Strange But True Incidents Involving the Pet Shop Boys

This roughly chronological list is purely subjective on my part: I personally have to judge an incident "sufficiently strange" to include it. The events listed here may be amusing, troubling, and/or shocking, but above all they have to be very unusual. And they must also be indisputably true, verifiable through one or more reliable independent sources, such as news organizations.

The first-ever "record credit" for a Pet Shop Boy

The very first credit on a recording for either Chris Lowe or Neil Tennant wasn't as a songwriter, singer, instrumentalist, producer, mixer, arranger, engineer, or anything else that commonly merits inclusion among recording credits. Rather, it was for an idea.

In 1982, when Neil was an editor with Smash Hits magazine, he came up with the idea of a special recording that he and his colleagues then set about bringing to fruition. It was for a "Happy Christmas" release featuring spoken holiday wishes to fans from an assortment of recording artists. The artists who agreed to this promotional effort and who provided their greetings were ABBA, ABC, Adam Ant, Bananarama, Bucks Fizz, Captain Sensible, Culture Club, Duran Duran, Fun Boy Three, Haircut One Hundred, Imagination, The Jam, Madness, Mari Wilson, Musical Youth, The Piranhas, The Police, Steve Strange, Toyah Willcox, and Ultravox. The recording was pressed onto a thin 7-inch plastic flexi-disc and distributed as a promotional bonus titled "Happy Christmas from the Stars" in copies of the late December 1982 issue of Smash Hits. An extremely rare "privilege hard-pressing" was also produced and distributed to members of the magazine staff.

Along with the names of the artists who offered their holiday greetings and a few others, the flexi-disc label also provides the first-ever credit on a record for one of the future Pet Shop Boys: "Idea: Neil Tennant."

ChrisNeilTennant and Lowe: t-shirt models

The Smash Hits Yearbook 1983 includes a photo-article on pop-music t-shirts, modeled by the magazine's staff. Considering he still worked for Smash Hits at the time, it's not particularly surprising to see a bespectacled Neil among the t-shirt models. Much more unexpected, however, is that Chris also appears among them. He didn't work there, so obviously he was recruited by virtue of his friendship with Neil, thereby providing a rare pre-fame glimpse at the future PSB keyboardist and composer. (Shown here, along with Neil's photo, is just one of two t-shirt photos featuring Chris.)

Chris Lowe's more unusual TV appearances

It's fairly common knowledge among PSB fans that Chris made a brief cameo appearance on the July 26, 1995 episode of the Australian soap opera Neighbours. Driving down Ramsay Street in a white Porsche convertible, Chris stops to ask directions of two of the show's regular characters, Helen and Marlene. They immediately recognize from his accent that he's English. "I’m a little lost," he says before adding, "I’m looking for a recording studio which is 'round here somewhere." Helen asks if he's in a band. "Yeah, the Pet Shop Boys," he replies.

"Oh, well," Marlene tells him, "I’m sure you're destined for big things one of these days." Amused, Chris then drives off to continue his search for the studio.

Far less well known, however, is Chris's appearance nearly ten years earlier, in late 1985, on the U.K. morning news show Breakfast Time. It was, in fact, the Pet Shop Boys' first-ever television interview, right when "West End Girls" was charging up the British charts. Chris actually fell asleep mid-interview with co-anchor Selina Scott. Years later Neil recalled the incident: "It was very early in the morning, it was like a quarter to eight. She had to wake him up to answer a question."

Now, no matter how early in the morning it was, who else can you think of who would fall asleep—who would even be able to fall asleep—during their very first interview on nationwide television? To describe it as "nonchalance" seems an understatement, to say the least.

But, most notoriously, there's the March 25, 1991 incident—fully documented in Chris Heath's book Pet Shop Boys vs. America—of Chris storming off the stage mid-performance of "Where the Streets Have No Name (I Can't Take My Eyes Off You)" on the popular U.S. television program The Tonight Show because the camera was completely ignoring him, thereby leaving Neil on his own for the rest of the song and the interview that followed. Neil was understandably upset about it afterward, even going so far as to express his exasperation to Heath, confiding, "I sometimes wonder whether it's worth it." We can of course be extremely grateful that it never went any further than that.

A classic PSB music video predicts the future?

On several occasions the Pet Shop Boys have seemed to possess the power of prophecy, most famously with their song "King's Cross," which includes the lines "Dead and wounded on either side/You know it's only a matter of time." This appears to predict the November 18, 1987 King's Cross station fire in which 31 people were killed and 100 wounded, which occurred a little over two months after the song's release.

But perhaps the strangest of their "forecasts" appears in the music video for their classic 1988 single "Domino Dancing." It's a blink-and-you'll-miss-it scene with a group of young dancers, one of whom is wearing a shirt on which the word "PAZZO!"—Italian for "CRAZY!"—is emblazoned in big, bold capital letters. This was nearly three decades before the Boys released their 2016 album Super, which counted a song titled "Pazzo!" among its tracks, matching right down to the exclamation point, though not in all upper-case as it is on the shirt.

Of course, this is surely not so much a case of the 1988 video hinting at the future as one of Neil and Chris being influenced, consciously or subconsciously, by having encountered the word at this time and/or on other occasions, the latter to which they have attested. Still, it's fun to think of it as an instance of outright prognostication.

Oscar Wilde foretells Neil's future from beyond the grave

The March 21, 1991 issue of the U.K. newspaper Daily Mirror quoted Neil talking about a remarkable incident from his teenage years: "It happened when I was 15. A group of us decided to have a seance and we got in touch with the ghost of Oscar Wilde.… He warned us all not to make the same kind of mistakes that he did. And he told me I would be famous one day."

Neil then went on to expound up the impact this "supernatural forecast" had on him: "It was the advice I was longing for. Ever since I was a young kid I had desperately wanted to be a pop star. And now here was someone I admired telling me it was OK." He suggested that it had helped him make the "act of great faith" that it took for him to quit his "safe day job at the age of 31 to have a go at pop."

