The White Dress

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2016
Original album - (none)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - bonus track with the single "Twenty-something"

Emerging from a track composed by Chris in December 2014 under the title "Mood," it gained the new title "The White Dress" after Neil added lyrics. The Boys worked on it in mid-February 2016 and subsequently decided to release it as one of the bonus tracks accompanying "Twenty-something," the second single from Super.

Neil has described it as "a very ambient song," and the official PSB website refers to it as "a haunting electronic track." It actually runs for nearly two-thirds of its length as an instrumental, Neil's vocal starting only after more than two minutes. In some ways the lyrics, which begin "I see you wore the white dress, the right dress to suggest," cover similar thematic territory as the Closer to Heaven reject "A Little Black Dress," subsequently recorded and released in 2009 by the distaff Swedish PSB tribute band West End Girls. But the very next line—"what all the waiting media will never hear expressed"—strongly indicates that in this song they may be addressing a particular public figure, someone well known to and frequently covered by that "waiting media." And, assuming that the song's narrator is Neil himself (always a questionable supposition), she's a friend of his, someone he's "known… for many years."

The succinct lyrics go on to note that she has endured "many human obstacles," a phrase that could refer to any number of different groups of people, all depending on the identity of this public figure. They might be art critics, fellow musicians, political opponents, cheating business associates, erstwhile lovers, ex-husbands, backstabbing friends and acquaintances—the list goes on and on. But Neil quickly adds that, despite these impediments, "when you wore the white dress, I knew you had arrived." To be sure, a white dress is not an article of clothing worn by shrinking violets. By its very nature, a white dress boldly calls attention to its wearer and expresses her self-confidence. A woman doesn't wear white unless she wants people to notice her—and has every expectation of thriving in their scrutiny.

So is the subject of this song in fact a specific, real-life celebrity whom the Boys know well? As one of my site visitors pointed out to me, the best clue appears in Neil's 2018 book One Hundred Lyrics and a Poem, in which he notes, in conjunction with this lyric, "A friend wore a white dress to the premiere of a film she had directed." The Boys' longtime friend and occasional collaborator Sam Taylor-Wood—who legally changed her compound surname to Taylor-Johnson in 2012—directed the 2015 film Fifty Shades of Grey and indeed appeared at its premiere wearing a striking solid white dress. Therefore Ms. Taylor-Johnson is almost certainly the subject of this song. After all, while Fifty Shades of Grey was her fifth film as director, it was her first to gross more than $10 million at the box office; in fact, it grossed more than a half-billion dollars. "Arrived" indeed!


List cross-references