“I just think that the one disappointing thing is the music”: The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant questions whether Taylor Swift has released her Billie Jean - “where are the famous songs?”

Taylor Swift and Neil Tennant
(Image credit: Leandro Bernardes/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images and Ashok Kumar/TAS24/Getty Images for TAS Rights Management)

Criticising Taylor Swift’s music is tantamount to heresy in some circles, but The Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant has ‘gone there’ in a new on-stage interview with The Guardian.

To be fair, the star was pretty measured with his words, telling host Alexis Petridis:  "Taylor Swift sort of fascinates me as a phenomenon because she's so popular and I sort of quite like the whole thing. But then when I listen to the records - we [Tennant and fellow Pet Shop Boy, Chris Lowe] both have the same feeling actually - for a phenomenon as big… where are the famous songs? What’s Taylor Swift's Billie Jean?"

Tennant is referring, of course, to Michael Jackson’s 1983 megahit from his Thriller album, one of many timeless songs that he was involved in. His question seemed to draw a sharp intake of breath from some in the audience, though, and it was put to him that Shake It Off could be considered to be at a comparable level.

"Is it though?” Tennant countered. “No, 'cause I actually even know that that's the answer, but I listened to that the other day, and it's not Billie Jean. It's not…”

“In one ear and out [of] the other?” offered Lowe.

“Yeah, it is a bit like that,” replied Tennant, before qualifying that by saying: “She's got a great voice, by the way, and the production's beautiful, but melodically, it’s almost recitative - it's all sung one or two notes going up and down - but, anyway, it's a fascinating thing."

When it was put to Tennant that one reason for Swift’s popularity is the desire among fans to have a collective experience, he replied: "I like the fact that it brings all these people together, even multigenerational, but I just think that the one disappointing thing is the music. Not the lyrics, the music.”

There’s a certain irony here, of course, in the fact that West End Girls - arguably the Pet Shop Boys’ biggest hit - could also be described as somewhat “recitative” in that it too sounds like ‘sung speech’. “It was written as a rap and there was no music for it,” Tennant says of that song’s origins.

In a recent interview with the NME, meanwhile, he suggested that “I don’t think people regard it as a rap record, even though we did. If you read a book about rap, no one will ever mention West End Girls in it.”

Tennant was also happy to talk about Drake’s apparently unauthorised use of the West End Girls refrain in his 2023 song, All The Parties

“Surprising to hear Drake singing the chorus of West End Girls in the track All the Parties on his new album,” the Pet Shop Boys said on Twitter when the song was released. “No credit given or permission requested.”

Time (and possibly money) is a great healer, though, with Tennant now saying: “It’s all sorted now, but I must say I thought it was a really nice bit in the record. He sang it very well.”

Pet Shop Boys new album, Nonetheless, is out now.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it. 

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