Ireland’s new pro-gay Catholics versus the Pope

VATICAN POPE

When people hear that I’m a Catholic, they often snort the same sarcastic line: ‘A gay Catholic? How does that work?’

I’ve had plenty of time to think about the answer. The problem is that these people often consider me as an obedient worshipper of Rome, hanging on Pope Benedict’s every tweet, feeling alarm and fear when he condemns my sexuality. In reality, the modern Catholic lives a very different life.

I have to admit, I don’t remember any anti-gay rhetoric in mass, or in any of my Catholic schools when I was growing up – this was in Northern Ireland, where your religion stands for a whole lot more and actually reflects a whole let less than just your religion. (Chew on that.) Growing up in this environment did mean I felt cautious about my sexuality, but only because of the remnants of old prejudices around gender and sexuality that still exist in most societies, and not because of anything I learned from the church. In reality, I feel comfortable as a gay Catholic, because I don’t particularly see the need for them to fit one another perfectly in order for both to be relevant to my life but I know that technically they do conflict, and recently it has become more apparent.

Under Pope Benedict’s leadership, the Vatican has become harsher in its criticism of homosexuality, and my generation in Ireland is now moving further away from the Church. The revelation of the abuse scandal at the start of the 21st century was a major turning point, but issues like gay equality – one which is now coming to the fore around the world – are certainly adding to this. It is a fact that fewer and fewer of us attend Sunday mass, and I heard from three different friends who walked out on Christmas Day because a priest was reiterating the Pope’s message against gay marriage. Many of my friends who do go regularly do so out of a sense of obligation, but the practice now sits further out of sync with modern life.

So what’s the point in the whole Catholic thing at all, if we don’t like mass and we don’t agree with the Pope? Well, being a Catholic is more than just attending a weekly gathering, and faith in God is more than just what you’re told by the clergy. It’s a way of life, and particularly in devout countries like mine, it’s something which binds the community together in schools, neighborhoods and organizations. Northern Ireland in particular is still a polarised state, with two sides divided on ethno-political grounds, where your religion is your label. Of course this has softened in recent years, but the roots run deep enough so that people still feel much more bound by their religion – whether they like it or not – than they might in a multi-ethnic country. Feelings of obligation to the Pope might be waning, but feelings of belonging among fellow Catholics are not. A community still exists, but its leader is being socially and morally ousted.

People who don’t support gay marriage should not be bullied into doing so, but they need to accept opposition. The Pope used his Christmas Day message to declare gay marriage is destroying the very ‘essence of the human creature’. This is lofty, damning rhetoric, both incorrect and offensive. Here, he gives himself and other Catholics a bad name. Had he said, ‘The church has always believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and despite the wishes of many, that it how the church’s position will stay’, that would have been fair; in fact, he said gay equality is an ‘attack’ on the traditional family.

On the contrary, the vision of many supporters of gay equality is one in which gay couples and families co-exist with traditional families. The Pope could have acknowledged this co-existence, as opposed to suggesting that gays are on a crusade to destroy the nuclear family – remember, not everyone is going to decide to turn gay in order to have a gay marriage. He also describes the path of sexuality as ‘man’s fundamental choice’, in which homosexuals ‘deny their nature… given to them by their bodily identity’. This is embarrassing, as it’s now almost universally understood that homosexuality is not a choice; indeed, to reject it would be against one’s own nature.

The split on homosexuality is reminiscent of how previous generations rejected the Church’s condemnation of contraception. The Church argues that contraception is against the wish of God because it prevents the creation of life. People in Ireland realize that contraception is the lesser of two evils (considering abortion destroys a life already created) and in the 21st century is a vital tool in international health. Put simply, they used it anyway. The Church condemns homosexuality? Guess what? Once again, Catholics don’t really care. It’s worth noting that of the two largest political parties in Northern Ireland – the DUP (largely Unionist, Protestant voters) and Sinn Fein (largely Republican, Catholic voters), it is Sinn Fein which supports marriage equality. The DUP are rejecting it, and indeed tried to prevent the decriminalization of homosexuality in Northern Ireland as recently as 1982. This democratic politics speaks louder for the views of the people on the ground than the voice of an unelected man in Rome.

