Karaoke is the reason I no longer accept invitations without an exhaustive run-down of what the night's festivities might entail. Too many times I have been caught out, expecting an evening of drinks and dancing only to find myself locked in a small room with padded walls and brownish pleather sofas, staring at a flickering blue screen as my so-called friends bellow ("And through it alllllll, she offers me protec-SHUN..."), wail ("My eternal flaaaaaaame...") and screech ("I'm a Barbie girl...") through a back catalogue of songs that you only ever hear at weddings and work parties. "Gangsta's Paradise"? Who says white middle-class boys can't rap? The Grease megamix? Well, one song's never quite enough, is it?
I'm not one of life's limelight lovers, which never used be a social handicap. These days, it's a different tune. What was the naffest night out imaginable has had a makeover and with the advent of slick joints offering private rooms and waitress service, people actually think karaoke is cool. It also means that friends who might previously have shown some reticence at singing to a room of strangers – perhaps, say, because they have a voice like a vulture clawing at a blackboard – feel safe to give free rein to their wildest rock 'n' roll fantasies. And karaoke always brings out the worst in people. There's always that one irritating guy who discovers he's God's gift to melody and will not, at any cost, relinquish the mic. You know who you are. And we're no longer friends.