It must be close to Christmas because the debate over the lyrics of “A Fairytale of New York” has flared up again.

If it seems that Christmas music has started up earlier than usual this year, it’s not your imagination. And the debate over the lyrics in the Pogues’ “A Fairytale of New York” has begun sooner than in past years.

The beloved Christmas season song, which is routinely voted as the best Xmas song of all time, is again in the news for its inclusion of a homophobic word in the lyrics.

In case you’ve been living underground since 1987, the song features a dysfunctional fictional couple (played by Shane McGowan and Kirsty MacColl) scrapping it out, throwing epithets and insults at each other. At one point, the female character calls her man “a cheap lousy faggot.” And therein lies the issue.

This dodgy bit of lyric-writing attracted few comments in the early years, but as society has become more woke, we’ve seen an annual debate over censorship. There’s no doubt that the word is offensive. However, people like to point out that this line is part of a line spoken by characters in a song so that we may better understand what kind of offensive people they are.

This has led to an annual debate over whether the song should be censored, something that Shane McGowan has been called upon to defend again and again.

This year, BBC Radio 1 will play just the censored version. BBC Radio 2, however, will play the uncensored version. Strange, that.

Quick poll: Censor “Fairytale of New York” or not?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

One thought on “It must be close to Christmas because the debate over the lyrics of “A Fairytale of New York” has flared up again.

  • November 19, 2020 at 2:45 pm
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    I think Nick Cave got it right in regards to post reviews of lyrical content and art. From his Red Hand Files #86 from March of this year:

    “Perhaps we writers should have been more careful with our words – I can own this, and I may even agree – however, we should never blame the songs themselves. Songs are divinely constituted organisms. They have their own integrity. As flawed as they may be, the souls of the songs must be protected at all costs. They must be allowed to exist in all their aberrant horror, unmolested by these strident advocates of the innocuous, even if just as some indication that the world has moved toward a better, fairer and more sensitive place. If punishment must be administered, punish the creators, not the songs. We can handle it. I would rather be remembered for writing something that was discomforting or offensive, than to be forgotten for writing something bloodless and bland.”

    Here’s the link to the question and his full answer: https://www.theredhandfiles.com/do-you-need-to-change-lyrics/
    The Red Hand Files really are a fascinating read and worth subscribing to IMHO.

    Reply

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