Winner

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2012
Original album - Elysium
Producer - Andrew Dawson, Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - single (UK #86, US Dance #12)

This, the first single from Elysium, premiered on radio on July 2, 2012 (and was subsequently available via iTunes and certain other digital outlets), more than two months ahead of the album's release. As confirmed by the official PSB website, it's produced (like the rest of the album) by Andrew Dawson and the Pet Shop Boys. It has orchestral accompaniment, arranged by Dawson, Joachim Horsley, and Ben Leathers. It was subsequently released on CD (with three bonus tracks) and in digital bundles (with bonus tracks and remixes) on about a month later.

The sleeve artwork depicts a vacant Olympic-style winners' podium on which the letters PSB appear—fitting imagery in light of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games held in and around London starting only about three weeks after the song's debut. Indeed, this genuinely uplifting song itself seemed shrewdly calculated to capitalize on the Olympics. But while that may well have been the case with its packaging and the timing of its release, that's not at all true of its origins. As the Boys told Max Dax in the September 2012 issue of Electronic Beats magazine, the idea for "Winner" came while they were on tour the previous summer with Take That. "Every night we’d leave the stadium while 70,000 or 80,000 people were going berserk to Take That singing, 'Today this could be the greatest day of our lives.'" They happened to be in Manchester when Chris suggested that they, too, should write "a mid-tempo anthem." Discussing it later at their hotel, they thought about Queen's "We Are the Champions" with its line "No time for losers," which Neil professed to having always hated. So "Winner" grew out of their desire to present, by contrast, a more embracing, inclusive song about winning—one more in keeping with the old saying, "It's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."

From one angle, the lyrics appear to be a straightforward expression of the euphoria an athlete feels upon coming out on top in athletic competition. But they also clearly comment on the vicarious nature of public competitions, in which mere observers become "winners" by virtue of watching others, particularly those they're rooting for, achieve the actual victory. We win by proxy, as it were, and triumph becomes a shared experience:

Let the ride just take us side by side
And make us see the world
Through new eyes every day

You're a winner
I'm a winner
This is all happening so fast

Yet if this sounds prideful and exorbitantly triumphalistic, it's characteristic of the Boys to allow a healthy dose of deflating realism to creep in: "Let's enjoy it all while it lasts." Being a winner, like everything else in life, is fleeting and ephemeral—and undoubtedly even more so for the vicarious "winner" than for the actual winner. Besides, the inclusiveness of "You're a winner/I'm a winner" suggests that the very act of participating in competition—particularly at the level of the Olympics—is a personal victory regardless of who ultimately gets to take the medals home. In other words, enjoy this fleeting moment in the sun.

Incidentally, one of my site visitors has pointed out that, in this day of Idol, The X Factor, and other televised talent competitions—not to mention a host of other competitive TV "reality" shows—the lyrics of "Winner" don't necessarily need to apply to the Olympics and other athletic events. In fact, a good argument can be made that they're even more applicable to such "non-athletic" circumstances. Neil himself has said that he had the Eurovision Song Contest in mind when they were writing "Winner."

And if you wish to expand the song's grasp even beyond that of competition, you might also consider that, like its fellow album track "Invisible," its narrative might be viewed as part of an examination of the Pet Shop Boys' own career. As major pop stars, they've experienced virtually everything described in the lyrics: the struggles, the practice, the paying of "dues," the cheers and acclaim of roaring crowds, the feeling of being on top of the world—indeed, enjoying it while it lasts. Becoming a big-time pop star must feel like being a "winner," too. Neil himself noted in the January 2013 issue of their fan club publication Literally that while writing this song, "Part of me was also thinking about when we got to number one with 'West End Girls' and we were winners."

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