Various news outlets are reporting that Philippine authorities have identified approximately a dozen ‘karaoke rage’ killings in the Philippines over the last decade that were triggered by the singing of the Paul Anka penned Frank Sinatra hit “My Way”. As a result of this, they say, many establishments have taken “My Way” off the menu of songs available to sing in Philippine karaoke bars. Having spent my share of nights in Philippine karaoke bars, and having heard hundreds if not thousands of renditions of “My Way” the Filipino way, I just have to comment on this.
First of all, if you haven’t been there, you cannot begin to imagine how popular “My Way” is as a karaoke song in the Philippines. If you’re a man between the ages of 30 and 100, and you only have one song you can sing at a karaoke, it’s “My Way”. I remember on the second night I was in the Philippines my Embassy boss took me to an Armed Forces official reception and the high point was fifteen generals, all in uniform, up on the stage belting out “My Way”. There is no doubt that it’s the most popular song for men — everyone has a version, everyone sings it.
Here’s the part I don’t quite get. In all those visits to Philippine karaoke bars I never once saw an example of ‘karaoke rage’. Not once. In my experience nobody cares if you’re bad. And the Philippine style of karaoke, where they pass the microphone around to the different tables rather than having the singer get up in front of everyone and act like it’s American Idol, tended to keep it very mellow. The funniest thing I ever saw was caused by the fact that most of the karaoke laser discs are bootlegged in Hong Kong, where the transcription of English lyrics is sometimes less than purpose. On this particular night it was quite late, the place was full, and someone was singing Elton John’s “Can You Hear the Love Tonight” and everyone — and I mean everyone — in the house was singing along. This is a song with pretty complicated lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense without intense scrutiny even if the lyrics shown are correct. But when the lyrics are off — it turned out to be hilarious. The lyrics were off pretty much start to finish except for the chorus — but the high point came when it gets to the point where the correct lyrics are “kings and vagabonds”…..and on the screen the words were “kill them like a bomb”…..and everyone sang happily along.