The My Way killings are a social phenomenon in the Philippines, referring to a number of fatal disputes which arose due to the singing of the song “My Way”, popularised by Frank Sinatra, in karaoke bars. A New York Times article estimates the number of killings to be about six up to 2010. Another source estimates at least 12 between 2002 and 2012. Opinions differ over whether the possible connection is due to the coincidence that the song was simply frequently sung amid the nation’s karaoke bars where violence is common or to the aggressive lyrics of the song itself.
In the decade up to 2010, about a half-dozen incidents occurred in the Philippines in connection with strenuous complaints over the singing of the song, prompting Filipino newspapers to name the phenomenon the ” ‘My Way’ killings”.
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.
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).
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 bakla (gay or effeminate men, or trans women), who use humor in defusing conflicts between male patrons over women, since the bakla are seen as neutral. The same bakla are used to smooth over conflicts over karaoke singing.
In a parody of the killings, the Japanese band Kishidan released as their 10th Anniversary single an uptempo rock cover of “My Way”. The promotional music video consisted of the lead singer Ayonocozy Show (DJ Ozma) being shot numerous times while singing. Ayonocozy is then shot once more in the back while walking away after the song is concluded, collapsing in a heap on the stairs. A shortened version was used as a commercial.
The phenomenon left one New York Times writer grasping for answers: “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 breaches of karaoke etiquette – such as laughing at other performers, performing the same song twice, or hogging the microphone. According to Roland B. Tolentino, a pop culture expert at the University of the Philippines Diliman, the noticed number of killings connected to singing of the song may simply reflect its popularity in a violent environment. 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 rage in other countries
“Videoke 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 Thailand, a man was arrested on charges that he shot to death eight neighbours, 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”. In July 2013, an American was stabbed to death for refusing to stop singing in a karaoke bar in Krabi, also in Thailand. In China, a fight occurred over the microphone in a karaoke parlour, and a man hacked two others to death with a meat cleaver. There was also an incident in Seattle where a karaoke singer was punched and attacked by a woman in order to stop him from singing Coldplay’s “Yellow”.