"Pet Shop Boys" that aren't our Pet Shop Boys

Too bad Neil and Chris didn't establish an ironclad trademark on the name they chose for their duo, Pet Shop Boys, back in the early 1980s. In recent years various others have appropriated the title "Pet Shop Boys" for their own purposes that have little if anything to do with them and their music. Courts have often ruled that names and titles can be "repurposed" by others as long as there's little chance that the public will suffer any confusion over it. At least our Pet Shop Boys can consider it a form of flattery, a tacit acknowledgment of their fame, name-recognition, and even iconic status. Whatever the case, here are the examples that I'm aware of so far—

1. A Canadian luxury dog spa/boutique

Technically these purveyors of doggie decadence call themselves "The Pet Shop Boys," but that's also how most of the world (myself included) usually refers to our musical heroes. This business—founded in 2009, owned and operated by an openly gay couple—is described as "an exciting luxury boutique, spa and daycare for dogs in Vancouver, British Columbia and international jet setters. Complete with doggy crystal chandeliers and reproduction white vintage French furniture, our cosmopolitan boutique is a beautiful space filled with gorgeous products and fabulous services." Oh, it gets better. The language—in fact, nearly everything about the website and, I suspect, the business itself—walks that precarious tightrope linking total seriousness and winking humor that can only be described as camp. Well, it certainly wouldn't be the first time someone has traded in camp for fun and profit.

2. Some tracks by other artists

In 2012 the British "jazz-metal fusion" (aka "power jazz") band trioVD released their debut full-length album Maze, which concludes with a track titled "Pet Shop Boys." No, it's not a cover of the early Tennant-Lowe track of the same name, but rather an original instrumental composition credited to trioVD. I can't tell whether it's supposed to be a tribute to "our" Boys, an ironic commentary, a complete non sequitur, or what. And as far as I know, the band members themselves have yet to reveal anything along those lines. Similarly, the opening number on the 2014 album Silence Is Golden by hip-hop artist Karma is titled "Pet Shop Boys (instrumental)," even though it's not really an instrumental at all. A heavily processed voice repeatedly intones excerpted lyrics and bits of melody from "Home and Dry," thereby making this (in my opinion) a hugely reworked cover of that song. In June 2016, a new Swedish band called Yoo-Yoo released yet another and, yes, completely different track also titled "Pet Shop Boys"—apparently, according to one of the band members, because they were trying "to grasp those early, whimsy feelings" of PSB's late-eighties hits (though I can't quite hear it myself in their recording). And August 2018 saw the release of the song "Pet Shop Boys" by Finnish artist Eki Westeri, the refrain of which, when translated, includes the line "You went away, going west like Pet Shop Boys."

3. A short story

Also in 2012, best-selling U.S. author Kim Harrison published a short story titled "Pet Shop Boys" as part of her collection Into the Woods, though now it's also available separately as a paid download. From what I've read about it online, it appears to be a supernatural tale (her specialty) that deals with vampires (yes, still more pop-culture vampires!) and—you got it—a pet shop. But it apparently has nothing at all to do with Chris and Neil. If you wish, you can learn a little more about this short story on Amazon and elsewhere online, including Ms. Harrison's own website.

4. A pet shop in Blackpool

Chris's home town of Blackpool is also home to a pet shop whose proprietors have obviously named themselves after their famous native son's band, though they've modified the spelling slightly: Pet Shop Boyz, with a z.

5. A children's puppet show

South Africa's 2013 National Arts Festival features a puppet show put on by children titled The Pet Shop Boys. As it was described at the festival, "What happens when the last surviving dodo ends up in Mrs Grimstone’s Pet Shop? This delightful tale is told through dynamic storytelling and large puppets. Fantastic theatre for kids by kids!" Sounds delightful.

6. Another pet shop/dog parlor, this one in Hamburg, Germany

And, once again, it's called "Pet Shop Boyz" with a z. It seems almost irresistible, doesn't it, when you've got two guys—who are almost certainly fans—running such a business together. Of course, they also have a website.

7. And yet another pet grooming service, this time in Hong Kong

Actually, this one—"Pet Shop Boys Grooming House"—was established way back in 1991, when our Boys were somewhat less iconic than they are today. So I admire their foresight. Unlike the others, however, they don't appear to have a website of their own.