So where do I see the future of the Catholic Church in Ireland? It’s been twenty years since Sinead O’Connor outed the abuse scandal on Saturday Night Live, and ten years since it exploded in full, with mass exposés of historic sexual offences within the Church. I now see a new generation of young people who still identify as Catholic, but reject some of the teachings of the Church. I know people who still pray and have spirituality, but don’t necessarily take it to the door of a chapel. I see communities who act out the positive, generous and loving elements of Catholic teachings, but have dropped the divisive and damning beliefs that have kept their country in fear, guilt, and even poverty, for the centuries in which the Church monopolized Ireland’s institutions. Many might say this sounds like picking and choosing – indeed it is a style of reform – but if it’s reform for the better welfare and happiness of people, why shouldn’t it be so? After all, faith is about being happy – religion became too much about control.

It’s not too late for the Vatican. I look at how the British establishment and the Royal family are reforming ancient laws about succession and religion as well as gay equality, and I can see how it could be done within the Catholic Church. Of course, the Church shouldn’t have to change its ways for every social change – who would want to believe in something, or someone, that changes their mind on an issue at the drop of a hat? (For any Liberal Democrat voters, that question is purely rhetorical.) But these are landmark issues, which are now already accepted parts of the lives of young Catholics, and the tide has turned – it will not turn back. These changes are forever, and the Church should assess its stance.

As with many religions, many years must be served before making it to the ultimate post of Pope, but considering it is a position of such power and personal influence, I truly believe it should become more of a presidential role, into which young priests and bishops can step, bringing with them the thoughts and beliefs of the masses. Call it cheesy, but I have a dream that Catholics could have their very own Obama to save the day. Sadly, I don’t hold much faith in this actually happening, but without it, the Church is facing rapid extinction. Now is the time for our renaissance; the dawning of a new social attitude, where ‘gay’ and ‘Catholic’ are not contradictory, but elements of a person which go hand in hand.

This article originally appeared on SoSoGay online.

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The Judas Kiss

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It was long accepted after his performance in the 1995 movie Wilde, that Stephen Fry had given the ultimate portrayal of Oscar Wilde. But after witnessing Rupert Everett’s stunning performance in the current revival ofThe Judas Kiss, it would appear Mr Fry has some stiff competition.

Wilde has long been accepted as the martyr of homosexuality, and here in David Hare’s excellent play, the religious analogy is spelled out clearly. As he awaits arrest in the Cadogan Hotel, it is clear that the love of men is Wilde’s religion, in which he is both ahead of his time and unapologetic. He choses to stand trial and punishment, rather than fleeing into exile, to be forgotten forever. He explains ‘If I leave now, my story is over. If I stay, the story continues.’ Indeed, Wilde’s legacy is as much about his historic trial and conviction, as it is about his rich body of literature. The hotel is Wilde’s garden of Gethsemane, where he has been cruelly abandoned by the men who followed him in his years of glory.

Freddie Fox makes an impeccable Bosie – Lord Alfred Douglas – the young aristocrat whose relationship with Wilde was the toxic element that led to his downfall. His temper, arrogance, and utter disregard for others are presented here as they have been in scores of biographical accounts. Wilde was blinded by his beauty, and forgiving of his wicked nature. Their relationship was tempestuous and destructive, and by betraying Wilde for his own ends, before leaving him to face the mob alone, he is quite obviously the Judas of the play’s title.

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Freddie Fox makes an impeccable Bosie in the production.

The second act is set in Naples, where Wilde is exiled after his two years in prison. Reunited with Bosie, he now lives in poverty, in deep contrast with the lavish lifestyle he enjoyed in Victorian London. Suffering from writer’s block, he blames Bosie for eroding something greater than his life – his art. Once again, in his hour of need, Bosie leaves him to return to England. Despite spending the act frolicking around with a naked Italian fisherman – a worthy attraction in itself – Bosie believes he can ‘give it up at anytime’, and insists he’s ‘not an invert’. It is then that Wilde recalls movingly the biblical account of Christ. ‘Judas was practically a stranger. It would have been more artistically true if Christ had been betrayed by John: because he was the one he loved the most.’