So, at least from that perspective, we can all be very, very grateful to the spirit of Oscar Wilde.

Nightlife condomOfficial PSB Nightlife condoms

As part of the marketing efforts for the Pet Shop Boys' 1999 album Nightlife, their record company distributed a most unusual promo item in several countries (France, Germany, and Japan at a minimum, and perhaps others as well): condoms. Each black cardboard packet, emblazoned with the red "Nightlife logo," provided detailed usage instructions in the native language of the country in question and contained a foil-wrapped condom. It would seem that the promo people had some very distinct ideas about what precisely "nightlife" entails.

As for Chris and Neil themselves, assuming they knew about this gimmick in advance—and given the degree of control they've always exercised over their career, I can't imagine they wouldn't have—they probably just thought it was funny.

Neil and Bono patch it up by taking the plunge

In 2002, Neil revealed that what some had described as a "simmering feud" between the Pet Shop Boys and U2—stemming from the Boys' 1991 cover of U2's "Where the Streets Have No Name," brazenly mashed with Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You"—had been put to rest through an incident that had taken place some time before (though he didn't say precisely when).

As it turns out, Neil and U2 lead singer Bono had met at Elton John's mansion in the south of France. Neil said that Bono was "really friendly," but he had adopted something of a competitive air, repeatedly saying, "It's rock versus pop." Following dinner, Bono lept from the terrace to Elton's swimming pool below. Neil clearly took this act of bravado as a challenge. So, as Neil put put it, "To his evident surprise, I jumped in as well." Duly impressed, Bono then admitted, "OK. Rock one—pop one."

Neil summarized the incident: "It ended as a draw—quite rightly so."

Neil Tennant's celebrity stalkers

In an October 2003 interview with Miranda Sawyer of The Observer, the Pet Shop Boys spoke at length about Neil's stalkers. They told of girls from as far away as Germany and Poland who had come to his house, avowedly wanting to marry him. One was even accompanied by her mother, who appeared to be encouraging her daughter's irrational behavior. Another young woman would visit every day to tie a helium balloon to an exterior railing of his home. When she invited herself "for tea tomorrow" by means of a letter attached to one such balloon, Neil had the man who looks after his house throw a bucket of water on her when she showed up at the door. "It was a horrible thing to do," admitted Neil, "but I knew that once she was shocked out of it, she would stop, and she did."

"They go through your rubbish, too," Neil went on to say, setting up the most bizarre anecdote all. "One girl came up to me and said to me, 'My friend's got all your old razor blades stuck on her bedroom wall.'"

More recently, in early 2009, Neil has allegedly been stalked by a woman who sends him nude pictures of herself and labors under the delusion that they're actively having an affair. He's reportedly "terrified" of her—and given the sometimes tragic history of celebrity stalkers, who wouldn't be?

"Pet Shop Boys Meet Western Union Girls"

Our musical heroes weren't actually "involved" in this incident from 2004 but, as you'll soon see, they certainly had an unwitting role to play.

Scam-o-rama® is a website that documents attempted incidents of online advance-fee fraud, in which an spam-email sender (often allegedly from Nigeria or some other "third-world" country) claims to be a bureaucrat, banker, or some other official who just happens to want to share large sums of money with you. All you need to do is to "invest" some of your own cash in the process, in expectation of collecting even more. But of course it's a scam that ends up defrauding its victims, sometimes of thousands of dollars. In short, it's only their own greed—well, and their gullibility, too—that allows them to be victimized. The twist with Scam-o-rama, however, is that its participants set about scamming the scammers, pretending to go along with the schemes, often for weeks on end, wasting the scammers' time and generating amusing email exchanges, all of which are documented for our reading pleasure.

So where do the Pet Shop Boys come into all this? As it so happens, in May 2004 one such exchange began in which the anti-scammer—that is, the person who decided to pull the proverbial wool over the attempted scammer's eyes—adopted the name "Christopher Tennant" and, in responding with feigned interest in the fraudster's email, claimed to be the proprietor of a small chain of pet shops in the New York City area. Into each of the emails he slyly dropped the titles of PSB songs or excerpts from their lyrics. For example, in one message in which the anti-scammer mentioned his troubled relationship with his (no doubt fictional) estranged wife, he wrote, "Everyday there's floods of tears and doors slamming, stamping feet across the landing," which attentive PSB fans will recognize as having been adapted from "The End of the World." And there are lots more where that came from.

At any rate, the exchange went on for a full month before the original scammer finally decided to give up on ever getting any money from the anti-scammer, who just kept leading him on with PSB-laced text. When it was all over and done with, the full exchange was posted on the Scam-o-rama site under the title "Pet Shop Boys Meet Western Union Girls." It's quite lengthy and you may not wish to take the time necessary to read it all, but the first few and the last few exchanges will give you the gist of it. I think it's hilarious myself.

The "Neilotron"

Back in 2005, when the Boys were working with producer Trevor Horn on the Fundamental album, they began using a digital keyboard with samples of Neil's voice singing vowel syllables ("ahs" and perhaps "oos") as notes on the diatonic scale. This enabled the player—Chris, most likely—to perform, in effect, a choir of "Neils" as virtual background vocalists, whether live or in the studio. Horn dubbed this device a "Neilotron," an obvious but nonetheless clever takeoff on the Mellotron electronic keyboard instrument that gained great notoriety in the late 'sixties and early 'seventies, especially in psychedelic and prog-rock circles.

Though it was notably used by many artists—including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Bee Gees, Elton John, King Crimson, Genesis, and Yes, among many others—the Mellotron's most persistent exponents were the Moody Blues, for whom it provided their signature "sound" during the period from 1967 to 1972. The Mellotron employs analog tapes to reproduce the sounds of orchestral instruments (most often the string section, but flutes and horns are also commonly used) and, yes, sometimes vocal choirs. The Neilotron simply updated the concept for the digital age, with the unusual twist of reproducing choirs composed of an individual, specific, and highly identifiable voice.

