Notorious rumors about the Pet Shop Boys
"Pet Shop Boys" refers to a bizarre sexual practice
- That they're gay
Status: TRUE (with only a slight hedge)
Chris and Neil are or have been lovers or met as "pickups"
Status: PROBABLY FALSE
- That one or both of them have AIDS or are HIV-positive
Status: AIDS - FALSE; HIV - UNCERTAIN
- That Chris Lowe and Peter
Andreas were lovers
- That they're about to break
Status: FALSE (duh!)
- That Chris was killed in
an automobile accident in Greece
Status: FALSE (double-duh!)
the "Bizet Boys" were actually the Pet Shop Boys
- That Neil cried when he
first heard New Order's "Blue Monday"
Status: PROBABLY FALSE
- That "The Theatre"
contains a loop of someone saying the word "arsehole"
Neil and Kevin Spacey are or have been an "item"
the Pet Shop Boys aren't really gay after all
Status: FALSE (again with only that slight hedge)
Perhaps the most remarkable PSB rumor of all, discussed on a regular basis on various Internet fansites. The supposed rationale is that the Boys foster their "gay image" so as not to be pestered by overzealous female fans and/or to boost their "cred" and popularity in the realm of dance music. (Don't look for logic here, people.) Although, as far as I know, Chris has never come right out (so to speak) and publicly said, "I'm gay," I suspect the rumor can pretty much be ascribed to wishful thinking on the part of certain fans.
the Pet Shop Boys have remixed New Order's "True Faith"
Robbie Williams's album Intensive Care would feature collaborations with
the Pet Shop Boys
Status: FALSE (but )
The Pet Shop Boys and U.K. pop superstar Robbie Williams constitute something of a mutual admiration society; Robbie is a professed admirer of the Boys' music, having covered "I Wouldn't Normally Do This Kind of Thing," while Neil provided backup vocals for Robbie's hit "No Regrets." So it sounded entirely reasonable when, several months before its release, word spread rapidly on the Internet that Robbie Williams's late 2005 album Intensive Care would include one or more tracks written (or co-written) and/or produced by the Pet Shop Boys. Alas, however, this was not the case. Although one might argue that some of the album betrays a distinct PSB influencean advance reviewer stated that Robbie's singing style in the song "Sin Sin Sin" (its title itself suggestive) closely resembles Neil's own vocal styleneither of the Boys were directly involved with the album's writing or recording.
- That "Minimal" samples the
voice of an "artificial dog"
Status: PROBABLY FALSE
one (or both) of them is secretly the father of one or more children
Status: ALMOST CERTAINLY FALSE
the Pet Shop Boys would be collaborating with Britney Spears and/or Paris Hilton
- That Disco 4 would be released
in summer 2007
Status: ESSENTIALLY TRUE (only the timing was off)
- That PSB wrote a song titled "Fill Me with Desire" for Kylie Minogue
Status: FALSE (but with perhaps some factual inspiration)
- That Neil and Chris pseudonymously remixed Alison Moyet's
single "Whispering Your Name"
- That "Closer to Heaven"
contains a sample from an episode of Frasier
- That the Pet Shop Boys were killed in plane crash over Indonesia
Status: FALSE (again, duh!)
they recorded a James Bond theme with Amy Winehouse
- That "Miracles" was inspired by the suicide of the lover of one of Neil's friends
Neil has specifically denied this rumor, which has been repeated at least several times online (including this site until I was corrected) and even on television. As Neil put it, the song was actually inspired by "the miracle of someone's living presence."
- That Neil Tennant is a fully qualified rugby referee
Probably inspired by Neil's brief appearance as a ref in the "DJ Culture" music video—although, if I'm not mistaken, there he was officiating soccer/football, not rugby. This rumor (described by some as a "musical urban legend") was started by music journalist and TV/radio presenter Stuart Maconie back in his days as an assistant editor with NME. It appeared in a regular comedy "Believe It or Not" column devoted to spoof stories about pop stars. Ever since then it's been sporadically stated as a "fact" among fans of both sports and pop music between drinks in pubs. Among the other spoofs that Maconie apparently devised were that U.K. game show host Bob Holness played the famous sax solo in Gerry Rafferty's "Baker Street" (it was actually Raphael Ravenscroft), that David Bowie invented the game "Connect 4," and—most delightfully of all—that Erasure's Andy Bell is worshipped as a god on a remote Greek island.