There is no doubt as to who the star of this show is. Everett triumphs as Wilde. Dressed to look every bit as large and flamboyant as the legend himself, he captures the stage with his arrival, and lights it up with every line. Everett has had a lifetime of preparation for this, playing Wilde’s own dandies, and their great modern equivalent – the gay best friend. The audience marvels as he recites in the manner we imagine Wilde did: every monologue rich with observation and unrivalled intellect; every retort delivered with legendary wit and wisdom. But more importantly, this story is about the forgotten years of Wilde. This is a man who was a star of the academic world, the toast of the London stage, a celebrity before celebrities existed – and yet he ended his days in disrepute, poverty, and loneliness, deprived of his lovers, his children, and his ability to write. Performing Wilde’s comedy is one thing, but Everett delivers his painful tragedy.

There is a consensus that Rupert Everett has been sold short in his career – typecast because of his decision to be openly gay. In many ways, it makes him a suitable successor to Wilde’s philosophy. But if there is any justice for talent, this will mark the beginning of a new period of theatrical roles for Everett, for which he is more able than many of his contemporaries. Although Wilde is his specialist subject, and this performance was bound to be outstanding, it opens a door that should lead to his greatest years yet.

The Judas Kiss plays at the Duke of York Theatre, London until 6 April 2013. Tickets start at £15.

This review appeared originally on SoSoGay online.

BRIT Awards 2013: Predictions

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British Breakthrough Act

Alt J
Ben Howard
Jake Bugg
Jessie Ware
Rita Ora

As has been the case over the past decade, the girls sweep up at the BRITS, and we predict this one will be a close call between the two London ladies here. Although Jessie Ware’s momentum has grown hugely from an underground buzz in 2012 to that of a household name, Rita Ora should secure this one.

British Female

Amy Winehouse
Bat for Lashes
Emeli Sandé
Jessie Ware
Paloma Faith

Considering Amy Winehouse bagged this prize (her only BRIT) in 2007, they won’t feel compelled to give her this posthumous prize. Jessie Ware isn’t big enough yet to win this, and it would be a considerable triumph for Paloma Faith to earn it too. It’s almost a given that Emeli Sandé will take this prize, considering how she has taken up the British female baton after Adele’s 21 success.

British Group

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Mumford and Sons
Muse
One Direction
The xx

In 2012, One Direction have been the most successful group commercially – provoking a Beatlemania style response in the US –  but The xx would be the popular alternative choice. Given their own international success this year, and their musical credibility, we predict that Mumford and Sons could be the happy medium winner here.

British Live Act

Rolling Stones
Coldplay
Mumford and Sons
Muse
Vaccines

This could go to the Rolling Stones – for old time’s sake – but based on the strength of their Mylo Xyloto tour in 2012, proving their unrivalled skill for stadium shows, Coldplay should get this one.

British Male

Ben Howard
Calvin Harris
Olly Murs
Richard Hawley
Plan B

Much credit has to go to Olly Murs for his success touring with One Direction, hosting the Xtra Factor, beating Girls Aloud to number one, and being a generally all-round nice bloke. Plan B has had a great year too, with the acclaimed Ill Manors. But as with Mark Ronson in 2008, we predict this prize will go to a man who has had a successful year as a producer – Calvin Harris.

Global Success

Mumford and Sons
Adele
One Direction

Adele doesn’t really need any more awards – with the Academy Award practically already on its way – and it looks as though One Direction may lose out elsewhere in the show, so this special award is probably something of a consolation prize to congratulate the boys, and appease their die-hard fan base.

British Producer

Damon Albarn
Jake Gosling
Paul Epworth

Although Paul Epworth made the incredible ‘Skyfall‘ for Adele this year, this is more likely to go to Jake Gosling, a seasoned producer who, last year, was the man behind the music for Ed Sheeran, One Direction and Paloma Faith.

British Single

Adele, Skyfall
Alex Clare, Too Close
Coldplay + Rihanna, Princess of China
Rita Ora/DJ Fresh, Hot Right Now
Emeli Sandé, Next To Me
Florence+ the Machine, Spectrum
James Arthur, Impossible
Jessie J, Domino
Labrinth ft. Emeli Sandé, Beneath Your Beautiful
Olly Murs, Troublemaker
Rita Ora, RIP
Rizzle Kicks, Mama Do The Hump
Robbie Williams, Candy
Rudimental, Feel the Love
Stooshe, Black Heart

This long list will probably come down to ‘Skyfall’, ‘Next To Me’, ‘Domino’, ‘R.I.P.’ and ‘Mama Do The Hump’. Although ‘Skyfall’ could be a close competitor, this one looks set for Jessie J, considering she missed out on her nominations last year, and that Domino was the biggest selling on the list – also boasting over 100 million views on YouTube.

