Manila, Philippines — When new US President Donald Trump chose “My Way” for the lead-off dance at his inaugural ball, he probably didn’t know the song has been blamed for a series of brutal murders in the Philippines.
With lyrics written by former teen idol Paul Anka, “My Way” has subsequently been covered by singers ranging from rock-and-roll king Elvis Presley, UK punk-rocker Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, and the Irish Celtic band The Pogues.
But it’s the version made famous in the 1960s by Frank Sinatra that’s become infamous in the Philippines. The song is said to be the cause of the “My Way Killings” in this Southeast Asia island nation, where inhabitants are said to own one million illegal guns.
The murders often take place in karaoke nightclubs
Karaoke — in which a nonprofessional sings with prerecorded music using a microphone and following words on a video screen — is extremely popular in Asia and has been for decades one of “coolest” forms of entertainment among night clubbers in the Philippines.
Frank Sinatra’s version of “My Way” was for many years among the most frequently chosen songs for karaoke singers in the Philippines.
Lately, however, most Filipinos are afraid to sing the song in public — even when it’s their all-time favorite piece of music. This is because in the past three decades, a dozen victims have met their deaths and many more have been injured due to singing this song in karaoke bars.
For example, in 2007 a young man was crooning “My Way” in a karaoke bar in the San Mateo, a fast-growing suburb of Manila, the county’s capital. Perhaps because he was singing in an off-key voice, the 29-year-old was brutally shot to death on the spot by the bar’s security guard.
This particular incident, which followed on the heels of other “My Way Killings,” eventually led to the song being banned in night clubs throughout the Philippines. Although the song’s notoriety remains unknown in Western nations, the killings have received attention from global publications including the New York Times. In 2010, a New York Times journalist reported that:
“The killings have produced urban legends about the song and left Filipinos groping for answers.”
The journalist went on to ask,
“Are the killings the natural byproduct of the country’s culture of violence, drinking, and machismo? Or is there something inherently sinister in the song?”
No one knows the answers
Some analysts feel the crimes stem from the song’s rebellious tone and imagery, which includes the lines:
“But through it all, when there was doubt / I ate it up and spit it out / I faced it all and I stood tall / And did it my way.”
Others think the problem is that the song is difficult for amateurs to sing; this results in off-key renditions that are hard to bear in bars where tempers are fueled with alcohol. Whatever the reason, it is feared that “My Way” may continue to result in violence in the Philippines.