'oke ever again, it would only happen by my own volition. Exasperated by cabin fever and a deep desire to belt out "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia, I decided to find a way to host virtual karaoke.
I went into one of my many group chats and presented them with the idea. We could hop into a Google Hangout, pull up karaoke versions of songs on YouTube, and take turns singing. Because this group consists of only down-ass bitches who go hard on the karaoke stage, I got a resounding hell yeah. I also invited a few other friends who have spent many nights with me trying to keep up with a Mariah Carey song. At 9 p.m. on Monday, six of us logged on to a Google Hangout—a drink in one hand, a household object to be used as a microphone in the other.
Just like at regular karaoke, there is karaoke etiquette to follow: No songs over three-and-half minutes; no "Don't Stop Believin'," "Hotel California," or any other overly burned-out song; and absolutely NO BROADWAY. I once endured a full night of a woman operatically bellowing out songs from Phantom of the Opera, and it was a nightmare for everyone in that bar.
My friend Amanda kicked us off with an absolute 00s alt-rock karaoke banger, "Gives You Hell" by The All-American Rejects. It's easy to forget how many jams this mid-aughts group delivered ("Swing, Swing"! "Dirty Little Secret"! "Move Along"!). What would teen comedies of the era be without their generous contributions to pop culture? Luckily, Amanda was there to remind us, and she stuck true to another important rule of karaoke: You must fully commit. Half-assing through a song is no fun for the singer or the audience. Even if you're tone deaf, have as much rhythm as a vibrator with a dying battery, or are singing into a hairbrush on Google Hangouts as five people dance along with you on your screen—as was the actual case—you have to go for it. And she did!
Jenny, too, went hard, giving us Ivy Queen's "Muchos Quieren Tumbarme" using a water bottle as a mic and venturing into some a capella improvisation when we realized that playing the karaoke version on a phone provides better sound quality than a computer speaker. Even so, Jenny gave us hair flips, finger waves, and vocals, doing the original queen of reggaeton proud. Meredith then lit some sage, cleansing the speakers of any nasty, anti-karaoke spirits, before delivering Amy Winehouse's version of "Valerie." Backlit by the glow of several Williamsburg buildings lit up in the night, and dressed in her coziest cardi, she added an extra jazzy flourish to the karaoke staple. Zoe brought in a special guest star—her stoned roommate—for a rousing rendition of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."
Then, shit got serious. Suzy brought down the lights in her room, pulled her hoodie over her head, and crooned Jewel's "You Were Meant For Me," looking into her laptop camera with the same sensual innocence Jewel herself delivers in her music videos. Having sang in bands before, Suzy intrinsically knew how to deliver the drama. She would bring that same level of theatricality to her powerful rendition of Linkin Park's "In The End," which brought the house down. It inspired the rest of us to also turn the lights down low in our respective karaoke chambers, serving plenty of face into the camera as we took turns singing "Old Town Road," "Complicated, "Maps," and, eventually, "Torn" as our grand finale. As for me, I felt the need to really show out and honor my friends' willingness to take part in one of my schemes by doing sultry, over-the-shoulder poses while singing Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" into my toothbrush, and later getting on all fours and backing my ass up into the camera while performing Ginuwine's "Pony." It was my gift to them.
I expected the activity to be a good time, and a much-needed respite from the overwhelming sense of dread we're all feeling—a chance to feel semi-normal again—but I didn't realize just how much fun we would end up having. For over two hours, we sang our hearts out, took breaks to chat and check in with one another, and pretended for a little while that we were just six friends—old and new—shredding our vocal chords at karaoke.
And if I needed any more proof that it was a successful endeavor, Meredith texted me the following morning that she was "extremely hungover." Perfect.
Alex Zaragoza is a senior staff writer at VICE. You can follow her on Twitter.