International Female

Rihanna
Alicia Keys
Cat Power
Lana del Rey
Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift has made huge gains in the British mainstream in 2012, and Lana del Rey has continued to secure her music and style on the airwaves and magazine covers. But having beaten off Beyoncé and Lady Gaga to win in 2011 and 2012, we see no reason why this won’t complete a hat trick for Rihanna.

International Group

Alabama Shakes
Black Keys
Fun
Killers
The Script

The Script have had a bit of a revival following Danny’s appearance on The Voice, but this one is set to belong to Fun.

International Male

Bruce Springsteen
Frank Ocean
Gotye
Jack White
Michael Bublé

Although he’s the least likely to win, Michael Bublé outsells the others in this category massively, and is a commercial favourite. Frank Ocean is the big name to drop at the moment, following the critical success of Channel Orange, he looks set to clean up at the Grammys. But considering the success of his comeback album, Wrecking Ball,and his UK tour last summer, this one should go to the legendary Bruce Springsteen.

British Album

Alt J
Emeli Sandé
Mumford and Sons
Paloma Faith
Plan B

This is the big one. The cream of the crop. The one that everyone cares about. There’s a sliver of possibility that this might go to Mumford and Sons, but considering it’s the best selling album of the year, and has been promoted like a global religion, this one is most likely going to be the finale of wins for Emeli Sandé.

The BRIT Awards will be held on 20th February at the O2 Arena, London. This article originally appeared on SoSoGay.co.uk

Do musicals work as films?

LES MIS

The movie musical holds a special place in the history of cinema. It has created some of popular culture’s most iconic images. Whether it’s Julie Andrews’ triumphant spin at the opening of The Sound Of Music, a young Mark Lester asking for some more food as Oliver!, or Liza Minnelli straddling her stool as Sally Bowles in Cabaret. In my humble opinion, Anne Hathaway’s performance of ‘I Dreamed A Dream’ will soon join that list. But as Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables marches towards Oscar glory next month, it’s important to remember that although musicals have always been hits at the box office, their success at the Academy Awards has become less certain.

Consider the musicals which have won the coveted top prize of Best Picture, and in which years: The Broadway Melody (1930), Going My Way (1945), An American In Paris (1952), Gigi (1959), West Side Story (1962), My Fair Lady (1965), The Sound of Music, (1966) Oliver! (1969), and Chicago (2003). Spot the gap? From the inception of the Academy Awards in 1929, multiple musicals would regularly garner several nominations each year, with at least one musical nominated for Best Picture at every ceremony. This reflected the vogue for big productions with music, following the first inclusion of sound in film in 1927.

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As time went on, popular stage shows would be adapted into movies, with their rich and exotic settings capable of being portrayed in all their glory on the big screen. In the 50s and 60s particularly, so rich did the quality of musicals become, we can now look back and see that many of the musicals in competition with one another would all go on to become classics. 1954 saw Seven Brides for Seven Brothers triumph over five other musicals, including A Star Is Born and There’s No Business Like Show Business. In 1955,Oklahoma! went head to head with Guys and DollsGigi took Best Picture in 1958, leaving South Pacific out in the cold. And in 1964, the 12 time nominated My Fair Lady took 8 awards, including Best Picture, leaving 5 for Mary Poppins. Yes, once upon a time, the musical regularly reigned supreme, and reflected public popularity. Then, something happened. A turning point can be highlighted with Cabaret in 1972. Nominated for 10 awards and winning 8, the musical was rich with historical commentary as well as a great score and dance numbers. But it was to be the last big win for a musical for a remarkable 30 years. So what happened?

