Ego Music

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2012
Original album - Elysium
Producer - Andrew Dawson, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

The first of two back-to-back Elysium tracks that are, for the Pet Shop Boys, uncharacteristically strident. There was apparently some uncertainty even fairly late in the process whether this song would make it onto the album. As Neil had said back in March 2012 (and as quoted in the July 2012 issue of their official fan club publication Literally), "It might be simply too nasty to be on the album"—though obviously they subsequently overcame any reluctance they might have had.

In an interview in the August 2012 issue of Mixmag, Neil described this song as a "satire on contemporary pop music" and quoted the chorus: "Ego music—it's all about me." He commented disapprovingly about how so many pop songs today are "just a diary" that have the effect of encouraging young fans today to think that's what songwriting is all about: simply putting one's personal, first-hand experiences to music, and little if anything else. By contrast, Neil believes that good songwriting involves, yes, starting with one's own experience but then building something new "around it or creat[ing] something that expresses it without just being it." (Witness the album's first track, "Leaving," as one of many examples of Neil doing this in his own work.)

But the Pet Shop Boys have rejected the suggestion that this song is about any one pop star in particular. Rather, as Neil told Dave Roberts of Music Week, "it's a composite." According to an interview with the Boys in Attitude magazine, one line in the song, "I am my own demographic," is an actual quote from an unnamed pop star. A Google search reveals no shortage of possible sources, including some who have nothing to do with popular music. In the world of pop, however, it has most notoriously been attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Dido.

Musically, "Ego Music" has an unusual, highly "experimental" feel to it: not particularly melodic, with what sounds like some old analogue synth accompaniment. It boasts the harmonies of the Los Angeles "vocal collective" Sonos (who can also be heard on "The Way Through the Woods"). As Neil also revealed in that same issue of Literally, he and Chris wanted "sort of a jazz harmony sound," adding, "They're amazing singers.… They do sort of Swingle Singers kind of stuff.… Really funny, and really, really good."

Some of the best bits aren't really "musical" at all, but rather spoken text by Neil, obviously "in character" as one of the contemporary pop artists being satirized. His voice fairly drips with disdain for the sentiments he's expressing, including a stone-cold ending: "That's why people love me," topped off with a devastating, implicitly false "It's humbling." But it's the track's sheer stridency that stands out, at least in the mind of this commentator.

Me Me Me Me
Yes Yes Yes Yes
You You You You
No No No No

Ego music
It's all about
Sense of entitlement
Sense of entitlement

It's very unsubtle. I can't help but feel that the song's closest analogue within the PSB canon, the similarly pop-star critiquing "How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?" was, while itself not particularly subtle, nevertheless handled with far greater finesse. For a long time I resisted placing this track among the very few PSB songs that I actually dislike since early on I would catch myself singing that weirdly catchy, sing-songy "E-go mu-sic" refrain now and then. But a few years later I had to break down and admit that, no, I really didn't like it for the long haul. So I indeed went ahead and added it to that short list. I can say with absolute confidence that a quarter-century from now nobody's going to look back on "Ego Music" and proclaim it their finest hour.

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