Chris and Neil have continued to make use of the Neilotron in the years since (apparently even updating it to take advantage of more recent digital technology), such as during the early 2012 sessions for their album Elysium.

Greil Marcus's Bob Dylan/PSB "connection"

When noted U.S. music critic and cultural historian Greil Marcus published in 2005 his thirteenth book, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, the public reaction, both professional and amateur, ranged widely from lavish praise to dazed bemusement to scathing diatribe. Some of the more negative critics took him to task for his prolix, highly academic style in his lengthy analysis of the classic Dylan song mentioned in the title. But many saved their harshest derision for his assorted cross-cultural, cross-genre digressions. Often singled out for particular scorn were several pages that Marcus devotes to none other than the Pet Shop Boys' cover of “Go West,” of which he astutely writes:

[T]he massed voice of the choir stood for all the voices of the dead, and Tennant, thirty-nine in 1993, was the voice of an adventure that had come to an end before he was ready to take part. As you listen, you hear history tearing the song to pieces—but the song will not surrender its body. At five minutes it seems to go on forever, and you want it to. You can't play it once.

As brilliant an assessment of the song as that is, even I—a dedicated PSB fan and somewhat musicologically inclined former academic myself—find it somewhat challenging to comprehend the precise relationship that Marcus is suggesting in the surrounding paragraphs between "Go West" and Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone." So you can only imagine how various non-fans reacted, employing such terms as (and I quote) "self-parody," "hot air," "idiosyncratic," "head-scratching," "ridiculous," "ludicrous," "unconvincing," "forced," "contrived," "senseless," "bloated," "baffling," "bizarre," even "contemptible" and, most elaborately of all, "egg-headed counterintuitive reasoning" to describe that discussion in particular. One gets the distinct impression that many of these critics were actually offended that Marcus had, in effect, mentioned Dylan and the Pet Shop Boys in the same breath. (Some were blatantly homophobic, such as an anonymous commentator who suggested that PSB and Marcus might "share a gerbil.") But whether you think, like me, that Marcus's “Pet Shop Boys digression” is remarkably insightful or, like so many others, an instance of unfathomable windbaggery, I think we can all pretty much agree that it is, if not outright strange, then at least highly unexpected.

Then again, perhaps not so unexpected. This was hardly Marcus's first foray into praise of the Boys. In fact, back in early 1988 he proclaimed Actually his personal choice as 1987's "Record of the Year." As he put it at the time, "…nothing else came close." And later (but well before his book on Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone") he would write, "Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe's Very and their remake of the Village People's 'Go West' were the best album and single of 1993."

The Pet Shop Boys' airplane has a close encounter with a meteor

In the early morning hours of March 28, 2007, while crossing the Pacific Ocean on an overnight flight from Santiago, Chile to Auckland, New Zealand, a LAN Chile Airbus A340 jet carrying the Pet Shop Boys and scores of other passengers came within about 40 seconds of being struck by flaming debris from outer space. It came close enough that the pilot could hear the sound made as the fiery fragments hurtled past, descending at supersonic speed. At first it was thought that they were the remains of a disintegrating Russian satellite, but subsequent investigations revealed that the far more likely culprit was a meteor breaking up in the atmosphere. If the jet had been struck, it would surely have meant the deaths of everyone on board.

Traveling on the Southern Hemisphere leg of their Fundamental Tour, the Boys and their entourage remained asleep throughout the entire incident. They didn't even know about the near-miss until after they landed, when people started asking them about it. As Neil told the press, "Then we realized with horror what had happened. Our friends and families started calling us in a panic to find out if we were OK."

Chris cheers on an altercation between pop stars

One evening in 2007 (the precise date wasn't reported, although in September 2007 it was said to have taken place "earlier this year"), Chris was at a London pub with Swedish pop musician Alexander Bard, best known for his work with the bands Army of Lovers and BWO (Bodies Without Organs). As it turns out, they happened upon yet another pop star—no less than Robbie Williams, with whom the Pet Shop Boys had worked on several occasions.

As the story goes, the outspoken Bard somewhat undiplomatically mentioned to Robbie that he thought his most recent album Rudebox (which happened to contain one such PSB/Williams collaboration, "She's Madonna") was "crap." The events that allegedly followed suggest that Robbie did not (apparently) take kindly to Bard's remark. According to Bard, Williams physically "attacked" him, and a fight ensued. Chris didn't get directly involved, although he reportedly stood off to the side cheering and shouting, "Fucking Cocky Swede!"—words that Bard took as supportive (despite Chris's friendship and working relationship with Robbie), but which could be interpreted otherwise.

Robbie's bodyguards are then said to have quickly intervened, pulling the two popsters apart. In the end, Williams reportedly paid Bard's (and Chris's) bar tab as recompense. Afterward, neither Robbie nor Chris would comment on the incident. It appears that only Bard has been willing to talk about it publicly, which he subsequently did to a Swedish newspaper. It seems safe to say, however, that—considering both the pub setting and the events as reported—alcohol likely fueled the incident.

PETA asks the Pet Shop Boys to change their name

In April 2009 the Pet Shop Boys were contacted by the animal-rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), who asked them to change their name to the Rescue Shelter Boys. Their argument was that, by changing the name of their duo, Chris and Neil would raise public awareness of the extremely poor conditions in which some breeders keep animals before selling them to pet stores. Of course, this was almost certainly a publicity stunt in which PETA had no real expectation being taken seriously.

The Boys politely replied on their official website to this (as Neil later described it) "very amusing suggestion" by stating that they were "unable to agree" but felt that it "raises an issue worth thinking about." PETA graciously replied in kind, issuing a statement that they were pleased the Pet Shop Boys had drawn attention to the issue by posting their letter on their website.