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The 70s and 80s produced many popular dance musicals. Among those overlooked by the Academy in these years were Grease, All That Jazz, Fame, Annie, Footloose, A Chorus Line and Dirty Dancing. These are all movies that either came from stage shows, or have since been transformed into them, and have enjoyed commercial success in both forms. To us, they are classics, firmly embedded in the musical canon. We hold these musical movies to be as culturally significant as previous generations did for the MGM musicals and the golden age of Rogers & Hammerstein. Perhaps it was a lack of stand out individual performances, or music that verged too close to being standard pop, but certainly a degree of snobbery in the Academy deemed them unworthy winners.

evitaIn the 1990s the only musicals that registered on the radar were those of the Disney revival: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, Pocahontas, etc. The Oscars only rewarded them for their music – which was good if you were Alan Menken, who picked up 8 Oscars for writing songs like ‘A Whole New World’. Although this was a decade with a lack of conventional movie musicals – 1996 produced the long-awaited movie adaptation of Evita. Written by Oliver Stone and directed by Alan Parker, it was the stuff that Oscar wins were made of. Although the casting of Madonna in the lead role raised a few eyebrows (it was a role sought after by Meryl Streep, Cher, Barbara Streisand and Glenn Close), her performance was widely praised, and classed as the highlight of a dubious acting career. It’s a landmark movie musical, glorious to watch, with outstanding music. She won the Golden Globe, but in one of the Academy’s famous snubs, wasn’t even nominated for the Oscar. A dislike for the adaptations of Lloyd Webber musicals, and an obvious distaste for the acting of Madonna, are factors accredited to this loss. There was something of a false start with Baz Luhrman’s edgy, yet hugely popular Moulin Rouge! in 2001, which was nominated for 8 awards including Best Picture, but only won 2 minor awards. Then, along came Chicago.

Nominated for 13 awards and winning 6, including the coveted Best Picture, Chicago put zetamusicals back on the map in 2003. It shouldn’t be ignored that Cabaret and Chicago – whose successes bookend these 30 years of musicals in the wilderness – were both written by Kander & Ebb, and choreographed by Bob Fosse. Perhaps a touch of nostalgia was all it took to reunite the praise of the public and the critics. However, similar musical adaptations in the 00s like The Phantom Of the Opera, Sweeney Todd, Hairspray and Nine, had modest commercial success and nothing from the Academy. Meanwhile, the record breaking success of Mamma Mia! – now the best selling DVD in UK history – didn’t even register at the Oscars, despite its huge popular appeal and cast of leading actors. But another trend did emerge. The musical biopic experienced a revival in the 2000s. Although never treading into Best Picture territory, they did win some of the big acting prizes. In 2005, Jamie Foxx won Best Actor for his portrayal of Ray Charles; in 2006, Reese Witherspoon won Best Actress for playing June Carter Cash in Walk The Line; and in 2008, Marion Cotillard won Best Actress for her depiction of Edith Piaf in La Vie en rose. Here, the combination of an interesting artist, a great back catalogue, and a stellar impersonation made for a whole new type of musical movie.

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So we have always loved movie musicals. They’re usually shows we’ve seen on stage, with songs we’ve experienced elsewhere in popular culture, with big name stars placed on top of a great production to polish it off. Before 1972, this was all more than enough to manage Oscar success too, but as we’ve seen, that’s been harder to predict in recent years. Les Miserables looks set to be another turning point in the story. Like Chicago, it’s a popular favourite that ticks all the award winning boxes too. It will certainly win a few of its 8 nominations, but whether it can once again secure the top acting prizes and the coveted Best Picture, will be interesting to see.

And what next for the movie musical? There’s plenty more room for it to flourish. Cameron Mackintosh has promised a movie of Miss Saigon, based on the success of Les Misérables, and Sondheim’s Into The Woods is being developed by Disney with some big names lined up for it including Meryl Streep and James Corden. The rights toWicked have been purchased, and the Jersey Boys jukebox musical is hotly tipped to make it to the big screen too. Andrew Lloyd Webber has long claimed to want Madonna for a new movie version of Sunset Boulevard, but if history has taught us anything, you can rest assure that’s one movie musical that won’t be destined for Oscar glory…

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This article originally appeared in SoSoGay Magazine.

