January 12, 2014
I recently heard that in the Philippines so many people have been murdered while singing Frank Sinatra’s My Way at karaoke and that it has been taken off many playlists in Filipino karaoke bars. The exact number of deaths related to the song is not known, but it is agreed, by the New York Times among others, that it is at least six.
Apparently, the Philippines is not the only country to have suffered serious ‘karaoke rage.’ A man in Thailand shot dead eight people in a neighboring house who had sung Take Me Home, Country Roads one too many times on a karaoke machine, while an enthusiast who hogged the mic too long at a karaoke coffee shop in Malaysia was butchered by other patrons.
It is not clear if there is something inherently rage inducing about My Way, or if it just happens to have been sung so often that statistically it is more likely to have been playing when people were attacked. Karaoke bars in the Philippines can be quite seedy, and violence does break out from time to time, so it’s not like if you held enough dinner parties with karaoke anywhere in the world and played My Way enough times eventually someone would get slaughtered, however one theory is that the egotistical arrogance of My Way’s lyrics does create feelings of aggression.
Like most of East Asia, karaoke is extremely popular in the Philippines. Karaoke machines can be bought for less than ten dollars, but people still like to go out to bars to do it too. The system is similar to where I live, in Japan, and also in Korea where I lived and did plenty of karaoke before. Unlike the West, where people usually perform to a large room including some strangers, karaoke bars in Asia have private booths. All sorts of mischief goes on in there, especially in Korea where there is no waitress service for the drinks, and the doors can be locked.
Doing karaoke on buses is very popular in Japan and Korea. The combination of strong local alcohol, the rolling and twisting of a moving vehicle, and extremely loud karaoke songs can have quite an odd effect on the brain. Usually it was a happy influence though, and I never felt murderous. Okay, rarely.
The invention of the karaoke machine is credited to Daisuke Inoue, a Japanese businessman and musician who gave karaoke first to Japan and then to the world in the 1970s, but made no money for his efforts because he didn’t patent his machine. The literal translation of karaoke is the slightly mournful ‘empty orchestra.’ Although karaoke is primarily a social event in Japan, as in the West, more and more people are enjoying going to karaoke booths alone, including during the day time, and singing to their heart’s content without any squabbling over whose turn it is.
Hopefully these little karaoke facts help to provide a bit of karaoke background info that isn’t just totting up body counts. And to finish on a more positive musical note from the Philippines, Filipino singer Arnel Pineda is proof that singing other people’s songs can lead to great things: the multi-platinum selling American rock band Journey, most famous for Don’t Stop Believin’ , saw videos of Pineda covering Journey songs on YouTube in 2007, and asked him to be their new singer. Pineda, who had once been homeless for two years, initially dismissed the request as a hoax; eventually he became the singer of the band playing in stadiums to thousands of people, including at the Super Bowl. Let’s face it, that’s what we’re all imagining when we do karaoke.
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