Rows over offensive words in Fairytale of New York have become something a Christmas tradition alongside turkey and stuffing. Each year brings fresh controversy.
Opinion is always mixed and even different BBC radio stations can’t agree among themselves, with some deciding to only play a censored version, others using bleeps to cover certain words and others content to play the original.
A British DJ refused to play the Pogues’ Christmas classic after claiming it is a ‘nasty song’.
Alex Dyke of BBC Radio Solent objects to the language the characters in the song use towards each other.
The song focuses on a turbulent relationship between two slightly bitter lovers, with Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl performing the roles.
After a happy beginning to the song, the characters start to fall out and use slurs towards each other such as ‘old sl*t on junk’ and ‘cheap, lousy f******’.
Whether such words are acceptable today is a debate that comes up every year, but most broadcasters continue to play the song – with some editing out the controversial words.
Dyke has gone one further and refused to play the song altogether.
He tweeted; “Radio, lets ban Fairytale of New York this Christmas.
“You’re an old sl*t on junk, you scumbag, you cheap lousy f****t. Is this what we want our kids singing in the back of the car?”
It’s certainly not the most innocent of Christmas songs but for someone who is so offended by the use of slurs, Dyke signed off with a somewhat hypocritical comment.
He added: “It’s an offensive pile of downmarket chav bilge and we can do better.”
Pogues’ frontman Shane MacGowan has had his say.
He responded by saying that the characters in the song are flawed people but still love each other and are ultimately able to find happiness from each other.
To many people, this approach gives a more accurate representation of real life and is a good antidote to the squeaky-clean nature of many Christmas songs.
MacGowan addressed the specific words used in the song that have caused controversy.
He said: “The word was used by the character because it fitted with the way she would speak and with her character.
“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.”
MacGowan added that he isn’t interested in the controversy and says he has no problem with radio stations censoring the controversial lyrics.
He said: “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.”
Even politicians have waded into the argument, including Northern Ireland MLA John Blair, who is gay. He told the Belfast Telegraph that the decision to play different versions of the song was ridiculous.
He said: “I really was surprised there was a controversy when this song has been around for so long. I would add to that it has been around for so long without controversy previously.
“We need to understand the difference between hate speech and freedom of speech and I don’t think there’s anything in the song that is a direct attack on anyone or is perceived as such.”
With Fairytale of New York being one of the most popular Christmas song of all time, especially in Ireland, the UK and in Europe, it seems we’re likely to see similar arguments returning year after year.
Thankfully, they never seem to dent the song’s success. Merry Christmas everybody…make sure you don’t end up like Shane and Kirsty.
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Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling