How Frank Sinatra’s Song ‘My Way’ Triggered Filipino Karaoke Killings
In the Philippines, karaoke is king. Every barangay is equipped with 10 or so karaoke bars, each of which is alive until well into the early morning. But karaoke isn’t complete with alcohol, and when you add a couple of drunk—and off-tune—Filipinos to the mix, odds are, someone’s bound to get hurt. And in the case of the "My Way" killings, some might end up dead.
See, Filipinos love to sing, and most of us can sing. We know a good tune when we hear one, and the greatest faux pas a Filipino can commit is singing off-key. It’s unforgivable, and apparently, worthy of death.
That’s what Filipinos discovered when a spate of karaoke-related killings took place between 2002 and 2012. Within one decade, it’s suspected that at least 12 people were killed in connection to singing Frank Sinatra’s hit song “My Way.”
Popularized 50 years ago, in 1969, “My Way” is one of Sinatra’s greatest records. Critics claim that the song is one of Sinatra’s best, vocally and creatively. But in the Philippines, when you sing Sinatra, you could get killed. Some were killed for singing out of tune, others were killed for hogging the microphone, and quite a few were killed for singing the song on repeat for hours on end.
In 2007, a karaoke bar’s security guard shot a 29-year-old man singing “My Way” in San Mateo, Rizal. Apparently, the young man was off-key, and when he wouldn’t stop singing, the guard lost his shit, pulled out a .38 caliber pistol, and shot him dead.
That’s just one incident from the many that took place in 10 years. The string of killings shocked society, and some bar owners removed the song from the jukebox or videoke machine. Some won’t even sing the song in public, and if they do want to sing it, they’d get a private room at a karaoke bar so no one would be triggered by their off-tune vocals.
The violence led owners to hire gay or effeminate men or transgender women who could smooth over conflicts over (bad) karaoke singing.
Just when they thought the murders had ended, the “My Way” killings struck again just last year in 2018, when a 60-year-old man was stabbed by his neighbor, 28, during a birthday party in Zamboanga del Norte. According to reports, the senior grabbed the mic from his neighbor just when “My Way” was about to play. A fistfight ensued, ending with the neighbor stabbing the elderly man. He was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Later that year, possibly due to the killing, a bill was filed in Congress, proposing a curfew on karaoke to lessen alcohol-influenced violence.
The killings flummoxed the world. Questions began floating in the air. Is it Filipino machismo at work? Is the song inherently sinister? Do Filipinos really suck that bad at singing? (The answer to the last question is no. See: Lea Salonga.)
Life in the Philippine is hard, especially for the predominant sector of society living under the poverty line. It makes sense that karaoke, which is only about P5 per song, became a sweet escape to forget life's struggles for a while. It also makes sense why they’d be angry at people who inadvertently ruined that sliver of peace.
In an interview with the New York Times in 2010, University of the Philippines professor and former dean of the UP College of Mass Communication Roland Tolentino noted, “The Philippines is a very violent society, so karaoke only triggers what already exists here when certain social rules are broken.”
Sinatra’s lyrics certainly didn’t help the situation. Tolentino remarked that the song’s “triumphalist” nature might have had a hand in triggering violence. A closer look at the lyrics reveals a side of Sinatra that’s unapologetic and borderline arrogant. Even Sinatra wasn’t a big fan of the song as his daughter, Tina, revealed that he found the song “self-serving and self-indulgent. He didn’t like it. That song stuck and he couldn’t get it off his shoe.”
Written by Paul Anka, it’s a song that appears to advocate living life without regrets, but the words could also imply closure at the prospect of death.
And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve live a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this
I did it my way
Regardless of what the lyrics mean, the lesson here is clear: Don’t hog the microphone, especially if you can’t sing.