But PETA weren't the only ones who received publicity in the process. The incident quickly became an item with worldwide news organizations, such as CNN, who reported the story in a rather amused manner. In certain venues, such as the United States, it generated more widespread mainstream publicity for the Pet Shop Boys than they had enjoyed in more than a decade.

This, incidentally, isn't the only time PETA has made such a ludicrous, headline-grabbing, name-changing proposition. In March 2011 the group contacted San Francisco city officials, suggesting that they change the name of the city's Tenderloin district to the Tempeh district, in reference to a soy-based meat substitute. The letter averred that San Francisco "deserves a neighborhood named after a delicious cruelty-free food instead of the flesh of an abused animal." One can only hope that PETA is fully aware of the absurdity of such suggestions—realizing that it's indeed the sheer absurdity that generates publicity—and makes them in a spirit of good humor.

A DJ is physically attacked for playing the Pet Shop Boys

In August 2009, in the village of Aroer in the Negev desert region of Israel, a DJ hired to play music at a Bedouin wedding was physically attacked for playing music by the Pet Shop Boys. After playing more traditional Arabic music for most of the celebration, the DJ decided to "stir things up" (as described in a local newspaper) by putting on some western dance music. He chose the Pet Shop Boys. Little did he know just how much that would "stir things up."

As later reported in the news, some of the women began to "dance exuberantly to the foreign music." This angered some of the young men in attendance, who felt that they were being dishonored by the dancing of the women. They demanded that the DJ stop playing the PSB music. When he refused, they attacked him, giving him such a savage beating that he needed medical attention. Police subsequently arrested two of the young men allegedly involved in the attack.

The Pet Shop Boys perform a "living room concert"

It may not be "strange"—but it's certainly unique. How would you like to have living legends of popular music put on a show for you in your very own home? Well, it happened on February 2, 2010 to Lorraine Sands of Twickenham, U.K. And the living legends were none other than the Pet Shop Boys.

To help celebrate 30 years of the BRIT Awards, Mastercard sponsored a competition for a member of the British public to win a "priceless" live performance by an award winner in their living room. So Ms. Sands, the winner of the competition, was surprised (to say the least) when the Pet Shop Boys appeared at her door. The Boys then set about recreating a portion of their recent Pandemonium Tour show, complete with backup singers and dancers. They performed four songs: "Suburbia," "All Over the World," "It's a Sin," and "West End Girls." Neil later described the experience as "surreal, but it was very good fun"—adding that at the beginning he felt "a bit like a lap-dancer."

For her part, Ms. Sands said, "I've been a massive Pet Shop Boys fan for over 20 years, and to have them play a gig right in my front room, for just me and my closest friends, was too good to be true. It was the best day ever."

The event was filmed and the footage broadcast in segments during the February 16, 2010 Brits Awards telecast as well as online afterward. The complete footage was also at one time readily available on YouTube, but that appears no longer to be the case.

Portions of this report—specifically the direct quote by Lorraine Sands—are © 2010 Associated Newspapers Ltd.

An evangelical pastor is inspired by the Pet Shop Boys

Twice a year evangelical Christian pastor Javier Loredo of Matamoros, Mexico, sponsors an event called A Todo Volumen (Spanish for "At Full Volume," though perhaps better translated idiomatically as "At Full Blast"). The biannual event uses contemporary music to bring troubled young people together for a positive spiritual experience—as well as practical job training—in a safe, supportive, and thoroughly enjoyable environment.

Each time A Todo Volumen takes place, it adopts a different theme. The Spring 2010 event, held on April 23–24, assumed the look and feel of the Pet Shop Boys' 2009 Pandemonium Tour, complete with a box-based stage design, fluorescent jumpsuits, and equally colorful "box headgear."

It's not nearly as incongruous as it seems when you consider that Loredo is a former DJ and lifelong devotee of pop music—and, more specifically, a longtime fan of the Pet Shop Boys. "I've really liked the aesthetics of PSB from a very young age and have followed them since … my teen years," Loredo said in explanation of the April theme. "I remembered that they use very avant-garde ideas."

Getting named-dropped and quoted in Parliament

On November 15, 2010, a debate in the U.K. House of Commons on free schools included the following exchange between Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove and Cardiff West MP Kevin Brennan of the Labor Party:

Brennan: Where will these unqualified teachers be required to teach? I have here the document containing the Government's list of places where they want free schools to be able to open without any planning permission. It includes hairdressers, travel agencies, sandwich bars, dry cleaners, undertakers and—you could not make this up, Mr Speaker—pet shops. Actually, the Secretary of State and the schools Minister, the Hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton, look a bit like the Pet Shop Boys, but does their vision of 21st-century schools really consist of our children being educated in the abandoned premises of "Reptiles R Us"?

I am grateful to the honorable Gentleman for that well-rehearsed question. I know that he is a brilliant musician, but in the words of the Pet Shop Boys, he's got the brains and I've got the looks, and together—I suspect—we could make lots of money. We want to ensure that the spirit of innovation can flourish, and that Britain, and indeed our education system, is open for business in raising standards.

In a later portion of the same debate, Toby Perkins (Labor MP from Chesterfield) picked up on the "PSB theme" in his own comments:

Perkins: Given the success of school sports partnerships in raising attainment, and if the Secretary of State is interested in the east end boys as well as the west end girls, can he explain why he refused even to meet a recognised world expert in school sport such as Baroness Campbell before deciding to axe funding to the Youth Sport Trust and to decimate school sport?

Could there be a better indication of just how deeply engrained our musical heroes are in contemporary British culture? Somehow I can't imagine a similar exchange occurring in the U.S. Congress. Then again, I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

Watson confuses PSB with Oliver Twist

The U.S. edition of the popular TV game show Jeopardy! ran a series of well-publicized episodes in February 2011 in which an IBM supercomputer dubbed Watson took on the game's two indisputable human champs: all-time top money-winner Brad Rutter and all-time longest championship-holder Ken Jennings. Despite struggling in a few categories, Watson handily defeated its two flesh-and-blood opponents—although, in the opinion of many observers (the present writer being among them), the machine's chief advantage was that it understandably proved "the faster draw" with the signaling device.