- That the Boys have remixed one or more tracks by Amanda Lear
In June 2010 an Italian radio personality reportedly asserted that the Pet Shop Boys were in the process of remixing one or more old dance tracks by model-singer-songwriter-actress-writer-media figure Amanda Lear, who enjoyed a string of disco/dance hits in Europe in the 1970s and '80s. (She's had no U.S. pop or dance hits, however.) But subsequent word from the PSB camp put a firm kibosh on this particular rumor.
- That Neil had died in a terrible automobile accident
A thankfully short-lived rumor cropped up in September 2010—and was resurrected, zombie-like, in January 2013—that Neil had been killed in a terrible automobile accident while driving recklessly at nearly twice the posted speed limit. It was apparently generated by the repulsive "Fake a Wish" website (for which I refuse to provide my customary hyperlink), which facilitates the creation and spread of false "news stories"—and often quite badly written ones at that—about any celebrity of one's choosing. Among the other reported victims of this hoax-enabler have been Rick Astley, George Clooney, Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus, Harrison Ford, Jeff Goldblum, Natalie Portman, and Britney Spears. The fact that this vile tool is called "Fake a Wish"—an obvious takeoff on the noble and benevolent Make a Wish Foundation—underscores its fundamental mean-spiritedness. That certain people might actually wish such horrible things on other people, celebrities or otherwise, does nothing to elevate my own generally pessimistic view of human nature.
And please don't waste your time telling me to "lighten up." Anyone who knows me knows that I have a pretty good sense of humor. Hell, just reading this website should reveal that much about me. But when it comes to crap like this, I ain't gonna do it.
- That they might write the U.K.'s 2011 Eurovision song entry
Status: FALSE (but with a quibble)
- That they would support the reunited Take That on tour
The rumor began circulating in early March 2011—possibly triggered by a short-lived premature posting on stage designer Es Devlin's website—that the Pet Shop Boys would be supporting the reunited boy band Take That on their much-anticipated
U.K.tour, serving as their opening act. When asked about this later that same month, Chris reportedly demured with a sly "No comment." A few days later, however, when similarly confronted with the rumor, Neil is said to have replied, "Don't be ridiculous." Yet on April 4, the Pet Shop Boys' official website announced that they would indeed be appearing as "special guests" for Take That's Progress Live 2011 Tour in the U.K., Ireland, and continental Europe, which began in late May. (Come to think of it, "Don't be ridiculous" isn't technically a denial. )
While such a move at this late stage of the Boys' career seems surprising, it makes sense (as more than one fan has pointed out online) from a purely commercial standpoint. Take That were hugely popular in their heyday, so their 2010 reunion generated massive attention, not to mention equally massive nostalgia and sales. Combine that with the fact that member Robbie Williams is a bona fide superstar solo artist in Britain, and you realize that the upcoming tour would inevitably prove a tremendous success, playing to vast audiences. As a support act, PSB was seen and heard by hundreds of thousands (if not millions) that they might not otherwise so readily reach. So if Neil and Chris were willing to swallow that bit of their pride that they might have to sacrifice to take such a support role—mitigated no doubt by their designation as "special guests"—their bank accounts surely thanked them for it.
- That the post-Elysium dance album would be titled Ecstatic and would be released in April 2013
Status: FALSE—but not off by too much
In January 2013 a rumor began circulating that the upcoming dance album that the Boys had been alluding to since even before the release of Elysium would be titled Ecstatic and would be released as early as April. The apparent source of this rumor is a fan who said that he had been told this by Neil himself at a record signing. Lending some credence to the story is the fact that the January 2013 issue of the Boys' official fan club publication Literally said that the album (its title unspecified) might be released "sooner than you think." The facts proved to be—as the Pet Shop Boys formally announced on March 14, 2013—that the new album would be titled Electric—not Ecstatic—and would be released in June (later updated to July). So the rumor was off by just two or three months and a few letters of the alphabet.
