Brian Miller on… Pet Shop Boys’ “The Pop Kids”
“They called us the pop kids / cause we loved the pop hits / and quoted the best bits.”
The new Pet Shop Boys single, their best in a decade, is so self-reflexive that I don’t know if it’s even possible to approach it from outside an existing fan perspective. Starting with ‘Remember those days / the early 90s?,’ we’re immediately called back to “Being Boring”, but this time we’re looking at it from 25 years down the road. The song is told in first person, but it’s not about the Pet Shop Boys; by the early 90s, they’d been around for over a decade. But, like the subject of the song, Neil Tennant studied history. He later edited [the magazine] Smash Hits during the early years of the Pet Shop Boys, covering pop stars before becoming one.
In Chris Heath’s excellent 1993 book Pet Shop Boys Versus America, Chris Lowe argues about what can be considered pop music, saying that something’s “…not pop if it’s not popular.” Of course, in the early 90s in London, the Pet Shop Boys were very popular, and the pop hits they write about in this song could very well include some of theirs.
Stuart Price’s production here throws back to a hazy version of that era’s dance pop: hazier in the verses, but crisp in the chorus, just the way songs are remembered. The lyrics and vocals are sadder than the music – it’s in past tense, it’s nostalgia, it’s lost. Like ABBA, Pet Shop Boys have always thrown the best parties and had the worst time at them. They’ve never gotten lost in the moment and that lack of connection is as real and lasting a feeling as anyone having the best time of their life. You can love something without ever being one with it and you get the sense that the narrator is on that side of the equation while their partner is on the other.