New Emissary

Death by Sinatra?

What might be the cause behind a ‘deathly karaoke’ phenomenon in the Philippines?

Today, with the launch of our Philippines 2010 elections special, it seems appropriate to mention an article in The New York Times last month, ‘Sinatra Song Often Strikes Deadly Chord,’ that has spurred some interest in a ‘deathly karaoke’ phenomenon in the often turbulent Southeast Asian nation.

It turns out that despite the widespread popularity of the (for me, very cathartic) pastime, in the Philippines one particular song selection has become linked to karaoke room violence and murder. And so real has this perceived danger become that many facilities have now gone as far to remove the song from their songbooks.

The potentially toxic tune is something truly unexpected—Frank Sinatra’s classic, ‘My Way.’ A surprise here, as if I’d had to choose anything super sinister by the late crooner, it would have hands-down been his rendition of ‘Mack the Knife’—for obvious reasons.

But it turns out that it is indeed the lyrically gentler ‘My Way’ that has set tensions high enough in karaoke rooms to kill. According to the piece, media sources in the country have accounted for at least six ‘My Way Killings’ in the past ten years. The Times suggests that this could all be a matter of statistics over anything—the Philippines has a particular affinity for socializing over karaoke, and ‘My Way’ is (was) a popular song. Combine machismo, a general national cultural pride in singing and alcohol-fueled late nights and… But meanwhile, also quoted is a local singing school instructor who suggests it is the ‘arrogant’ elements of the song’s message that provoke high tension.

I’m still not sure what makes:

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I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now as tears subside
I find it all so amusing

so much more rage-inducing than:

Now on the sidewalk …whoo … sunny mornin’ …
Lies a body just oozin’ life … eeek!
And someone’s sneakin’ ‘round the corner
Could that someone be Mack the Knife?

So the next time I’m in a karaoke bar where somebody decides to go ‘their way,’ Sinatra-style, while I might feel temporary unsettled, it won’t be nearly enough to make me miss out on any of the fun.