- That Neil had been struck in the face and the resulting bruises made him avoid photographers for a while
This rumor, which apparently first got going in the early 1990s and has resurfaced from time to time ever since, seems to have stemmed from some of the covers for the "Jealousy" single (one of which is shown here on the right), which had a decidedly "unretouched" appearance. But that renders at least part of the rumor nonsensical: if Neil's alleged bruises had made him shun photographers, why on earth would he then sit for a photographer to immortalize them in such a high-profile manner? I suspect the Boys were aiming for a grim cinéma vérité quality to their "Jealousy" shots—appropriately given the song's subject matter—and, if anything, decided to accentuate a somewhat unattractive appearance for themselves, either avoiding the use of makeup and/or photo-airbrushing (although the fillings in Chris's teeth were airburshed out for his photo), or maybe even employing such artificial means to make themselves look less attractive than they really are. As for whether Neil had indeed been struck in the face—either by another person or in some sort of accident—probably no one knows for sure except Neil himself. As long as he's silent on the matter, it remains a rumor and nothing more.
- That the Pet Shop Boys would perform at Coachella
Status: FALSE (so far)
In 2009 and again in 2013 rumors circulated online that the Pet Shop Boys would perform at the famed Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, held in April most years (though not quite annually) since 1999 in the desert community of Indio in southern California's Coachella Valley. So far those rumors have proven false, although festival organizers report that the Boys are perennial favorites on Coachella online message boards. Some of the biggest names in popular music have performed through the years at Coachella, including Paul McCartney, Madonna, Prince, Radiohead, Oasis, Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, Duran Duran, The Killers, Jay-Z, The Cure, Foo Fighters, Daft Punk, Blur, Florence and the Machine, Björk, and many others, so an eventual PSB appearance seems almost inevitable. But, at least thus far, it's only wishful thinking. It's worth noting, however, that a reviewer (Ben Wener) for the Orange County Register of their October 12 concert in Los Angeles—the final stop on the U.S. leg of their 2013 Electric Tour—all but begged them to return to SoCal for Coachella 2014.
This rumor has dogged them from the start. As the story goes, "pet shop boys" is American slang for homosexuals who derive sexual gratification from putting hamsters up their behind. First of all, that particular alleged sexual practice is almost certainly homophobic urban myth since anyone who were to attempt such a thing would surely suffer horrific and potentially fatal injury. As for the name, Neil and Chris assert that they borrowed their moniker from the nickname of some friends who indeed owned a pet shop, and they liked it because it sounded somewhat "hip-hoppish." They maintain steadfastly that they were shocked and amazed by the rumors that began to circulate shortly after they hit it big. Neil has said, perhaps somewhat jokingly, that Chris "has been embarrassed by the name Pet Shop Boys ever since."
This onewhich surfaced very early onof course proved at least half-true and almost certainly all true. Neil "came out" publicly in 1994. Chris, however, has proven more enigmatic. As far as I know he has never said the words "I am gay" within earshot of a reporter, but one can often read between the lines of his spoken statements and derive tacit assertions to that effect. And he has never denied that he's gay, despite such assertions in the press. At this point, rightly or wrongly, most fans and observers simply take it for granted.
They have repeatedly and adamantly denied this. As Neil once put it, "'We have a very close relationship, but it’s nothing to do with sex."
Gossip about one of both of them having AIDS was somewhat common in the early and mid-1990s. Such rumors zeroed in on Chris in 1997 when a British magazine published an article expressing concern for his health and alleging that he was looking "gaunt and thin." Again, Chris and Neil have repeatedly denied this, and they reportedly wrote "The Survivors" at least partly in response to the rumors. Lately the AIDS rumors have died down significantly, but fans still sometimes speculate as to whether one of them may be HIV-positivewhich, especially in recent years, isn't the same as "having AIDS." But ultimately that's all it is: speculation.