What does this have to do with PSB? Well, it was subsequently reported in several media outlets that during one of the untelevised practice/training rounds for the game, Watson blew a "Final Jeopardy" clue in the category 19th-Century Literature: "In Chapter 10, 'the whole mystery of the handkerchiefs, and the watches, and the jewels… rushed upon' this title boy's 'mind.'" The correct answer—that is, the correct question—would have been "What is Oliver Twist?" (from which most of the text of the clue itself was quoted verbatim). But Watson instead responded, "What is the Pet Shop Boys?" That Watson could confuse the Boys with a Charles Dickens novel underscores the fact that, although the supercomputer might be correct, say, 99% of the time, when it does get it wrong, it gets it really wrong!

And though this commentator, for his part, was rooting for the humans, he's at least highly gratified that the supergeeks who programmed the supercomputer made sure that it was well aware of our super musical heroes.

The Boys are banned in Belarus

In March 2011 the government of the eastern European nation of Belarus published a list of artists who have been banned from being mentioned in the state media. Both Belarusian and foreign celebrities were included in the list. Although no official explanation was given, it's generally acknowledged that the blacklist was compiled in retaliation for statements made and/or activities performed by these artists to call international attention to the nation's oppressive regime—specifically its rigged elections.

Among the artists included in the ban are actors Kevin Kline, Jude Law, Ian McKellen, Kevin Spacey, and Samuel West, playwright Tom Stoppard, and both Neil Tennant (individually) and the Pet Shop Boys (collectively), among many others. Many of the artists listed are affiliated with a movement known as the Global Artistic Campaign in Solidarity with Belarus. Neil was among the many signatories to a petition calling for democratic elections in Belarus published by the organization in December 2010.

As one of my site visitors has cogently noted, it's safe to say that there will be no Pet Shop Boys concerts in Minsk (the capital of Belarus) anytime soon.

"PaninaroBot" debuts on Twitter

In November 2011, someone launched a dedicated page on Twitter called PaninaroBot, which does absolutely nothing except, once every hour or so, quote in text format a line of lyrics (as limited as they are) from the Pet Shop Boys classic "Paninaro." As of April 2016, nearly four-and-a-half years later—by which time it had attracted more than 19,000 tweets but only 32 followers—it was still doing it.

Why, pray tell?

Because it's so preposterous that it's brilliant, that's why.

Pranksters crash an art exhibition in PSB masks

On May 7, 2012, a pair of pranksters wearing masks of Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant (derived from their photo on the cover of Actually) crashed an exhibition at an art gallery in the city of Bath in southwestern England to stage an apparently impromptu "situationist DJ set," as one observer described it. This act of performance art was almost certainly inspired by the fact that the gallery itself is known as "The Old Pet Shop" because in a previous incarnation that is, quite literally, what it was.

After showing up at the private exhibition, the duo quickly set up their equipment and began playing a series of Pet Shop Boys tracks, including "It's a Sin" (an extended mix), "Shopping," and "Go West" (including "Ming's Gone West Second Movement"). Captured on video by an exhibition attendee, much of the performance quickly found its way onto YouTube for the world to enjoy.

The art patrons in attendance seemed amused but somewhat baffled, although many clearly got into the spirit and appeared to enjoy it. One even put in a request for "Always on My Mind." There's some speculation, however, as to just how "impromptu" and how much of a "crash" it really was considering that the "performers" were able not only to set up in the midst of the gallery but also to continue their act for well over 15 minutes without interruption. A publicity stunt, perhaps?

Portions of this story—particularly with regard to the "situationist DJ set" quotation—are © 2012 Artrocker Magazine. It would seem that the original Artrocker report got the date of the event wrong, stating "June 7" when the YouTube video is clearly dated "May 7."

The Boys take steps to become perfume moguls

They've alluded to it in interviews on one or more occasions, but there's concrete evidence that Neil and Chris have done more than just talk about it. On April 12, 2013, a new private limited company called x2 Perfumes Limited was incorporated in the United Kingdom, its two officers designated as "Christopher Sean Lowe" and "Neil Francis Tennant." The company's correspondence address was listed at Prager Metis LLP, a major international business advisory and accounting firm with offices worldwide, though understandably its London office address was provided in the corporate filing for x2 Perfumes. Fans will of course recognize x2 (officially pronounced "Times Two") as also being the name chosen by the Boys for their own record label, which was incorporated on the exact same date, April 12, 2013. All new PSB releases since then have been on that label, distributed by Kobalt Music Recordings/Kobalt Label Services. (Chris and Neil had previously launched three other "boutique" record labels: Spaghetti Records, Olde English Vinyl, and Lucky Kunst.)

Although this "perfume subsidiary," so to speak, was set up in 2013, the Boys seem to have taken few if any further serious subsequent steps toward launching their own brand(s) of perfume. By late 2014 it was formally considered a "dormant" company, although it apparently remains a viable legal entity, with annual legal account filings in every year since, at least as of 2021. So it would appear they're keeping their options open.

Neil is approached as a possible judge on American Idol

Neil revealed in a June 2013 interview with Peter Robinson of Popjustice that he had been approached by the producers of the hugely popular U.S. television show American Idol as a possible replacement for its departing founder, longtime "lead judge," and fellow Englishman Simon Cowell. (This would likely have made it sometime between early 2010 and early 2011.) As Neil told the story, they wanted him to fly to Los Angeles for an interview, but he refused to do so. Instead they settled for a conference call.

Early in the conversation, the chief interviewer said to Neil, "We love you! You're so opinionated!" When Neil told him, "I’ve never seen American Idol but I don’t like the sound of it," and that he would "probably just be really rude to everyone," the interviewer repeated, "This is why we love you! You're so opinionated!"

