The Night I Fell in Love

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2002
Original album - Release
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - (none)

I hope you don't mind if I go on at some length about this one. With a title like "The Night I Fell in Love," you might think this would be a rather conventional, ordinary song of romance. You'd think wrong.

This gentle midtempo number evolved from a song that the Boys had previously been working on called "How Lucky I Am." It's written from the viewpoint of an imaginary 18-year-old boy who goes to a rock concert, meets the male star backstage, and ends up going to bed with him. The male star is based on one of contemporary music's most controversial figures, white rap star Eminem. Neil and Chris have often discussed this fact, but even without their acknowledgment there would be ample evidence. For instance, in the narrative of the song the unnamed star wryly asks his smitten fan, "Your name isn't Stan, is it?" Of course, "Stan" is the title of one of Eminem's best-known songs—appropriately enough, about an obsessive fan—from which Neil even cops the line "We should be together."

Once again we find the Boys working on multiple levels. Neil and Chris appear to be commenting on an all-too-common phenomenon in the rock music business, in which performers must often adopt a public persona very different from their true selves: their personas are part of the performance. The first tip-off is the fact that the fan is surprised, when he first meets the star, at how polite he is. After all, Eminem and most other rock and rap artists are hardly known for their politeness, at least not as part of their public image. Rather, they must often cultivate a rude, thuggish, and/or irresponsible image in order to maintain their "credibility."

When our young protagonist winds up back in the star's hotel room, where the star suggests they become "secret lovers," he (the fan) ponders aloud why he (the star) is known for being homophobic. Again, the Neil and Chris are suggesting that it's part of the image; gay musicians often hide their true selves and sometimes even adopt a homophobic stance in order to advance their career. Surely the Pet Shop Boys aren't condoning such hypocrisy, but they recognize it as a fact and are here attempting to describe and perhaps explain it.

In terms of the lyrics, Neil does a terrific job of adopting the voice of an 18-year-old; the language he uses is unsophisticated and colloquial, and his viewpoint is rather naive. (He doesn't seem very disturbed at having fallen in love with someone whom he'll almost certainly never see again, at least not in such an intimate context.) He even manages to modify his singing style in such a way that he doesn't sound so much like himself, but rather like the character he portrays.

By the way, I have no idea (and I doubt that Chris and Neil have, either) whether Eminem actually is a closeted gay man. It's fundamentally irrelevant. This song is a fable, a fictional morality tale, in which the character of the star, though based on a particular performer, is clearly not that performer. But beyond the morality tale, this track is also deeply satirical. If Eminem were to take offense at such a depiction of a character so obviously based on him—perhaps even to the point of considering legal action—he should keep in mind that he himself has been subject to lawsuits over his own songs, which he has defended by saying that they, too, are mere satires. The Boys would be able to defend themselves using Eminem's own statements. And I do strongly suspect they're tweaking Eminem for the homophobic statements in his recordings, as if to say, "So, you're into satire? Well, here's some satire for you!" (Then again, Eminem did eventually respond, though in a surprisingly low-key but non-litigious manner.)

In summary, it's quite an achievement that Chris and Neil have fashioned a song that is simultaneously so touching, comical, topical, and downright brazen.


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