Rebecca Sheehan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
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Pet Shop Boys are performing at Carriageworks in Sydney tonight and over the weekend as part of Vivid festival. Their live shows are described as incredible and dazzling, and after almost three decades in the business, they’re still getting great reviews and sales for their albums.
Their brand of British electronic dance pop has become known for its ambition, intelligence and self-awareness, and its ability to be simultaneously meaningful and frivolous, melancholic and joyful.
To many fans, their music was great and their sexuality was irrelevant. To others, their music and image were deliberately and flamboyantly queer.
Pet Shop Boys formed in the early 1980s. Neil Tennant, who had been a writer for British music magazine Smash Hits, was the lyricist and singer, and Chris Lowe played keyboards and programmed their music. The pair were a study in contrasts – in a review for Q magazine, Stuart Maconie described their personae as the academic and the hedonist – and played on this in their public image and lyrics.
I’ve got the brains, you’ve got the looks, let’s make lots of money.
The line spoke to their self-awareness and use of irony. The song was also a critique of Margaret Thatcher’s economic policies. But, because Pet Shop Boys made pop music aimed at the dance floor, the song didn’t sound as serious as its subject. This smart, multi-layered dance pop was what broke them commercially and it became one of their hallmarks.
Released in 1985, their first single West End Girls, about the British class system, went to the top of the charts in countries around the world. Tennant’s sibilant, deadpan, polite white rap contributed to the song’s success and the duo’s distinctive sound.