Midnight’s Children

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Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children is generally accepted as one of the most important pieces of literature of the 20th century. Since winning the Man Booker Prize in 1981, it has enjoyed massive critical acclaim, ensured the enduring fame of its author, and was named the best ever winner of the 40-year-old Booker Prize. A film adaptation has been on the cards for years, but hasn’t come to light until now. The narrative is in safe hands – the screenplay was written by Rushdie himself.

Midnight’s Children tells the story of Saleem Sinai, born at the exact moment of India’s independence in 1947, forever linking his life to the historical path of his country. His development becomes a strange metaphor for the ever-changing social and political situations in India, which he often happens to inadvertently play a part in. As if that’s not enough, Saleem becomes the telepathic hub for the 1,000 children born within the first hour of independence, who all have their own magical powers – the midnight’s children in question.

Giles Nuttgen’s cinematography is beautiful, making India dazzle on the screen. Whether it’s the costumes or the weather, the grand colonial-era houses or the energy and life of the slums, the images are mesmerising. The literary genre of magical realism – where seemingly illogical events happen in the real world – is a difficult one to translate from the page to the screen, but it is well conveyed in parts. When Indira Ghandi rules by decree for two year in the 1970s, ‘the emergency’ is depicted with darkness cast large over India, until it ends and the sun immediately shines again. The creation of Bangladesh is more obvious in the movie than it was in the book, but this makes the vast cast of colourful characters are a little easier to keep up with when you can see them in action, as opposed to reading their names on a page.

Midnight’s Children is the kind of book you’d love to see on screen but could never imagine how it would be done. Obviously great effort has gone in to making this adaptation, as it manages to capture the essence of the book perfectly without losing any of its intricate plot. It’s also likely that watching this film will make people want to read the book, which will subsequently be much more accessible to them. The novel is epic, and should still be enjoyed as a reading experience, but here it has finally been magnificently captured on screen, and it was well worth the wait.

This article originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.

My favourite festive song: Fairytale of New York

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Irish traditional music with dark lyrics about addiction and domestic violence isn’t typical festive material. Yet 25 years on, ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl is often cited as the nation’s favourite Christmas song. It’s even hard to believe the Pet Shop Boys beat it to Christmas number one.

If you look beneath its surface, it’s surprising we came to love it so much. The whole song is lined with sadness. The opening piano part is undeniably melancholic, and when Shane MacGowan begins singing the verses, he’s telling the experience of a failed Irish immigrant in America. Lazily slurring his way through the lines, he’s a very believable drunk – a true storyteller, speaking from the heart.

The track deals with the recurrent Christmas theme of counting your blessings. MacGowan pities the old man singing in the drunk tank with him, unlikely to live out the year; and yet, listening to his narrative, we pity MacGowan. It reminds me of that harsh line in ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, that Bono didn’t want to sing, but which resonates stronger than any other in the song: ‘Well tonight thank God it’s them instead of you.’

But once the band kicks in, it’s joyous and uplifting. As an Irishman, it takes me back to home and a time long since past – like everything we enjoy at Christmas, it’s hugely nostalgic. The jig is wistful, the monochrome video is classic, and the line ‘Sinatra was swinging’ takes us right back to the glamorous 1940s. On top of that, there’s no better place to set Christmas than in New York – a cityscape draped in blankets of snow,  infused with neon lights, filled with magic and possibility. As the location of jazz standards and Hollywood movies since time began, it’s always been a city of fantasy and dreams for people around the world – but in this song, the singers face the harsh realities of life against the ‘fairytale’ setting of the city.

Despite the broken relationship depicted through the song’s dialogue, there’s a resolution in the line ‘and the bells were ringing out for Christmas day’. It’s not just a background to their squabbling. Christmas somehow softens the blow of their failed dreams; and of course, by it’s true meaning, Christmas is a time of new beginnings. Even the untimely passing of Kirsty MacColl herself brings a new sense of poignancy to the song. If I had to sum up its tone in one word, it’s bittersweet. That’s why you’ll find yourself singing along with a smile on your face, but also maybe with a tear in your eye.

This article originally appeared in SoSoGay magazine.

