Frank Sinatra’s classic ‘My Way’ has led to several killings at karaoke bars
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
ABC News reported in December 2008 that some bars in the Philippines removed “My Way” from their karaoke song catalogue because it resulted in too many arguments.
When Frank Sinatra sang “And now, the end is near,” the opening lyrics to his 1969 hit song, “My Way.” Who would have thought those words would have such dark overtones. The song was written by Canadian singer, Paul Anka; and it has been immensely popular in karaoke bars worldwide.
Unfortunately, “My Way” has also been at the centre of several incidents of violence in the Philippines. Several people have been killed when the song had been sung in numerous karaoke bars. According to a February 2010 article in The New York Times, in the early 2000s, six people died in karaoke bars for singing “My Way.” In an October 2019 article in Esquire magazine (Philippines edition), in 2007, a karaoke bar security guard in San Mateo, Rizal, shot a 29-year-old man for singing “My Way.” The article states, “Apparently, the young man was off-key, and when he wouldn’t stop singing, the guard lost his shit, pulled out a .38 calibre pistol, and shot him dead.”
Rodolfo Gregorio, a barber in the Philippines, stated that he enjoys singing karaoke. But he avoids singing “My Way.” Gregorio says he does not want to put his life in danger telling the New York Times, “I used to like ‘My Way,’ but after all the trouble, I stopped singing it. You can get killed.” Gregorio also states the song is very polarizing for so many people at karaoke bars: “The trouble with ‘My Way,’ is that everyone knows it and everyone has an opinion.” ABC News reported in December 2008 that some bars in the Philippines removed “My Way” from their karaoke song catalogue because it resulted in too many arguments.
However, the violence at karaoke bars is not relegated to the Philippines. In the late 2000s, ABC News reported that a man in Malaysia was fatally stabbed for keeping the microphone to himself at a bar. As well, a man in Thailand killed eight of his neighbours in a rage after they sang “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by John Denver. And in the US, at a bar in Seattle, a woman after hearing a man singing “Yellow” by Coldplay—criticized his version before punching him.
One reason Sinatra’s classic song has caused violence is due to its evocative lyrics. Butch Albarracin, owner of Centre for Pop, a singing school based in Manila, offers an explanation why “My Way” causes such a strong reaction with people. “‘I did it my way’—it’s so arrogant,” he said to The New York Times. “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.”
Raina Lee, the author of Hit Me with Your Best Shot: The Ultimate Guide to Karaoke Domination, has studied the phenomenon of karaoke culture. She says karaoke becomes very personal for some people. Many people sing songs that become their favourites, and oftentimes their versions of songs they belt out are not always the “favourites” for the people having to listen. “There is definitely a lot of drama in a karaoke room,” Lee said to ABC News. “People really feel a sense of ownership over their songs. Karaoke is this form of expression where anyone can have their three and a half minutes of fame.”
Lee also states television shows like American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice have popularized and increased peoples’ desire to be more extroverted by singing karaoke at their local bars. “It’s a way for people to perform in this star-obsessed culture,” she said. “If you can take over a bar for a few minutes…it’s low risk and can be really gratifying if you sing and people think you’re really great.”
In March 2018, Coconuts Manila reported the House of Representatives Committee on Public Order and Safety in Manila, reviewed a bill seeking to limit karaoke hours—to decrease further violence in karaoke establishments. The bill was issued as House Bill number 1035 and “proposed by Quezon province Rep. Angelina Tan…” The bill stipulates that karaoke sessions will only occur between 8 am to 10 pm; and it also declares, “It shall be unlawful for any person or business establishment to cause unnecessary disturbance to the public.” In addition, any businesses that breach the 10 pm curfew would be fined 1,000 PHP (Philippine peso), equivalent to $19.21 US dollars. Also, further punishment would be six months in jail and businesses losing their license to operate.
Notably, House Bill number 1035 was created to deescalate further violence as Coconuts Manila reported, “In November , a man in Navotas City killed his friend after the two fought over a karaoke song. Just last month [in February 2018], a man stabbed and killed his friend inside a karaoke bar.”
In the end, singing karaoke is meant to be a pleasurable activity—for friends and family to enjoy. Karaoke should be fun and not be a competition. No one should have to lose their life because a person is unable to sing “My Way” perfectly in its entirety. But if you are brave enough and choose to sing the Sinatra classic a wise recommendation would be that you should know how to sing first before asking for the microphone.