The “My Way” killings are a social phenomenon in the Philippines, where the killing of karaoke singers who get into disputes about their renditions of Frank Sinatra’s signature tune, “My Way”, has led some bars to ban the song and other singers to abstain from singing it. Opinions differ over whether the deadly pattern is due more to the coincidence that the song was frequently sung amid the violence of the nation’s karaoke bars or to the aggressive lyrics of the song itself.
In the decade up to 2010, about a half dozen killings occurred in the Philippines in connection with strenuous complaints over the quality of particular offerings of the song, prompting Filipino newspapers to name the phenomenon the “‘My Way’ killings”. The exact number of deaths is unknown. On May 29, 2007, a 29-year-old karaoke singer of “My Way” at a bar in San Mateo, Rizal, was shot dead as he sang the tune, allegedly by the bar’s security guard, who was arrested after the incident. According to reports, the guard complained that the young man’s rendition was off-key, and when the victim refused to stop singing, the guard pulled out a .38-caliber pistol and shot the man dead.
Vocalizing the tune can be dangerous not only for the singer but for critics in the vicinity. According to one newspaper report, when the friend of an off-duty police officer belted out the song at a bar, the officer reacted to the negative comments of nearby patrons by pulling out his gun. The officer’s family later decided never to play the song at family gatherings.
Measures to prevent violence
Some Filipinos, even those who love the song, will not sing it in public in order to avoid trouble. As of 2007, the song reportedly had been taken off of the playlists of karaoke machines in many bars in Manila after complaints about out-of-tune renditions of the song resulted in fights and deaths. According to a 2007 Reuters news report, the “My Way” killing phenomenon had started a few years before.
Filipinos who can afford to do so often get private rooms at karaoke bars. Violence in some bars has led owners of the establishments to employ gay men, who use humor in defusing conflicts between male patrons over women, since the gay men are seen as neutral. The same gay men are used to smooth over conflicts over karaoke singing.
The phenomenon, in the words of a New York Times article, has “left Filipinos groping for answers” as to why “My Way” would be so deadly for the country’s karaoke singers. “Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?”
Karaoke bars in the Philippines can often be very violent, with fights often sparked over poor singing, and the noticed number of killings connected to singing of the song may simply reflect its popularity in a violent environment, according to Roland B. Tolentino, a pop culture expert at the University of the Philippines. But he added that the song’s “triumphalist” theme might also be a factor.
Yet other tunes, just as popular in the Philippines, have not resulted in murder. Butch Albarracin, the owner of Center for Pop, a Manila-based singing school, believes the lyrics of “My Way” increase the violence. “The lyrics evoke feelings of pride and arrogance in the singer, as if you’re somebody when you’re really nobody,” Albarracin said in a 2010 interview. “It covers up your failures. That’s why it leads to fights.” Karaoke singing is a widespread pastime in the Philippines, including among the poor, where many were earning about $2 a day in 2007 and could purchase time on a karaoke machine (called “videoke” machines in the Philippines) for 5 pesos (about 10 cents in US currency).
“Karaoke rage” is not just limited to “My Way” in the Philippines. “There have been several reported cases of singers being assaulted, shot or stabbed mid-performance, usually over how songs are sung,” according to a 2008 report in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. In Malaysia in 2008, a man at a coffee shop hogged the karaoke microphone so long he was stabbed to death by other patrons. In Seattle, a woman reportedly punched a karaoke singer in a dispute over the man’s rendition of “Yellow” by Coldplay. In Thailand, a man was arrested on charges that he shot to death eight neighbors, one of whom was his brother-in-law, in a dispute stemming from several karaoke offerings, including repeated renditions of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads”.