The annual debate over ‘Fairytale of New York’

The festive season is definitely upon us, Christmas trees are filling shopping centres, TV shows are filled with tips on how to make the best glazed ham, houses are covered in lights pushing up the demand for electricity and… debate has broken out over whether Fairytale of New York should be played on the radio.

The to-and-fro over the song’s controversial lyrics, which includes the word “faggot”, has become a Christmas tradition over the last few years.

Recorded in 1987 the song by The Pogues and the late Kirsty MacColl often tops polls as the best Christmas tune ever, in fact it was voted just that in a survey of listeners of an Irish radio station back in November. When it came to Christmas songs Fairytale of New York topped the list, proving to be more popular than Wham’s Last Christmas, Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas and Band Aid’s charity song Do They Know It’s Christmas.

Many people say the song should not be played. 

Ever since it was first released, the words deemed offensive have often been bleeped out of broadcasts, and when other artists have covered the tune they’ve changed the lyrics to avoid causing the offence. A version laid down by Ronan Keating and Moya Brennan replaced “faggot” with “haggard”. It’s something MacColl also did when performing the song live in the early 1990’s.

When TV host Jimmy Fallon performed the song recently with actor Saoirse Ronan on The Tonight Show the pair avoided controversy by skipping the entire second verse of the song.

On a Christmas broadcast a few years ago Gary Barlow from Take That performed the song with an odd assortment of singers, Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, Tulisa Contostavlos from British band NDubz, and comedian Dawn French. The comedy sketch is about how much French wants to sing the infamous line.

One UK writer this week penned an article Dear straight people, stop singing the word ‘faggot’ in ‘Fairytale of New York’. Tom Haynes lamented that French looked so excited about singing the word, and questioned an audience that cheered on an enthusiastic delivery of the word “faggot”.

Now Shane McGowan, has shared his thoughts on the song, defending its use of the slur. The singer said he was trying to bring to life a character who is not a nice person, and notes that the song is set at a particular time.

“The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character,” he wrote. “She is not supposed to be a nice person, or even a wholesome person.

“She is a woman of a certain generation at a certain time in history and she is down on her luck and desperate.”

“If people don’t understand that I was trying to accurately portray the character as authentically as possible then I am absolutely fine with them bleeping the word but I don’t want to get into an argument.” McGowan said.

Queer artist Joe Jackson famously addresses the use of the word in his tune Real Men, delivering the edict “So don’t call me a faggot, not unless you are a friend.”.

Which leaves us with a possible solution to the controversy, we really need a same-sex version of Fairytale of New York. Elton John busting it out with Jake Shears, or Troye Sivan teaming up with Bianca Del Rio, or maybe Will Young duetting with Sam Smith.

Graeme Watson

Here’s the full version of the song, if you’re not familiar with The Pogues check out some of their other great tunes like A Pair of Brown Eyes, Dirty Old Town and Sally MacLennane.