Top 10 Pop Culture Moments of 2012

1. London Olympics Opening Ceremony

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As the London 2012 Olympics approached, it was generally accepted that Britain could never deliver an Opening Ceremony that would come close to the spectacle produced by Beijing in 2008. Then it began, and much to the surprise of everyone – least not the Brits themselves – it was great. Artistic director Danny Boyle took the Isles Of Wonder show through a historical commentary featuring everything from the Industrial Revolution to the creation of the NHS, as well as sections dedicated to children’s literature, Saturday night TV culture, and the victims of 7/7. Some of Britain’s greatest exports took centre stage, with the Queen ‘parachuting’ into the stadium with James Bond, Mr Bean getting mixed up with ‘Chariots of Fire’, and Paul McCartney bringing celebrations to a close with an epic sing-a-long of ‘Hey Jude’. The lighting of the caludron was a breathtaking moment when British Olympic champions passed the flame to young children, perfectly embodying the mantra of the games, ‘inspire a generation’. The Closing Ceremony was criticized as a sloppy tribute concert with too many appearances from Emeli Sande and Jessie J, but it was here at the beginning of the games that the finest cultural moment of 2012 took place. Rio, it’s over to you…

2. Whitney Houston 1963-2012

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In February the world woke one morning to the sad, yet ever expected news that Whitney Houston had died. Born into a connected musical family, the gift of a powerful gospel voice and the direction of Clive Davis meant Whitney sailed straight through to global superstardom in the 1980s. But the young girl who was once the voice of America soon fell prey to alcohol and drug addiction, after a tempestuous marriage to Bobby Brown. Her untimely death at age 48 sent shockwaves around the world, and registered as a loss on the same scale as that of Elvis, John Lennon or Michael Jackson. She left behind a rich catalogue of popular music, which soundtracked the lives of millions. Her version of ‘I Will Always Love You’ is more than just her own musical legacy – it will survive as one of the most important works in the history of art and culture. Bette Midler summed up the tragedy of Whitney, and all the other artists we lost too young, when she tweeted, “What a shame her talent didn’t bring her the joy and happiness it brought to all of us.”

3. Call Me Maybe

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After coming runner up on Canadian Idol in 2007, Carly Rae Jepsen was releasing music on small labels. In January 2012 her single ‘Call Me Maybe’ was heard by Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez on Canadian radio, and after tweeting about it, Jepsen and her song were rocketed into the international mainstream. With the help of celebrity parody videos, the originally music video went viral, and the song started to top the charts around the world. It’s been named the best song of the year by many respected publications, for staying true to traditional pop without conceding to the raunchier elements of peers like Rihanna and Lady Gaga. Whether you think it’s a cheesy piece of bubblegum pop, or a carefully crafted classic, it’s been inescapable, and undeniably catchy. Unfortunately for Jepsen, this is the kind of track one hit wonders are made of.

4. Gangnam Style

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Dance crazes have been slim on the ground since the turn of the century. Apart from Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’, there hasn’t been much to rival Thriller, Vogue, or even the beloved Macarena. But this year along came Psy – a South Korean musician who has immortalised his home district in Seoul and its specific style of lavish living with a bizarre dance record and a move that mimics a lassoing horse rider. Referencing a lifestyle of opulent living in his home city, ‘Oppan Gangnam Style’ quickly became the most popular catchphrase of the year, and everyone was having a go at it, from David Cameron to Barack Obama. In December, ‘Gangnam Style’ broke a major world record in becoming the first video on YouTube to reach 1 billion views, just five months after its release. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was said to be disappointed at being replaced as the most famous South Korean in the world, but nevertheless called the song ‘a force for world peace’. North Korea responded by firing some warning rockets.

5. Skyfall

Skyfall

Bond 23 got off to a shaky start, with MGM financial difficulties stalling its production by over a year. But once given the green light, director Sam Mendes set about creating a Bond movie like no other. In the year of the 50th anniversary of Bond, Mendes made a movie that went back to basics, and triumphed the British origins of 007. From the vintage cars to the traditional London locations, with a symbolic British bulldog thrown in too, it’s a Bond movie paying homage to the traditional. Even the stunning theme song by Adele is much closer to the classics of Shirley Bassey and Tom Jones than the more experimental offerings of recent years. By focusing on the back story of Judi Dench’s M, her relationship with the agents, and Bond’s formative childhood experiences, Mendes succeeded in making a ‘psychological Bond’ which goes beyond the action whilst still delivering all the usual goods. In less than two months it’s become the highest grossing film in the UK of all time, with many already calling it the best Bond movie ever made. And – for the first time in history – 007 could be headed for Oscar success in the new year.