8. Characters in a novel

Death Drops: A Natural Remedies Mystery, a novel published in 2012 by U.S. author Chrystle Fiedler, includes a couple of characters named Lenny and Billy who on several occasions are referred to as "pet shop boys" (invariably with initial lower-case letters) because they indeed run a pet shop. While these are of course not our Pet Shop Boys, the author's repeated use of the phrase is undoubtedly a playful allusion to them.

9. A pair of rats—literally

Mainely Rat Rescue is an organization based in the U.S. northeastern state of Maine with the mission (as stated by their website) to "rescue and rehome unwanted domestic pet rats." At one time they had a pair of rats named "Neil Tennant" and "Chris Lowe": collectively, "Pet Shop Boys." The two had bonded and were considered inseparable. Unfortunately, however, rat Chris passed away in January 2014 during neutering surgery—oh, it would be wicked of me to make a snarky comment about that—leaving rat Neil all by himself for the remainder of his own lifespan.

10. A short film

Written and directed by Federico Valori and filmed in East London, the 2005 U.K. film short (just 12 minutes in length) titled The Pet Shop Boys is summarized as follows by IMDb: "The lives of two friends are set to change for the better when one of them inherits a pet shop from an uncle. However, the arrival of a strange egg, also inherited with the shop, changes their plans and priorities forever." One of the four actors who appear in this short has described it as "surreal."

11. A pigeon racing syndicate

"Pet Shop Boys and Girls" happens to be the name of a British pigeon racing syndicate. (I didn't even know such things existed!)

12. A puppet barbershop quartet

Yes, there's a "Pet Shop Boys Barbershop Quartet"—a foursome of puppets that mime to recordings of traditional barbershop harmonies, with their very own Facebook page and at least one video on YouTube. Definitely aimed at the young—and I mean really young—set.

13. A "gay paranormal romance"

A 2016 novel titled Pet Shop Boys advertises itself as a "gay paranormal romance" involving, yes, a pet shop that serves as a front for a werewolf-related gay sex-slave ring. At least that's what I can gather from the brief plot summary I've read. The author's name is listed as "J.K. Wolf," but given the plot, I suspect that's just a nom de plume. Then again, perhaps it's indeed the writer's real name, which inspired him or her to adopt lycanthropic themes in this and a few other novels attributed to the same author.

14. A painting

A painting in the so-called "naive style" by contemporaty British artist Linda Benton of two little boys (who don't look at all like Chris and Neil) looking through a pet shop window is titled "Pet Shop Boys," no doubt capitalizing in a humorous fashion on public familiarity with the name. (I cannot reproduce it here, but here's one of several images of it readily available elsewhere online. It's currently held in a private collection, apparently unavailable for public viewing.)

15. A feature film, at least while in the works

In January 2023, the entertainment industry trade magazine Variety published an article announcing a new feature film in the works, starring "a cast of heavyweights" including Willem Dafoe and Peter Sarsgaard, to be titled Pet Shop Boys. The article describes the film as "a romantic thriller about two young men exploring the underbelly of New York and one other." To be directed by Olmo Schnabel, the film "follows the impulsive black sheep Alejandro and college-age pet store employee Jack who engage in a whirlwind affair that sends them down a rabbit hole of vice." Both the plot description and the fact that the article made no mention whatsoever of our Pet Shop Boys strongly suggested that it would have nothing to do with our musical heroes. The fact, however, that there's a gay romantic twist to its underlying crime drama very likely had something to do with the choice of title. I mean, why a pet shop? It might just as easily have been a grocery store, a car wash, or some other establishment. Whatever the case, by the time the film was completed and released (premiering at the Venice International Film Festival on September 3, 2023) it had undergone a title change to Pet Shop Days (my emphasis). I suspect this change occurred simply to avoid confusion among prospective audiences, though it may possibly have been instigated for legal reasons.

16. A reference in a Wall Street Journal headline

An article in the March 23, 2023 edition of the Wall Street Journal bore the headline "Pet Shop Boys Are Singing the Blues." But it was just a copyeditor's clever header for an article about how rampant inflation had been adversely affecting the financial bottom line for major pet-supply retailers like Petco and Chewy.

Honorable mention

We mustn't forget the original "pet shop boys"—those friends of Neil's and Chris's who worked in a pet shop in the London suburb of Ealing. It was just the Boys' nickname for these guys, but they decided to nick the name for themselves as the professional moniker for their duo. As far as I know neither Chris nor Neil have ever actually identified them by name. Nevertheless, I suppose they do qualify as "pet shop boys" who aren't our Pet Shop Boys.