Peter Andreas was a personal assistant and close friend of the Pet Shop Boys. It is known that he and Chris lived together for several years (five according to some reports). Peter passed away in 1994 of AIDS-related illness. The song "Postscript," sung by Chris, was reportedly written for him (before his death), and the album Alternative was dedicated to him as well. Ever since, it has been widely rumoredand simply assumed by somethat Chris and Peter were lovers. This rumor has neither been confirmed nor, as far as I know, even acknowledged by the Pet Shop Boys.
Rumors of the Pet Shop Boys breaking up seem to recur with remarkable regularity. The air was especially thick after the release of Discography, but Very put that particular outbreak to rest. Yet such rumors continue to crop outeven as recently as June 2004, apparently instigated (or at least propagated) by a Belgian radio DJ.
This rumor was rampant for a few weeks back in the mid-nineties. Subsequent public appearances, of course, proved it wrong. Thankfully, no "Chris is dead" mythology sprang up, probably because the Boys failed to carefully plant clues in their songs, videos, and album covers.
This would have been ingenious if the record in question hadn't been so awful. In 1989 a single titled "Ride 'Em Carmen," performed by the "Bizet Boys," was released by the Pet Shop Boys' record label, Parlophone. Essentially, it was a dance-pop ditty that sounded like a bizarre cross between the can-can and "The Toreador Song" from Georges Bizet's great opera Carmen. The disc's sleeve boasted prominent question marks but no pictures of the "Bizet Boys," nor were the performers' full names apparent anywhere. The rumor quickly spread that the Bizet Boys were actually the Pet Shop Boys, perhaps collaborating with the then-popular boy band Bros. It wasn't true but, as it turns out, that rumor was precisely the intention. The brains behind "Ride 'Em Carmen" were none other than Tom Watkinsat the time the Pet Shop Boys' and Bros' managerand Tony James of Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Their apparent plan to produce a hit via rumor failed; the record stiffed. The disc, however, is now something of a minor collector's item.
According to a 2001 article in Mojo magazine, Neil broke out in tears in 1983 when he first heard "Blue Monday" by New Order because, presumably, it pre-empted the style of music that he and Chris were planning to create as the Pet Shop Boys. In fact, Neil has been quoted as saying "I nearly burst into tears" (of envy, it would seem) upon hearing that New Order classic. But whether he actually cried, it's probably unlikely.
Neil flatly denied this rumor in an interview conducted by journalist Steve Pafford in the July 2002 issue of the U.K. magazine Gay Times.
In the spring of 2004 talk began going around that Neil and Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey dined together regularly, suggesting that the two were lovers. This rumor was vigorously refuted by Neil, who attributed it to the gossip press trying to imply that Spacey is gaya thoroughly rampant rumor in its own right. Neil was understandably upset that gossipmongers would try to exploit his open gayness in such a fashion. The fact is that, at least at the time the story surfaced, the two men had never met. Though this rumor soon subsided, it has briefly recurred a few times since then. Good rumors die hard. It's enough to make me wonder, however, whether the person who first dreamed this story up may have been inspired by the fact that Neil has a pet dog named Kevin.
A major corollary has more recently surfaced, linking Neil romantically with his friend and frequent social companion, U.K. media executive/personality Janet Street-Porter. To comment much further on the basic absurdity of such rumors would be akin to flogging the proverbial dead horse. Then again, I suspect that at least some proponents are fully aware of this absurdity. In other words, there may be a bit of ironic "wink, wink, nudge, nudge" playfulness in their online gossip, as though they know full well that the rumors are ridiculous but nevertheless enjoy pretending to believe them.
