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Pet Shop Boys  

A fortuitous meeting between Neil Francis Tennant (b. 1954) and Christopher Sean Lowe (b. 1959) in August 1981 led to the formation of the Pet Shop Boys. With Tennant's distinctly British and somewhat effete vocals and Lowe's deft synthesizer-based Pop compositions, their creative partnership has given rise to a significant body of work, one central to the field of Western popular music of the 1980s and 1990s.

The Pet Shop Boys are at once a very fine example and a result of the various experimentations that emerged in the wake of the early 1980s New Wave movement. Moreover, two of their albums, Disco (1986) and Disco 2 (1994), pay homage to a musical genre that is meaningful in terms of gay history and bar culture.

Their entire oeuvre may be seen as a personal documentation and reaction to events that stirred the British gay community in the last two decades of the twentieth century.

The Pet Shop Boys' music engages both traditional themes, such as love and relationships, and socially conscious subjects, such as AIDS and opposition to the notorious Section 28 bill that prohibited the promotion of homosexuality by government bodies in the United Kingdom.

Their first album, Please (1986), with its wistful melodies and overarching themes of love, relationships, and unrequited desire, is a pastiche of longing, irony, and camp familiar to all, but perhaps especially to gay, lesbian, and people.

"It's a Sin" (1987) makes a deeply poignant and forceful statement about the Catholic Church's sexual prohibitions and its power to regulate desire.

The duo's music has also brought to the fore issues relating to AIDS. For example, their 1993 LP, Very, contains two tracks, "Dreaming of the Queen" and "Go West," that confront the loss and despair occasioned by AIDS.

Interestingly, the musical arrangement of "Go West" may be understood as a synecdoche of the effects of AIDS on gay communities. For the first five minutes, Tennant and Lowe cover the Village People's gay anthem in a relentless, though somewhat reflective mood, which is followed by two minutes of silence. The pause is broken by a "Postscript," whose tone is utterly somber.

Tennant and Lowe's contribution extends beyond music into the important cultural phenomena of music videos. Some of their music videos are notably , as, for example, "Domino Dancing" (1988).

Often they have collaborated with important figures from the visual and performing arts, particularly with fellow gay artists. For example, the filmmaker Derek Jarman (1942-1994) produced the video for "It's a Sin" (1987), as well as other songs. Photographer Bruce Weber (b. 1946) created a dramatization of "Being Boring" (1991), while actor and gay rights activist Ian McKellen (b. 1939) was prominently featured in the visualization of "Heart" (1988).

Further, the Pet Shop Boys have supported the theme of transgenderism by producing, with vocals from Boy George (George O'Dowd, b. 1961), a cover of Dave Berry's 1964 ballad, "The Crying Game" from Neil Jordan's (b. 1950) 1992 film of the same title.

In 1994, Tennant agreed to an interview with the British lifestyle magazine Attitude. Without trepidation he revealed what his creative work stated unequivocally: "I could spend several pages discussing 'gay culture', but for the sake of argument we have contributed a lot. And the simple reason for this is that I have written songs from that point of view. What I'm saying is that I'm gay, and I have written songs from that point of view. So, I mean, I'm being completely honest with you here, but those are the facts of the matter."

Eugenio Filice


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Christopher Lowe (left) performing with Neil Tennant at the Boston Opera House in 2007. Photograph by Kevin Church.
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   Related Entries
arts >> Overview:  Disco and Dance Music

No popular art form is more closely identified with gay culture than disco and dance music.

arts >> Overview:  Music and AIDS

A number of musical works in various genres have responded directly or indirectly to the AIDS crisis, generally focusing on expressions of grief, anger, or sympathy rather than on the personal and social consequences of the disease.

arts >> Overview:  Music: Popular

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons have had tremendous influence on popular music, though some musical genres have been more receptive to a homosexual presence than others.

arts >> Overview:  Music Video

Gay and lesbian content in music videos was rare in the early 1980s, but with more openly gay and bisexual artists that situation has gradually changed.

arts >> Overview:  Musical Theater and Film

The musical has been a significant aspect of American gay male culture, manifesting itself both in diva worship and, more recently, in the presentation of openly gay characters and shows written by gay writers primarily for gay audiences.

arts >> Bass, Lance

Singer Lance Bass gained fame as a member of the boy band *Nsync; since coming out in 2006, he has spoken on behalf of glbtq rights.

arts >> Boy George (George O'Dowd)

A pop icon with a rich soulful voice, Boy George, who fronted the band Culture Club in the 1980s, managed to survive homophobia, drug addiction, and fame.

arts >> Gately, Stephen

Singer, songwriter, and actor Stephen Gately gained fame as one of the lead vocalists in the Irish pop group Boyzone.

arts >> Gold, Ari

Ari Gold, the award-winning recording artist, is unusual for his openness in an industry that has not exactly welcomed openly gay performers.

literature >> Jarman, Derek

In both his films and his writings, Derek Jarman's explicit project was to celebrate gay sexuality and imagine a place for it in English culture.

arts >> McKellen, Sir Ian

Arguably the finest Shakespearean actor of his generation, Ian McKellen was the first British subject to be knighted after publicly revealing his homosexuality, an event that proved more controversial within the gay community than in the mainstream.

arts >> Scissor Sisters

The American pop band Scissor Sisters was spawned in New York City's gay club scene; frequently addressing issues of transgressive sexuality, the band has cultivated a large glbtq fan base.

arts >> Springfield, Dusty

Now widely acclaimed as one of the greatest voices of popular music, British rock star of the 1960s Dusty Springfield has long been a lesbian icon.

arts >> The Village People

The Village People, a disco-era singing group, successfully translated the interests, coded language, and iconography of the gay male subculture into music that crossed over into mainstream pop.

arts >> Weber, Bruce

One of the world's most popular commercial photographers, Bruce Weber has re-envisioned male beauty through his erotic, yet nostalgic take on American adolescence.


Attig, R. Brian. "The Gay Voice in Popular Music." Journal of Homosexuality 21.1 (1991): 185-201.

Burston, P. "Honestly." Attitude 1.4 (August 1994): 62-69.

Frith, S. Performing Rites. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Gill, John. Queer Noises: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Music. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Pet Shop Boys. "PSB Chronology [online edition]."

Robertson, Textor A. "Review Essay: A Close Listening of the Pet Shop Boys' 'Go West.'" Popular Music and Society 18.4 (Winter 1994): 91-96.


    Citation Information
    Author: Filice, Eugenio  
    Entry Title: Pet Shop Boys  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated September 20, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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