Fairytale of New York: why are lyrics controversial, have they been changed?

Fairytale of New York is being backed to win Christmas Number One - but why is it controversial?

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The Pogues festive classic Fairytale of New York has been tipped to top the charts at Christmas. Bookies have slashed odds after Shane MacGown died after a period of ill health.

The band were expected to face competition from five-time Christmas Number One holders LadBaby. The social media stars have topped the charts each year since 2018 but they announced they will not be releasing a song in 2023.

Despite the enduring popularity of Fairytale of New York, The Pogues have yet to top the charts at Christmas in the UK. The track did reach number two in 1987.

Shane MacGowan has faced health troubles for a number of years - and has used a wheelchair since 2015. Kirsty MacColl, who featured on the festive classic, died in 2000 while on holiday in Mexico.

But why have the lyrics to Fairytale of New York caused a stir in recent years. And have the words been changed?

Why are some of the lyrics controversial?

The Pogues festive classic Fairytale of New York is a Christmas favourite. Picture: Getty ImagesThe Pogues festive classic Fairytale of New York is a Christmas favourite. Picture: Getty Images
The Pogues festive classic Fairytale of New York is a Christmas favourite. Picture: Getty Images

Fairytale of New York is one of the most popular Christmas songs in the UK and has been a fixture of the festive season since its release in the 1980s. But the song's second verse has sparked controversy in recent years particularly for the lines "an old slut on junk" and the use of faggot - which can be used as a slur towards members of the LGBT+ community - and arse.

The Pogues were asked to change arse to ass when they performed the track on Top of the Pops after the song's release. MacColl also changed the lyrics to "You're cheap and you're haggard" during an appearance on the BBC show in 1992.

In the 21st Century, BBC Radio 1 have edited the words faggot and slut from the lyrics. In The Pogues native Ireland, RTE have faced calls in the past to edit the track.

Gavin & Stacey sparked debate after the 2019 reunion special featured characters singing the uncensored version. Cover versions of the track have used haggard instead of the original line.

Has the words to the song been changed?

An officially edited version of the track has not been released and Spotify users will hear the uncensored original. Radio stations such as BBC Radio 1 have aired edited versions in the past - while some like RTE continue to play the classic track.

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