The Pogues and the late Kirsty MacColl’s unorthodox and irreverent Christmas tune “Fairytale in New York,” released as a single in 1987, is a chart topping success that has been alternately praised and criticized in healthy doses.
The song tells the story of Irish immigrant’s Christmas Eve, who is stuck in the drunk tank after going on a bender in New York City. He remembers better Christmases during his younger years in Ireland. A female voice enters and the two engage in a call and response in which they blame one another for their lives not turning out more favorably. Among the insults hurled back and forth are the male character calling the woman “an old slut on junk.”
She then counters with, “You cheap lousy faggot/Happy Christmas, your arse/I pray God it’s our last.”
The song has drawn controversy over the years, most notably in 2007, when BBC Radio 1 edited out the words “faggot” and “slut” from the track to “avoid offense.” Following criticism from listeners, MacColl’s mother, and a spokesperson for The Pogues, the decision was reversed.
Now, songwriter Shane MacGowan, who co-wrote the song with bandmate Jem Finer, has released a statement addressing the continued calls to censor the song, explaining why the anti-gay slur was included to begin with and stating that he is fine with it being edited for radio play.
“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. Her dialogue is as accurate as I could make it but she is not intended to offend! She is just supposed to be an authentic character and not all characters in songs and stories are angels or even decent and respectable, sometimes characters in songs and stories have to be evil or nasty in order to tell the story effectively.”
“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,” he concluded.
You can listen to the song below, and consult the lyrics, then make your own call. Let us know in the comments what you think.