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The Homophobic Slur in ‘Fairytale of New York’ Lyrics is Dividing The Internet Again

‘Faggot’ row in The Pogues’ holiday classic has now become a festive tradition.

Credit: Neil Dorgan/Flickr

Another year, another round of Christmas songs are being debated on the Internet. This year a familiar foe has come up yet again in ‘Fairytale of New York.’ Arguably one of the best Christmas songs of all time, performed by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl it is continuously played in pubs, homes and shops around the Christmas period. The popular Celtic rock tune has been accused of having ‘homophobic’ lyrics and people have called for these lyrics to be banned.

The song which was released in 1997 by The Pogues and goes “You scumbag, you maggot/You cheap lousy faggot.” This debate has heated up annually with radio stations debating to use, or an online discussion wondering whether it’s an acceptable song to play at all. Some people claim that singing the lyric would be just as bad as using the N-Word. The endless discussion has taken place each December for the last few years and this year has been no exception:

Others believe that the word isn’t used in an offensive context. In terms of Irish slang the word was also used to describe a lazy person. For Shane MacGowan, The Pogue’s Frontman the lyrics fitted the way the characters speak in the song, which is an argument between two down-on-their-luck New Yorkers.  Shane explained:

“She is not supposed to be a nice person or even a wholesome person.”

Credit: ‘Fairytale of New York’ Music Video/The Pogues/YouTube

Even The Pogues would prefer that the discourse around the song stopped. In fact, the band made clear last year they don’t even care whether the original version of the song is played on the radio. Nonetheless, people believe the word should be censored across all platforms or banned altogether.

Like it or not, context doesn’t matter on daytime radio. The band had spoken out in November 2020 after BBC Radio 1 had announced it would be playing an alternative version of ‘Fairytale of New York’ to avoid offending younger listeners who would be appalled at hearing a homophobic slur blasting from the radio. Many people have expressed their rage at this kind of censorship:

Artists have long had to choose how to approach the lyric when covering the song. KT Tunstall for example changed the word to ‘braggart’ in her version. Whilst Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, a homosexual, left the word in when he covered it last year.

Credit: Kttunsallofficial/YouTube

It’s also worth noting that Kirsty MacColl had started singing an alternative version of the song before her tragic death in 2000- indicating that even she was at least partly uncomfortable with the inclusion of the homophobic slur.

Whether people choose to sing the word or not, those shoppers and bar-goers, and radio listeners should remember that the word, whether sung to a jaunty Christmas tune or otherwise still has great power. You can dedicate this December to arguing about ‘Fairytale of New York’ on Twitter if you want to-but you should probably be aware that not even The Pogues care about the endless discourse.

Everyone’s got a favourite Christmas tune. If you are interested in hearing about the seasonal success of another recording artist click here.

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