"I think they wanted a bitchy gay Englishman," Neil concluded. He decided against pursuing the American Idol gig—despite the fact that it would certainly have made him more famous in America (and just as certainly much wealthier) than ever before—because he feared that the Pet Shop Boys would have been "totally compromised." He added, "I would have just become Neil Tennant the TV personality."

Incidentally, by declining Neil joined a short but impressive list of celebrities who have similarly turned down offers to serve as American Idol judges, including Kanye West, Katy Perry, P!nk, Dolly Parton, Sean "Diddy" Combs, first-season winner Kelly Clarkson, and Elton John. In fact, Sir Elton was reportedly offered no less than $33 million for the job, which he nevertheless flatly refused. He later told the Daily Mail that he found such televised singing competitions "paralyzingly brain-crippling." Ouch!

Justin Bieber's "personal effects" offered as incentives to buy PSB tickets

In August 2013 it was reported that a concert promoter in Poland was offering a pair of socks and other "personal effects" worn or used by Justin Bieber before, during, and/or after his March 25 concert in Lódz as an incentive to fans to buy tickets to the Pet Shop Boys' September 3 show in Gdańsk. The promoter was quoted as saying that they decided to offer these items to fans "because we receive a lot of emails with such requests." So, assuming this report was accurate and the plans proceeded as announced, the first six people who purchased tickets to the PSB concert won this Bieber memorabilia (or is that "memoraBiebia"?), which apparently also included a towel used by the young Canadian pop singer during his stop in Lódz.

To the best of my knowledge, there was no comment whatsoever from the PSB camp regarding this most unusual form of concert promotion.

Conspiracy theorists cite PSB as members or at least pawns of The Illuminati

Beginning in 2013, certain online conspiracy theorists began to suggest that the Pet Shop Boys are members or at least pawns (witting or unwitting) of The Illuminati, a long-alleged secret society that seeks to establish a "new world order" in which they control governments around the world, eventually leading to a single world government in which national identities and borders are eliminated and religions (especially Christianity) are suppressed. Their evidence? None other than the appearance of dancers wearing horned masks in the music video for the Pet Shop Boys' song "Axis" and subsequently on their Electric Tour. According to these conspiracy theorists, those horned masks symbolize the goat-headed deity/devil/demon Baphomet, who's allegedly the object of worship by Illuminati members. Of course, once they got a load of those horns, they began to seek additional signs of The Illuminati in other PSB music videos and lyrics. And The Illuminati are supposedly behind greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ persons, so there's that, too.

To be honest, however, this particular conspiracy theory hasn't gained a lot of traction in the years since. Perhaps that's not very surprising considering the competition. I mean, there are much juicier conspiracies out there than a possible PSB/Illuminati connection. Not to mention much bigger targets.

The Boys headline a radio soap opera's fictional music festival

One of the 2014 storylines on the long-running British radio soap opera The Archers—enjoying at the time its 64th year of broadcast—focused on the efforts of some of its characters to stage a music festival called "Loxfest" (after the show's Lower Loxley estate). But the future of the festival was in jeopardy when its equally fictional headlining acts had to pull out at the last minute. All was saved, however, when the Pet Shop Boys stepped in to fill the bill.

Chris and Neil had recorded their appearance on the show several weeks beforehand at London's Maida Vale Studios. It aired on the Monday, August 25, 2014 episode of The Archers, with the Boys appearing on the festival bill together with several other performers: a curious combo of both actual and fictional artists, such as Velvet Cowshed (fictional), Slow Club (actual), Hideous Wellies (fictional), and Luke Sital-Singh (actual)—not, however, heard during the same episode.

Neil and Chris had substantial speaking parts. In fact, at one point, upon hearing the name—Mowgli—recently given the newborn son of one of the show's characters, Chris becomes extremely animated, speaking in a manner that's thoroughly out of character for him. (Quite an acting job, in my humble opinion. I wouldn't have thought it was him.) There are also brief segments of them performing "A Face Like That," "Vocal," and "It's a Sin" in the background as other characters are speaking in the foreground.

The Boys were actually the latest in a series of real-life celebrities who through the years have made cameo appearances on The Archers. The list includes Judi Dench, Terry Wogan, Britt Ekland, Dame Edna Everage, Alan Titchmarsh, and even Princess Margaret and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. Sometimes these celebrities have portrayed one-off characters on the show, while in other cases they've simply appeared as themselves. Neil and Chris obviously fall into the latter category.

Incidentally, the Pet Shop Boys had a follow-up mention on The Archers a few years later—on November 2, 2016 to be precise—when the character Roy went on a date with new character Lucy. They were discussing things they liked when Lucy said she was a longtime PSB fan. Roy then surprised her by noting that he had met them at a festival he had organized and that they were really nice guys.

Portions of this story are © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies.

A London theatre group stages a "PSB karaoke" sequel to "Jack and the Beanstalk"

In December 2016, the South London Theatre staged a production titled Jack, an original sequel to the classic fairy tale "Jack and the Beanstalk." It's the story of the original Jack's son—Jack, Jr.—and daughter Jill. Along the way, the cast sang cover versions of various Pet Shop Boys songs, including the non-originals "Go West" and "Numb" amidst the Tennant-Lowe compositions. In addition, small portions of instrumental music from The Most Incredible Thing were used as well. The performers sang atop instrumental recordings of the PSB songs in question, essentially performing "karaoke renditions" integrated into the plot.

The show was written by Peter Stevens and Matthew Davies, the former of whom is a professed PSB fan (or as he put it in the program, he "quite likes" the Pet Shop Boys). The songs were integral to the show, sometimes employed for comic effect and at other times with sinister implications. For instance, "It's a Sin" was sung by a villainous character, the Fairy, who changed a few words to accentuate her villainy (such as "When I look back upon my life, it's never with a sense of shame").

