Love is a battlefield: Your guide to having a Valentine's karaoke party

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 15, 2021: Kanisha Adams of Pasadena gives a karaoke performance inside The Boulevard, the only gay bar in Pasadena on the first night in over a year that it was open with no social distancing restrictions and live entertainment. In addition to the return of karaoke, there was also a drag queen performance. The bar only allowed in people who said they were vaccinated. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
Kanisha Adams performd karaoke at the Boulevard in Pasadena in 2021. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)
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Love songs and you-should-let-me-love-you songs. Heartbreaker songs and heartache-to-heartache songs. Maybe you’re amazed by the way she loves you all the time. Maybe you lost the only one who really knew you at all and want them back for good — or you're finally accepting that you can't make them love you — if they don't.

All of these complicated emotions can come bubbling to the surface in mid-February, and they’re best released in a dark room with friends through karaoke. Or even with strangers, if your friends are all tied up.

Almost every killer karaoke song has to do with a love that's forever yours, faithfully, or someone who doesn't understand that you’re the only one who’ll walk across the fire for them. Reclaim those songs that your exes ruined for you.

Last August, The Times created the ultimate guide to finding your go-to karaoke songs with the help of reader suggestions, a panel of karaoke enthusiasts and Pandora music analysts. The song generator allows you to choose songs based on time period, vocal range, mood and difficulty.

We invited the experts from our karaoke project, fellow reporters and Twitter friends to share what they would sing if we had a Valentine’s Day karaoke party — and linked the songs to corresponding karaoke videos for your convenience. We also included suggestions vetted by Pandora music analysts based on data from their Music Genome Project.

Welcome to our virtual karaoke party (Theme: Love and heartbreak)

Phi Do, L.A. Times data and graphics journalist

❤️: “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)

💔: “I Knew You Were Trouble

I don’t like singing alone, so I gravitate toward songs with catchy choruses I can sing with my friends. “I Won’t Say (I’m in Love)” from "Hercules" offers an incredible range of emotions, whether you're singing Megara's part as someone deep in denial about your love — or playing the muses urging your friend to realize their feelings.

And sure, the original lyrics of “I Knew You Were Trouble” by Taylor Swift is great to belt out after a heartbreak, but true elation comes when you replace the “Oh”s in the chorus with high-pitched screams a la Taylor Swift, "I Knew You Were Trouble (Ft. Screaming goat)." What better way to channel your rage than singing: “lyin’ on the cold hard ground AHHHH."

Hannah Glass, Pandora’s rap and hip-hop analyst

❤️: "Crazy in Love"

💔: "You Oughta Know," "Before He Cheats," "Cry Me a River"

My go-to karaoke song for heartbreak (or otherwise) is "You Oughta Know" by Alanis Morissette. I want a chorus that I can scream to. I also like to dedicate the song to "you know who you are" before I start, to spice things up.

"Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood also has similar emotional mezzo-soprano wailing in the chorus. I've never keyed anyone's car, but singing that song makes me think I have and that they deserved it! And the quiet revenge of "Cry Me a River" by Justin Timberlake is always a hit at karaoke too. It's longer than you think, so you have room to play. Bonus points if you get a hype friend to do Timbaland's part.

And shockingly, love songs are not a part of my regular karaoke agendas. There are some classic Frank Sinatra and Elton John tunes that come to mind, but I'd probably go with Beyonce's "Crazy in Love." It's high-energy, it has a Jay-Z duet section, and it's all about the attitude. Also, it has fast lyrics but a small melodic range, so anybody can sing it.

Jessica Roy, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team assistant editor

❤️: “I Got You Babe

💔: “Total Eclipse of the Heart

“I Got You Babe” by Sonny and Cher is fun, upbeat and easy to sing. A duet is a great opportunity for a shyer person to sing without having to be the complete center of attention. And at a brisk 3:10, it doesn’t overstay its welcome on the karaoke stage.

Nothing soothes a broken heart like belting Bonnie Tyler. The best karaoke songs give everyone in the room something to do, and in this case, that’s humming the “tuuuuuurn arouuuuund” refrain in “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” This song turned 40 this week and was just declared “the most epic song ever written” by the BBC. Plus, it’s referenced in the best episode of “Futurama.

Are you going to sound good when you sing it? No. You are not Bonnie Tyler. But that’s not the point. Are you going to feel good while you sing it? Yes, yes you are.

Steve Hogan, Pandora’s director of music analysis

❤️: “The Way You Do The Things You Do

💔: “I’m Still Standing

My pick for love song is “The Way You Do The Things You Do” by The Temptations. This 1964 Motown classic is irresistibly catchy, corny and sweet — a perfect choice for the Valentine’s Day holiday.