This one is so pervasive that it perhaps goes beyond the status of mere rumor. A surprisingly large number of websites refer to a "Pet Shop Boys remix" of the New Order classic "True Faith." This particular mix was even reportedly used in an episode of the U.S. version of Queer As Folk. While "True Faith" did indeed appear in such an episode (I know because I watched it), it was not a "Pet Shop Boys remix." The Pet Shop Boys themselves have denied that any such remix exists. It's difficult to say how this error originated. It could be that someonepossibly under the influence of a mind-altering chemicalsaw that there was a "Perfecto remix," part of the "True Faith '94" single release, and misinterpreted it as a "Pet Shop Boys remix," and the mistake simply perpetuated itself from that point on. There's also a Shep Pettibone remix, so perhaps the combination of Shep's "Pet " surname and/or his frequent early remixing work for the Boys resulted in some confusion. Unauthorized file-sharing may have played a role as well. That is, if someone were to have distributed an audio file of "True Faith" that they said is a "Pet Shop Boys remix," then that would explain the many online references to something that doesn't really exist.
But false rumors sometimes have a way of becoming true. As it turns out, the Pet Shop Boys subsequently collaborated with Robbie on two tracks on Rudebox, the 2006 follow-up to Intensive Care. One of those tracks is a song they wrote with him titled "She's Madonna." The other is a remake of the My Robot Friend track "We're the Pet Shop Boys," which Neil and Chris themselves covered in 2003.
This is actually two rumors rolled into one. Even before the album Fundamental was officially released, the online PSB community was rife with the rumor that the chorus of one of its tracks, "Minimal," featured samples of the voice of the robot dog K-9 from the Doctor Who TV series. (If this were true, it would qualify as an entry in my list of PSB/Doctor Who connections.) That rumor soon faded away, only to be replaced later on by the more persistent rumor that the "Minimal" chorus actually sampled the voice of the roaming troubadour dog K.K. Slider from the Nintendo game Animal Crossing: Wild World. Neither of these rumors have been confirmed by the PSB camp. A comparison of the voices/sounds in question does reveal similaritiesbut, most likely, nothing more. At least as far as this commentator is concerned, the rumors are understandable but unfounded.
A likely corollary to #12 above. A rumor began making the rounds in late 2006 that Chris is secretly the father of one or more children who are in the highly circumspect care of a nanny. By mid-2007 the focus of this story shifted to Neil as the "secret father." In one variation, Neil regularly calls on his alleged offspring (two of them) at their home in the German city of Bremen, which accounts for the Boys' frequent visits to that country. While by no means outside the realm of possibility, any and all versions of this rumor are almost certainly untrue.
As January 2007 came to a close, a number of entertainment-related websites were reporting that, as part of a major comeback bid, U.S. pop singer Britney Spears was lined up to collaborate with the Pet Shop Boys on her new album. Some sites even suggested that it was a fait accompli. Word spread so widely and so quickly that the Boys themselves felt the need to refute it on their official website. This rumor conceivably might have begun with Britney stating somewhere that she would very much like to work with the Pet Shop Boys, with the story mushrooming from there. Around the same time, similar rumors cropped up about the Boys working with Paris Hiltonor at the least doing a remix for herbut these, too, proved false.
In June 2007, online PSB fandom buzzed with the rumor that the Pet Shop Boys would release Disco 4, the fourth in their series of Disco albums, later that summer, with "Integral" (most likely a new remix) also to be released as a single from it. Word that they might release such an album wasn't surprising in and of itself, but rather that it might appear so soon after Disco 3. (Disco was released in 1986, Disco 2 in 1994, and Disco 3 in 2003, so a Disco 4 wasn't "due" until around 2011-2012.) Fueling this rumor was the fact that several reputable commercial websites had indeed listed Disco 4 and an "Integral" single as pending releases! This rumor proved essentially true, although Disco 4 would ultimately appear in October 2007 rather than late summer, and (much to fans' surprise) it would consist primarily of PSB remixes of tracks by other artists. Also, "Integral" wasn't released as a single except as a DJ promo and a digital download.
At least two different U.K. papers reported in mid-July 2007 that the Pet Shop Boys had written a song titled "Fill Me with Desire" for Kylie Minogue and had recorded it with her with an eye toward including it on her next album. It was even supposedly a prime candidate for her next single. But it turns out that there's no such song or recording. That being said, Chris and Neil did write some other songs around that same time—including the subsequently released "Pandemonium" and "A Certain 'Je Ne Sais Quoi'" as well as the still unreleased "You're the Exception That Proves the Rule"—that they indeed submitted to Kylie for consideration, but which she ultimately rejected. So there seems to have been at least a germ of truth to the rumor, despite those newspapers having gotten the specific details incorrect.
