My Way has left a lasting imprint in pop culture. It was a french song repurposed by Paul Anka (known for Put Your Head On My Shoulder and co-writing Love Never Felt So Good with MJ and JT) for Frank Sinatra. It has been covered by artists such as Elvis Presley, Nina Simone, R. Kelly and has been sampled by Jay-Z. In addition, it was once used by Sesame Street for an anti-littering segment.
Its popularity, nonetheless, has also permeated into Filipino Pop Culture, being a staple song during Sunday jukebox hits on radio as well as in videoke bars…well until in recent years. Some videoke bars have banned My Way or removed the song altogether from their song catalog. Why? Because the song has purportedly started bar brawls, or much worse, deaths.
Dubbed as the “My Way Killings”, there have been multiple accounts of people getting stabbed to death or gunned down because of singing the song. Because of the song’s unbelievable link with death, numerous international media outlets had covered the phenomena–namely The New York Times.The comedy website Cracked has even labelled it as a “cursed song”. It has gained so much infamy that it has somehow rose to urban legend status locally. It’s amazing to see comments like these on social media:
Sorry netizens, but it’s not because of the devil; Karaoke Rage is a real thing. As what an article from Slate has pointed out, “karaoke bars bring together several socially combustible elements…fill a room with 30 or so exhibitionists, ply them with alcohol…and it’s only a matter of time before all the forced interaction results in conflict.” What this just means is that brawls are something to expect from public karaoke. However, us asians one-upped the whole Karaoke Rage thing by crossing onto murder territory.
There have been reports of Karaoke Rage in Malaysia, Thailand and China; all leading to deaths. But these reported murders are isolated cases. No pattern can be established, no single song can tie the incidents together in each country. And this is where we differentiate ourselves from other Asian countries. Our murderous karaoke rage, more often than not, involves My Way. And as what Lourd De Veyra reported in his Word of the Lourd episode on it, there are roughly 70 cases of murderous karaoke rage that involved the song. We Filipinos have transcended asian-level Karaoke Rage. Isn’t that a strong enough case to stake our claim as the one true heir to the Iron Karaoke Cabinet?
But what is it with My Way that triggers people to blow other people’s brains out? If it happens in the Philippines significantly higher than other countries, it must be something about us right? The New York Times article mentioned some hypotheses on how My Way relates to us Filipinos:
- A popular song…
- Each person has their own interpretation of the song
- It’s sung more frequently therefore higher probability to incite karaoke rage than other songs
- The lyrics are deemed arrogant that it irks listeners
I say these are valid hypotheses. But I feel that each hypothesis isn’t enough to explain the whole phenomena. Moreover, I feel there’s something missing in the explanation. Most especially, why do people get irked by the lyrics of the song? The closest explanation from the article is that Filipino culture is innately violent. I would agree to some degree, although it still does not explain what explicitly triggers this extreme reaction. I believe these are pieces of a big puzzle and it’s still missing a piece.
Allow me to propose a new hypothesis, a more overarching one. I’ll use a bastardized formula to illustrate the hypothesis then I’ll explain each part afterwards:
What I’m proposing here is that My Way can affect a person on the surface and at a personal level. And these reactions are further heightened by the alcohol and the karaoke setting…that then results to Filipino-level Karaoke Rage.
What do I mean by this? Let me break down each ingredient while using Luis Manzano singing as an example:
KARAOKE SETTING: This is what the Slate article mentioned about having a place for exhibitionists, with alcohol and just one karaoke machine. In speaks truth because public karaoke requires so much discipline from inebriated people:
- Have to wait for your turn on the mic
- Have to make an effort to be a good audience member: cheer, clap and answer when the drunk guy on the mic shouts “ar u habing pahn?!?!?!?!”
- You can sing-along but remember not to overpower the drunk guy performing
SURFACE LEVEL: Did the singer give justice to the song?
- Song Complexity: My Way is a pretty hard song to pull-off. Especially when you want to imitate Sinatra’s voice. My Way is deep and low at verses but high and full in the chorus.
- Singer: Singing ability comes into play. It’s a bad enough experience to listen to an off-key singer in public karaoke. Worse, when the person has the gall to sing one of the Philippines’ karaoke anthems. Imagine, Luis Manzano singing the national anthem and you can’t do anything about it. You just have to watch him butcher the national anthem knowing quite well that you can do a goddamn better rendition. Oh and you’ve had a couple of beers already. Wouldn’t you want to stop the guy mid-song and punch him in the face?
These three factors alone constitute regular Karaoke Rage. You just want to beat the guy because he’s an awful singer or he’s been hogging the mic more than three songs in a row. But how do we level-up the Karaoke Rage?
CULTURAL LEVEL: As a Filipino, how do I connect to the song?
- Song Lyrics: As what was mentioned in the New York Times article, My Way’s lyrics have a triumphant tone to it. My Way came from his 48th studio album. Anka intended it to be a celebration of Sinatra’s long and successful career. With lines like “Regrets, I’ve had a few; But then again, too few to mention” and “But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up and spit it out.” you’d think Sinatra initially popularized YOLO. Lines like those gave the song its flair and bravado.
- Culture: This is what I feel was missing from the earlier explanations. How much a person’s culture affects their interpretation of the song. Probably for western cultures, where individualism is celebrated, the song speaks differently to them. No wonder My Way was the top preferred funeral song in the UK for seven straight years. My Way is to celebrate one’s death and not be the cause of one’s death. But for us Filipinos with our collectivistic roots, this may not be the case. Filipinos highly value harmony and the sense of community. We feel success cannot be achieved just by an individual’s efforts. Success for us is a collective effort. This stresses why we have concepts of bayanihan and utang na loob. If we ever celebrate success, it has to be in a collective perspective We label those who fail to acknowledge the effort of the collective as ingrata or hindi marunong tumanaw ng utang na loob. So if we use this collectivistic lens in viewing My Way, we can interpret its celebration of the self as arrogant, egotistic and self-important. And we attribute these characteristics to whoever is singing the song (especially when you’re already drunk).So imagine, Luis Manzano singing a song about his successful showbiz career. Singing about his achievements but without even acknowledging his fans or the fact that he’s the son of two showbiz mainstays. Wouldn’t you feel that he’s proud? egotistical? self-important? This is what I feel triggers the “arrogant” hypothesis. We reach heightened levels of Karaoke Rage when the core meaning of the song doesn’t jive with the core qualities of our culture.
No, My Way is not cursed nor is it demonic. It is brought about by numerous cultural and circumstantial factors. Trying to crudely simplify it, it is a combination of a disconnected song, an awful singer and a lot of alcohol.
Is there a way to stop the My Way Killings?
I feel some measures are already in place in preventing the My Way Killings. Like what the New York Times mentioned, some videoke bars hire gays as hosts to diffuse heated situations before the knives and guns come out. Banning or deleting the song from the catalog is considered a last resort.
Will The My Way Killings ever end?
I feel there is an eventual end to the My Way Killings. However, since the killings are a result from a cultural reaction, ANOTHER SONG can take its place. Who knows when the next My Way will happen.