And I prefer my breakup song to be inspirational, rather than the “cry in my beer” type. The lyrics on “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John are rapid fire, so a little preparation is warranted, but it is super fun to sing.

Kiki Park, singer and KJ

❤️: “Hero,” “All My Life

💔: ”Flowers,” “You Oughta Know,” “Bust Your Windows,” “Take a Bow

Oh l’amour! I love to sing “Hero” by Mariah Carey to my husband and make him blush, and we both like to belt out our wedding song, “All My Life” by K-Ci & JoJo.

Breakup songs are the best to sing! It's only February, but Miley Cyrus’ “Flowers” is already the breakup song of the year. So petty. I love it!

“You Oughta Know” is the most cathartic to sing. But the ones I love to sing the most are Jazmine Sullivan’s “Bust Your Windows” and Rihanna’s “Take a Bow.” Those pull the broken heartstrings the most.

Graeme Hinde, Casual Encounters Live Band Karaoke

❤️: “Blister in the Sun

💔: “Dead Flowers

Obviously, there's lots of classic love songs out there, so there's plenty of great options for a traditional Valentine's Day song. But if you're looking for an anti-Valentine's Day song, my pick is "Dead Flowers" by The Rolling Stones. With lines like "you can send me dead flowers every morning, and I won't forget to put roses on your grave," it's a ruthless depiction of a love affair that's turned cold and bitter.

Or, if you want to go a different way with it and celebrate self-love this Valentine's Day, there's always "Blister In The Sun" by the Violent Femmes.

Alyssa Navarro, singer

❤️: “My Boo,” “Valentine

💔: “Before He Cheats

"My Boo" by Usher and Alicia Keys is a perfect duet song, and if you don't have a partner, your friends can sing the other part because it's easy and it's a crowd favorite. "Valentine" by Jim Brickman and Martina McBride is my go-to, and I sang this as a kid at all the Filipino parties.

"Before He Cheats" is a song I sang at karaoke during my college years. I sang it at live band karaoke since it's such a popular song! It's fun to sing angry sometimes.

A.J. Rafael, singer-songwriter

❤️: "I’m Yours,” “Back at One

💔: “End of the Road

"I'm Yours" by Jason Mraz is a classic song that every kid learning guitar or ukulele during the time it came out (in the mid-2000s) played. This brings back happy memories of singing to the girl you liked in high school.

"Back at One" by Brian McKnight is a fun bop because you can literally get the whole room to sing the numbers. "1 to 5" has never sounded so good.

And "End of the Road" by Boyz II Men is a fun group song. It can be dedicated to breaking up, losing a job or moving away. It's a generally loved song about the end of the road.

Jen Yamato, L.A. Times film reporter

❤️: "The Power of Love,” "I Have Nothing," “My Heart Will Go On,” “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You,” "The Way I Loved You

💔: "F—- You," "Kill Bill," “It Must Have Been Love,” "Someone Like You," everything by Olivia Rodrigo, "Dancing on My Own"

Karaoke can be one of the purest ways to sing out all those emotions, whether you have butterflies in your stomach, a burning passion, a tortured soul or an unrequited love. The secret to singing a great love song at karaoke, though, is really, truly, feeling it, so let the mic be your therapist for the length of your song and leave it all on the stage.

I tend to get inspired by the love stories I’m watching. My all-time favorite karaoke power ballads? Celine Dion’s “The Power of Love” and Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” But if you’re in the mood to be even more melodramatic and cinematic, throw on Dion's “My Heart Will Go On” and remind everyone in the place that there was plenty of room on that floating door.

Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” — from the ’90s Kevin Costner classic “Robin Hood,” of course — will have strangers singing along. And ever since binge-watching Jenny Han’s “The Summer I Turned Pretty” last year, I’ve had Taylor Swift’s “The Way I Loved You” on repeat in my heart, and on my karaoke list.

Need to vent, cry or get over a break up? Get yourself to karaoke stat and cue up your best bad romance jams to speed along the process. Lily Allen’s “F— You” isn’t technically a break-up song, but it is an instant mood lifter and a great pick for reminding yourself why you’re better off without your terrible ex.

SZA’s “Kill Bill” is the breakup song of the moment. “It Must Have Been Love” by Roxette wrings all the angst and regret of lost love with some cleansing, melodramatic belting — ditto Adele’s “Someone Like You” — and just about every track on Olivia Rodrigo’s “Sour” will do if you need to sit with your tender heart a little bit longer. Cap it off with Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own” and dance your way to catharsis.

A woman sings karaoke
Yun Pak of Koreatown Youth and Community Center sings in a karaoke contest hosted by the L.A. Times and Sunday Jump at the Pilipino Workers Center in Historic Filipinotown. (Ringo Chiu / Los Angeles Times)

Howard Ho, composer and musicologist

❤️: “Your Song

💔: “End of the Road

"Your Song" by Elton John is my selection for favorite love song to sing at karaoke. It has great conversational lyrics and a heartfelt message that resonates with fellow songwriters.

