Homophobic slur in The Pogues’ holiday classic “Fairytale of New York” draws renewed scrutiny

The slur comes from a sloppy, volatile character within the song

the pogues homophobic slur fairytale of new york
The Pogues

As us Americans contend with the legacy of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, Ireland is currently sparring over its own holiday classic, The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York”, namely its use of a homophobic slur, The Irish Post reports.

The debate began in earnest when DJ Eoghan McDermott sent out a series of tweets calling on fellow broadcasters to censor the slur. “I asked the two gay members of my team how they feel, since faggot is their N word,” he wrote. “If people want to slur the gay community, this is their most powerful weapon. One favours censoring, the other outright not playing it. Neither like it. Simples.”

He went on to compare the situation to the Black Eyed Peas changing their song “Let’s Get Retarded” to “Let’s Get It Started” and, in subsequent tweets, touches on how daytime radio regularly censors even the most minor of swear words with no push back.

It’s important to remember that the word itself is ensconced in the character and speech of a particularly volatile character within the song, and is not a declaration from singer Shane MacGowan. It’s also good to know that the word has a different meaning overseas. As many have pointed out, MacGowan and Kristy MacCoil were likely drawing upon its use in Irish slang, where it means “lazy.”

Still, McDermott argued that, like it or not, context doesn’t matter on daytime radio. “Everything is censored for daytime radio. Even social conscience (sic) stuff like Kendrick. You know this,” he wrote. “That’s fine if majority want it in. It’ll probably stay in so. Simply said I didn’t think it was radical for one word to be beeped. Onwards!”

Artists have long had to make a choice about how to approach the lyric when covering the song (and there are so, so many covers). KT Tunstall, for example, changes the word to “braggart” (or maybe “blaggart”?) in her version, while Vampire Weekend’s Rostam, a homosexual, left the word in when he covered it last year.

As you sort out your own feelings, give the original another spin. It’s such a goddamned good song.