6. Space Jump

spacejump

Stunts that were once impressive faded into insignificance after watching the triumphs of the Olympics this summer. Maybe that’s why Felix Baumgartner felt like he needed to perform the highest sky dive ever, from the edge of the earth’s atmosphere – effectively, space. On 14th October, the world watched with baited breath as he slowly ascended 128,100ft above ground (24 miles), before jumping from the capsule he had travelled in. He was in free fall for 4 minutes and 19 seconds, and achieved his goal of breaking the sound barrier. Upon landing in the New Mexico desert, he immediately got to his feet and punched the air – celebrating his victory, and proving that after minutes of somersaulting out of control at 834mph, he was in fact, still alive. No wonder it was sponsored by Red Bull.

7. Naked Royals

harrynaked

It seems Prince Harry needed to let his hair down a bit after the demands of the Jubilee and the Olympics, not to mention his day job in Afghanistan, but when photographic evidence of his naked antics in a Las Vegas hotel room was revealed in August, we saw just how hard the prince could party. The Royal Family weren’t best pleased, but admirers of the cheeky ginger rejoiced. Then, in September, photographs of the Duchess of Cambridge sunbathing topless appeared in a French magazine, signalling a massive violation of privacy, which upset the couple greatly. The public at large were appalled by the photographs, and boycotted those who published them – but secretly had a good look at them online.

8. Grace Jones at the Jubilee

gracejones

You can’t accuse Gary Barlow of not catering for every audience when he arranged the Diamond Jubilee Concert for The Queen in June. The most bizarre moment came when the iconic Grace Jones took to the stage to perform her 1985 classic hit ‘Slave To The Rythym’. Unusual as ever, the 64 year old wore a red plastic corset with nothing on her legs but oil, looking like a cross between Lady Gaga and Usain Bolt. She then curiously proceeded to hula hoop the entire way through the song, without a single slip up. The Royal Family watched open mouthed and bemused, as did most of the global television audience. To round off the madness, she yelled ‘Happy Birthday!’ at the end, giving further evidence that she may not have had a clue where she was, or what she was doing. As ever, it was the stuff of legend.

9. Fifty Shades of Grey

50shades

Former British TV executive E. L. James began her writing through Twilight fan fiction, before developing it into something more ‘adult’ in nature. Initially released as an e-book in 2011, the resulting novel Fifty Shades of Grey told the erotic tale of a sadomasochistic relationship between a female college student and a wealthy young businessman. Its beginnings as a digital book meant that it became a naughty pleasure which women could read at ease on the tube or in public, and no one need know what they were engrossed in – like Lady Chatterley’s Lover but without the over the counter shame. Critically slated, and generally accepted to be poorly written (even by the author herself), the original book has nevertheless become a best-seller, shifting 65 million copies, overtaking the Harry Potter books as the fastest selling ever. The book’s popularity peaked during the publication of its two sequels in 2012, and a film adaptation is highly anticipated – but who will play the irresistibly handsome Christian Grey whom women have lusted over on the page, and imagined for the past year? The search continues.

10. Madonna at the Superbowl

superbowl

Devising a career highlight performance in just under 15 minutes, in front of a TV audience of over 150 million is a daunting task for the greatest of performers – but not Madonna. In February her Madgesty was carried into the Superbowl stadium by the Cirque de Soleil troop, in an imitation of Cleopatra’s historic arrival in Rome. As she sailed through performances of ‘Vogue’, ‘Music’, and ‘Like A Prayer’, she found room to include Nicki Minaj, LMFAO, M.I.A. and Cee Lo Green, without letting anyone else anywhere near centre stage. Whilst other half-time acts usually give a traditional band performance, Madonna used the entire football field, with a full cast of dancers, acrobats and a gospel choir, all choreographed under the direction of her long-term collaborator Jamie King. Often slated for a lack of real talent, Madonna’s unrivalled skills at producing a live spectacle was on display at its finest, and quickly became a hot topic of conversation the world over, and one of her most memorable performances. Not least because she remained fully dressed for the whole thing.