And my favorite breakup song is "End of the Road." It's iconic, and it makes you want to sing along every time it comes on, because it hurts so good.

Jon Healey, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team senior editor

❤️: "Teenage"

💔: "Lip Service"

"Teenage" by Veronica Falls is a song about the little pleasures of a crush. "Driving late at night, I let you listen to the music you like." Is that love, or what? This one is best for altos.

Seems like most of Elvis Costello's early works were breakup songs. But "Lip Service" by Costello and the Attractions has the all-time classic couplet: "When did you become so choosy? Don't act like you're above me, just look at your shoes." This song is an easy reach for baritones and tenors.

Ameera Butt, multiplatform editor

❤️: "Wannabe"

💔: "My Heart Will Go On"

Spice Girls was one of my favorite bands growing up. They were so cosmopolitan and international to me, as a kid living in the Middle East, and embodied all the things I wanted to be. (Sporty! Spice!) If you knew who they were, you were cool. Plus, "Wannabe" came out a year after I visited London for the first time.

And need I say more about Ms. Celine? She's had a career that's spanned decades of pop music. My love for "My Heart Will Go On" is just about equal to my girlhood crush for Leonardo DiCaprio, and we all hope that Kate Winslet will go on after that debatable water scene. Plus, Dion's voice is just divine.

Michelle Woo, L.A. Times West Coast Experiences Editor

❤️: “You Oughta Know

💔: “Head Over Feet

My go-to breakup song is "You Oughta Know." As a quiet person, I revel in unleashing my inner angst with the chorus "AND I'M HERE TO REMIND YOU ..." (Aside: I know people can't help but think about Dave Coulier, a.k.a. Uncle Joey, when they hear the song. But I watched Morissette's documentary, and she neither confirms nor denies the long-standing theory that the lyrics are about him.) Come to think of it, my favorite karaoke love song is also hers. Maybe because it feels so relatable or because it suits my alto vocal range, but I love "Head Over Feet."

Christine Catipon, Stanford psychologist and former KJ

❤️: "Saving All My Love For You," "Save The Best For Last," "If I Ain't Got You"

💔: "Gravity," "Dancing on my Own," "Irreplaceable"

"Saving All My Love For You" by Whitney Houston is a good one, because who doesn't love Whitney — and how touched would someone be that you attempted Whitney for them?

I also like "Save The Best For Last" by Vanessa Williams because my husband sang this to me at karaoke while we were dating, so it's got special meaning to me. Plus, I really did save him for last. And "If I Ain't Got You" by Alicia Keys is one of my favorites. It was a song on a mix CD that my husband made for me before we got married.

As for breakup songs, "Gravity" by Sara Bareilles is haunting and sad because it's about being on the verge of breaking up. It's also a challenge to sing. "Dancing On My Own" by Robyn is a song about watching an ex move on. So painful! And "Irreplaceable" by Beyonce is another fun one when we're glad to kick the person to the curb.

Andrew Turner, local news and sports reporter for The Daily Pilot

💔: "When I Was Your Man"

Anyone who has been in a relationship that went the wrong way has things they wish they did differently. All the lonely hearts commiserate with Bruno Mars on Valentine's Day.

Joel Relampagos, mental health advocate and runner-up in L.A. Times' karaoke contest

❤️: "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now"

💔: "Bye Bye Bye"

My favorite love song to do karaoke to is '"Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now'" by Starship. It's everything we love about the ’80s and a reason to have someone join me on stage since it's a duet. It's so cheesy in all the right ways, and nothing beats the lyrics: "And if this world runs out of lovers / we'll still have each other / nothing's gonna stop us."

My favorite break-up song is "Bye Bye Bye" by *NSYNC because it's an empowering break-up song with a dance that goes along with it. Plus, it's so nostalgic of the year 2000. The crowd always knows the song, which means chances are high that they'll sing and dance along.

Ada Tseng, L.A. Times Utility Journalism Team assistant editor

❤️: “Crush

💔: “Take a Bow"

Mandy Moore’s “Crush” has always been one of my go-tos. It’s sweet and easy to sing, but it also feels quietly courageous. “I have a crush on you / I hope you feel the way that I do” are the hardest words to say when you’re a shy teenager with a secret crush.

I also love “Take a Bow,” because the lyrics set up such a vivid breakup scene. “You look so dumb right now” is exactly what I’d say if a serially unfaithful partner was standing outside my house, giving the same tear-filled apology I’ve already seen a million times before. But it’s empowering to sing, because the song is about finally the finding strength to leave. Go on and take a bow before the sprinklers come on, sir. She’s done with you!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.