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The final curtain: The deadly danger of singing “My Way” in the Philippines

Nobody knows exactly how many people have been shot while singing My Way in Filipino karaoke bars. But there have been enough to merit a separate subcategory of crime known as “My Way Killings”.

Are these killings just an inevitable result of the country’s culture? Or is there something about the song that incites violence? Could it be something even more sinister?

One example was reported by GMA News in August 2014 under the headline My Way strikes again? In this case one man was killed and other was stabbed in Legazpi City after arguing over who should get to sing the song. The report noted: “While a beloved classic, many karaoke and videoke patrons dare not touch My Way, which seems to be linked to a number of killings in bars across the Philippines over the years.”

It should be said that karaoke killings are not limited to the Philippines. A man in Malaysia was fatally stabbed for hogging the microphone at a bar and a Thai man killed eight of his neighbours in a rage after they sang John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads.

Karaoke-related assaults have also occurred in the United States, including at a Seattle bar where a woman punched a man for singing Coldplay’s Yellow after criticising her earlier attempt.

Still, the chances of getting killed singing karaoke may be higher in the Philippines, simply because it’s such a popular pastime.

Filipino get-togethers inevitably involve karaoke. Stand-alone machines can be found in the most unlikely places and people use them at the oddest — and most anti-social — of times.

Perhaps Filipinos, who very often take great pride their singing, have a lower tolerance for bad singers.

Indeed, most of the My Way killings have reportedly occurred after the singer sang out of tune, causing other patrons to laugh or jeer. It could be that because My Way is so universally recognised, everybody has a strong opinion on how it should sound.

However, some point out that other popular tunes have not provoked killings, and say there must be something about the song itself.

The lyrics, written by Paul Anka for Mr Sinatra are about a tough guy who when there was doubt, simply ate it up and spit it out.

Mr President, are you absolutely sure that’s a wise choice of song?

Butch Albarracin, owner of Centre for Pop, a Manila-based singing school that has helped launch the careers of many famous stars, favoured what he described as the “existential explanation.”

I did it my way — it’s so arrogant,” he said. “The lyrics evoke feelings of pride and arrogance in the singer, as if you’re somebody, when you’re really nobody. It covers up your failures. That’s why it leads to fights.”

Defenders of My Way say it’s simply a victim of its own popularity. Because it’s sung more often than most songs, the thinking goes, karaoke-related violence is statistically more likely to occur while people are singing it. The actual reasons for the violence are breaches of karaoke etiquette, like hogging the microphone, laughing at someone’s singing or choosing a song that has already been sung.

“The Philippines is a very violent society, so karaoke only triggers what already exists here when certain social rules are broken,” said Roland B Tolentino, a pop culture expert at the University of the Philippines. But even he admitted that the song’s “triumphalist” tone might contribute to the violence.

Awash in more than a million illegal guns, the Philippines suffers from all manner of violence, from the political to the private, so why should karaoke be any different?

Whatever the reasons for the phenomenon of “My Way Killings” — whether it’s the song itself, simple statistics or some sort of curse — it’s probably not worth the risk of facing the final curtain.