Outrage over A Fairytale in New York is a Christmas tradition, and this year it has taken a surprise turn.
“You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot,” she spits. “Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it’s our last.” Well, it might be the last time listeners to the BBC’s youth-skewing Radio 1 hear it for a while, with the station responding to hundreds of complaints last year by opting to play a remastered version in which MacColl sings “you’re cheap and you’re haggard” in place of the offending line, while MacGowan’s insult is slurred. Despite the inevitable complaints of “political correctness gone mad”, the BBC’s position does not amount to censorship: Radio 2 (which skews older) will still play the original version, while Radio 6 presenters will be able to choose for themselves. Nonetheless, the call has been met with derision by some, with actor and musician Laurence Fox, leader of the UK’s Reclaim Party, decrying it as “the cultural commissars at the BBC … telling you what is and isn’t appropriate for your ignorant little ears”. The Pogues, however, seem utterly unperturbed. The band’s official response on Twitter was to tell Fox to “f— off you little herrenvolk shite” (implying he is a Nazi), and to endorse Vice writer Harrison Brocklehurst’s observation that while the lyrics cause him no offence, “straight people being so angry and outraged at its removal and literally fighting and arguing for the right to sing it bothers me deeply”.
The lyrics have been controversial ever since the song debuted in November 1987, with the BBC bleeping a number of words and asking MacColl to sing the supposedly less offensive “ass” in place of arse when the Pogues first performed it on Top of…
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