The production was advertised as "An epic Christmas show spreading a great big dollop of festive yuletide magic for boys and girls young and old." To be sure, much of that "festive yuletide magic" was surely supplied by the PSB music. But it should be noted that the producers did not make use of "Jack and Jill Party." Perhaps it was so obscure that they simply didn't know about it. Then again, maybe its lyrics made it, shall we say, inappropriate. It was promoted as a show for the entire family, after all—despite some double entendre innuendos designed to entertain the older folks while going right over the heads of the little ones.

PSB lyrics are (sort of) put in the service of the NYC subway system

U.K. native Andy Bryford, who had previously held increasingly authoritative management positions for the public transit systems of London, New South Wales (Australia), and Toronto, was appointed president of the New York City Transit Authority in January 2018. He has made it his mission to overhaul and modern the Big Apple's "broken" subway system. The following May 23, he presented his ambitious plan for doing so, dubbed "Fast Forward," to the city's transit commission, complete with a whopping $37 billion price tag. (Preliminary reports of only $19 billion appear to have been erroneous.)

In asking for this funding, Bryford consciously paraphrased the lyrics of the Pet Shop Boys classic "Opportunities" by saying, "You've got the brains, I've got the plan, now let's raise lots of money."

It's unknown at the time of this writing whether the city will be willing to bankroll Bryford's ambitious plan. But, not surprisingly, politicians immediately began to fall into opposing camps. NYC mayor Bill de Blasio has been quoted as saying that the city "is not willing to pay," whereas New York state governor Andrew Cuomo has asserted that the city will have to bear its fair share of the financial burden. Meanwhile, Bryford himself maintains that "sustained investment on a massive scale" is needed and that "not acting now is not an option."

Portions of this story are © 2018 Evening Standard Ltd or its affiliated companies.

PSB gets name-dropped in the Hungarian translation of a U.S. TV show

In the Hungarian-language dubbing of the Season 3 Episode 20 of the popular U.S. 2000-2007 television comedy-drama Gilmore Girls, the line "Stay home and dance around in my underwear to the Monkees' greatest hits" is instead rendered as "Stay home and dance around in my underwear to the best of the Pet Shop Boys." This was almost certainly done because the Monkees probably aren't familiar to many if not most people in Hungary, whereas the Pet Shop Boys apparently are.

"Pet Shop Boys" used as an insult on a TV show

The December 11, 2018 episode of the U.S. CW network TV show Supergirl was the third and final chapter of "Elseworlds," a byzantine crossover storyline (started two nights before on The Flash and continued the next night on Arrow) involving parallel universes. "Our" universe's Barry Allen (The Flash) and Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) find themselves in a hostile altered reality, in which their friend Cisco (Vibe) turns out, in this distorted timeline, to be anything but their friend. During a confrontation, Cisco dismissingly refers to Barry and Oliver as "the Pet Shop Boys."

Aside from the sheer oddness of the reference on a 2018 show predominantly watched by teenagers and young adults (the target demographic of the CW network), many of whom—at least here in the States—may not at all be familiar with PSB, I'm struck by the likelihood that it was intended as a "politically correct" means of insulting them with a strongly coded gay slur. It's not that the characters of Barry and Oliver are gay (they're not), but rather that they're being disparaged as if they were in a homophobic manner. I'm not sure how else to interpret it. Another commentator has suggested the insult arose from the both of them wearing matching leather jackets, but I don't buy that myself. Besides, it doesn't mitigate the likely anti-gay angle. But even if it weren't intended as a gay slur, it was undoubtedly meant as an insult. And a rather gratuitous one at that. But considering that the show's executive producer, Greg Berlanti, is openly gay and very much an LGBTQ advocate, any homophobia is surely not an expression of the producers' feelings but those of the hostile character uttering the intended insult.

"Pet Shop Boys made me do it!"

On April 27, 2018, a 47-year-old named Paul Crossley reportedly shoved a 90-year-old man onto the rails at Marble Arch station in London's subway system only a minute before a train was due to arrive. Fortunately, the victim of the attack was saved by a bystander who leapt into action, jumping down to the tracks and rescuing him from the approaching train. The elderly victim, however, required medical attention, having suffered severe cuts and a pelvis fracture, after which he faced a lengthy recovery.

According to reports, earlier that same day Crossley had similarly tried to push another man in front of an oncoming train, but in that case the object of his attack was successfully able to resist the attempt on his life. His attacker escaped, however, only to try again later at a different station with his older target.

At Crossley's June 2019 trial, several psychiatrists testified that he was paranoid-schizophrenic and had a history of "delusions of reference" whereby he "receives messages" from programs he sees on television and songs he hears on the radio. In this particular instance, Crossley's avowed instigation was the Pet Shop Boys song "West End Girls"—most specifically its references to London's West End (which is where the attacks occurred) and its lines "You think you're mad, too unstable" and "There's a mad man around, running down underground." His claim inspired one major London newspaper to run the story of his trial with the headline "Pet Shop Boys made me do it!"

Despite his reported addiction to crack cocaine and his paranoid-schizophrenic diagnosis, Crossley was convicted by a jury of two counts of attempted murder. He was given a life sentence under psychiatric-medical care with a requirement to serve a minimum of 12 years before any possibility of parole.

*Information in this story was obtained from reports in three different U.K. newspapers: The Daily Mail, The Indepedent, and The Sun. It has been widely reported via other news outlets as well. Information about his sentence came from the BBC.

Fan rediscovers lost mixtape after 25 years in art exhibition

German PSB fan Stella Wedell was only 12 years old when she compiled from her CD collection a personal cassette mixtape to take with her on vacation in Spain so she could use her Walkman to listen on the beach to music she liked. In addition to the Pet Shop Boys, it included songs by Bob Marley and Shaggy, among others. Unfortunately, she lost the tape either on the Catalonian coast or in Mallorca; she's not sure which. Naturally, it was soon forgotten.

