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September 9, 2012
For 25 years, the London synth-pop duo Pet Shop Boys have done one thing better than any other duo in the UK: sell records.
In fact, they've sold 100 million records worldwide since Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe met at an electronics shop in 1981.
Many people were reminded of the Pet Shop Boys when they helped close out the 2012 Olympic Games in London with their biggest hit, "West End Girls." The duo, however, continues to make new music and has just released their 11th studio album, Elysium.
Weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz sat down with Neil Tennant to talk about their early days and influences, as well as the new album.
On the single "Winner" from their new album Elysium: "It became clear after a while that we were writing songs about being pop stars at our age, which is in our 50s. And pop music is in theory, at least it used to be, a young people's musical form. I think the main thing is whether people still think the song sounds fresh. I think the funny thing about pop music is it goes through a phase of being dated, and then it sort of comes out of that and sounds fresh again."
On the rap roots of "West End Girls": "When we wrote the song, it was meant to be a rap record. It was influenced by Grandmaster Flash. If it had been sung or spoken in an American accent or rap accent you've had realized it was a rap record and the verses are rapped."
On their influence on gay culture: "Well I've always had a very ambivalent relationship with the idea of gay culture, because I think it's often been used to marginalize people. In the United States it was used to marginalize the Pet Shop Boys. For instance, we were briefly on Atlantic Records in the mid-90s, and all of the marketing was done by the gay marketing department. And I sort of resent the idea that being gay means you liked a certain kind of music, which maybe that includes the Pet Shop Boys."
On the merging of pop, electronic/dance and hip-hop music: "I think it's quite a good development in that all these different styles of music have been mixed up in one giant EDM [electronic dance music] pot. So Snoop Doggy Dog can be performing with David Guetta, which 10 years ago or 20 years ago would have been unthinkable. Pop music is a fantastic monster; it eats up anything and regurgitates it."