This rumor began soon after the 1994 release of this single by former Yaz/Yazoo singer Alison Moyet, and it periodically resurfaces from time to time. Both the single itself and the "extended single mix" were remixed by a pair of guys credited as "Johnny Nitrate" and "Steve Rocket"names that certainly sound like pseudonyms and which have apparently never appeared as credits anywhere else before or since. Fueling the speculation about who Johnny Nitrate and Steve Rocket may be is the fact that, at least to many ears, these remixes bear a strong stylistic resemblance the work of Very-era (that is, the contemporary) Pet Shop Boys. For nearly two decades, this rumor had never been denied, confirmed, nor refuted, which left it in the realm of possibility. But finally, in January 2012, Alison herself denied PSB involvement in an exchange on Twitter, which was shortly afterward seconded by a reliable source within the PSB organization.
The chief alternate theory is that Johnny Nitrate and Steve Rocket are, collectively, a pseudonym for Ian Broudie of Lightning Seeds fame, who served as the original producer of the track. According to this theory, he adopted this "dual pseudonym" because he knew full well that the remixes bore a strong stylistic similarity to the Boys' work of the period and therefore credited the remix to two pseudonyms as a subtle nod to the duo. Another very popular candidate is Alison's former Yaz/Yazoo bandmate Vince Clarke, who already has a different remix of the track to his credit. All theories aside, it remains a mystery—except that they're not Neil and Chris.
The Wikipedia entry for the album Nightlife at one time stated that the song "Closer to Heaven" contains a speech sample from the episode "The Matchmaker" from the second season of the hit U.S. TV comedy Frasier. But it didn't offer a source for this information, and I've been unable to find any corroborating evidence. What's more, I've repeatedly listened very carefully to that track at rather high volume, and I simply can't discern any such sample. Clinching the matter, a reliable source within the PSB organization has confirmed that no such sample exists. Tellingly, the reference to the alleged Frasier sample has since been deleted from the Wikipedia entry.
The Boys' record company, Parlophone, received at least two calls in early 2008 from U.K. radio station personnel asking whether it was true that Neil and Chris had been killed in a plane crash in Indonesia. Parlophone was quite pleased to inform them that there was no truth to the rumor.
On May 21, 2008, NME relayed the "hot gossip" that the Pet Shop Boys had been working on the theme to the upcoming James Bond film Quantum of Solace and were interested in recording it with singer Amy Winehouse. The very next day the infamous Sun published a slightly more detailed article, presenting the rumor more or less as fact. And from there various other papers quickly picked up the story. But the Boys wasted no time quashing this tale, stating on their official website that the Sun article was "totally made-up complete with fictional quotes." Apparently it all stemmed from Neil mentioning in passing during his onstage interview less than a week earlier at the Brighton Festival that he and Chris wouldn't mind working with Amy, but they thought it unlikely to happen. A local journalist then, as Neil put it, "claimed to have had a private interview with me backstage and wrote up this fake story complete with invented 'quotes' from me."
According to a late 2010 report in the Press and Journal of northern Scotland, Aberdeen taxi driver and devoted semi-pro Eurovision fan Kevin Sherwin said that rumors have been spreading about the Pet Shop Boys possibly being approached to write the United Kingdom's 2011 entry in the much-loved/much-loathed (depending on your perspective) Eurovision song contest. This raises an intriguing question: when someone in the public eye says that something is a rumor, then is it a rumor? Then again, the rumor wasn't that they had been approached; only that someone (but who?) was seriously considering approaching them. So it was a rumor that something may occur but, then again, may not. If you ask me, it sounded like less than a rumor and more like wishful thinking. As it turned out, the U.K. "boy band" Blue would end up representing their country at Eurovision 2011, singing "I Can," a song composed by two of its members, Duncan James and Lee Ryan—not Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant.
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