In 2019, no less than 25 years later, she was in Stockholm attending a touring exhibition, "Sea of Artifacts," by British artist and photographer Mandy Barker. The exhibition consisted of artworks Barker created from plastic waste collected from beaches around the world—as one writer has described it, "everything from doll arms and plastic bags through footballs and shoe laces to pieces of clothing and plastic flowers." Wedell was understandably shocked when she recognized in the exhibition her old lost cassette mixtape. It had washed up on a beach in the Canary Islands, where Barker found it in 2017, more than 600 miles from where Wedell had lost it more than two decades before.

Professor Richard Thompson of the international marine litter research unit at Plymouth University observed, "It is very difficult to say exactly how long the tape has been in the sea, but the fact that it has survived intact shows the durability of plastic and the threat it can pose to the marine environment."*

*Information and quotations in this story were obtained from reports in The Guardian and Sky News as well as from the Fotografiska website.

William Shatner (!) refers to PSB in what becomes a Twitter war

William Shatner—the famed Canadian actor best known for his iconic role in the Star Trek franchise as Capt. James T. Kirk of the Starship Enterprise—is an active participant on Twitter and has a strong presence there. In August 2019, he was encouraged by a fellow tweeter to do a show with Red Letter Media, an online movie review program headed by a couple of guys who take a light-hearted, largely satirical approach to their selected subjects. Shatner had, however, never heard of Red Letter Media, so he responded in Twitter with a joke: "Call the Pet Shop Boys and if they are interested I'll think about it!" punctuated with a winky-face emoji. As Shatner subsequently confirmed in another tweet, this was simply a joke alluding to the PSB song "A Red Letter Day."

Red Letter Media then responded with a tweet of their own: "Oh Bill, how could you not have heard of us!? We were formerly called the Pet Shop Dudes so I understand the confusion." Shatner replied that he doesn't book podcasts. But it doesn't end there. The Red Letter Media guys replied that they weren't a podcast. And other tweeters got involved, contradicting Shatner, who then clarified that it's his policy not to book podcasts. He had made exceptions for friends, but why should he do a podcast for something or somebody he had never heard of before?

To make a long story short, I'll use Shatner's own words: "My refusal to do their show opened the floodgates of their fans to harass me…." The furor subsided after a while, but then surged again in July 2020 with another set of statements by Red Letter Media and Shatner. It still bubbles up from time to time, and may not be completely "over" even now. But at least the Pet Shop Boys' "involvement" appears to be over and done with. What's most fascinating about it all, at least from my perspective, is that Shatner—who lives in the United States and was 88 years old when he made his PSB reference—should not only be familiar with the Boys but know them well enough to allude to one of their lesser-known singles. After all, "A Red Letter Day" did not hit the Canadian and U.S. charts and received virtually no airplay in either country. So might Shatner be a Pet Shop Boys fan?

An Oklahoma mayor quotes a PSB song in his "State of the City" speech

On February 8, 2022, a Tuesday evening, John Browne, the mayor of the small Oklahoma city of McAlester (population approximately 20,000) opened his annual "State of the City" speech before the City Council by quoting the second verse of the 2012 Pet Shop Boys song "Winner":

It's been a long time coming
We've been in the running for so long
But now we're on our way
Let the ride just take us
Side by side and make us
See the world through new eyes every day

Mayor Browne went on to describe his very optimistic view of the city's immediate future, outlining such recent achievements as park improvements, new playground equipment, new sidewalks and bike lanes, enhancements to the town's flood-control system, and a grant to help individuals and businesses cope with the local economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the major projects still in the pipeline are sewer system repairs and a new job incentive program. Toward the conclusion of his speech, harkening back to the sentiments of the lyrical opening to his speech, the mayor added, "Are we happy? Yes, we are. Are we satisfied? No. I see this as a beginning, a very good one, but just the beginning. We have wonderful things on the horizon."

There's no word at this time whether Mayor Browne is a fan of the Pet Shop Boys. But it does seem somewhat unlikely that a "non-fan" in the United States would even be aware of the song "Winner," much less be inclined to quote from it in such a speech.*

*Information and quotations in this story were obtained from a report in The McAlester News-Capital.

An almost 40-year-old letter by pre-stardom Neil turns up unexpectedly

In late February 2023, a remarkable news story emerged from the town of Altrincham in northern England that traces its roots to the very earliest days of the Pet Shop Boys. Trevor Morris, the owner of a new record shop, had recently purchased at auction a batch of old records to use as store stock. While examining an old 12-inch single, the original 1984 Bobby O-produced version of "West End Girls," he discovered a typewritten letter tucked away in its sleeve. Dated April 12, 1984, it was written and signed by none other than a pre-stardom Neil Tennant, who was still at that time working at Smash Hits. The letter was addressed to the single's previous owner, Janice Long, who back in 1984 worked as a DJ at BBC Radio 1. Neil thanked Janice for playing the just-released single on her radio show and, to further show his appreciation, sent her the WEG 12-inch. He also provides some background information about the genesis of the record, confirms that he's the same Neil Tennant who worked at Smash Hits, and concludes the letter with, "As far as I'm concerned, you're now an honorary Pet Shop Girl!"

Of course, that particular version of the song would not become a huge international hit; rather, its re-recorded rendition from more than a year later, produced by Stephen Hague, would go on to top the charts in the U.K., U.S., and various other countries. As for Janice Long—who, in a career of more than four decades, was only the second woman to have her own BBC Radio 1 show and was known for "breaking" new artists, often playing them before anyone else—she passed away in December 2021. It's uncertain at this time whether this old 12-inch single and its hidden letter from Neil went directly from her estate to the auction house or whether it had passed through other hands first, although the former seems more likely given the letter's virtually pristine condition. Its subsequent owner, Mr. Morris, later sold it to journalist and dedicated PSB fan David Prior, who had interviewed Morris for his newspaper, Altrincham Today. Prior notes, "I'll be proudly displaying it in as prominent place in my house as I can find."*

*Information and the direct quotations in this story were obtained from a report in Altrincham Today.