Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant Finds Taylor Swift’s Music Lacking: “What Is [Her] ‘Billie Jean’?”

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Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant Finds Taylor Swift’s Music Lacking: “What Is [Her] ‘Billie Jean’?”


Taylor Swift released The Tortured Poets Department, a surprise double album, last week. On Monday night, Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe sat down for a conversation with The Guardian critic Alexis Petridis ahead of the release of their new album Nonetheless. Naturally, Swift came up as a topic of conversation.

Early on in the chat, Petridis brought up listening to Swift’s album and mused that the main topic of pop at the moment is the self. Tennant bounced off that: “This is my complaint. I think when I brought my lyrics book out six years ago I did an interview with The Guardian and I think I said that then… This is ongoing. It’s the only subject. To have a successful pop career now you have to have a series of relationships which are amazing and then break up tragically.”

Later on, Tennant discussed Swift more directly. “I was looking at the chart earlier today … and it’s all Taylor Swift.”

“I have listened to Taylor Swift’s album,” he continued. “Taylor Swift sort of fascinates me as a phenomenon because she’s so popular and I sort of quite like the whole thing. But then when I listen to the records, and we both have the same feeling actually, that for a phenomenon as big [as she is] … where are the famous songs? What is Taylor Swift’s ‘Billie Jean’?”

When someone suggests “Shake It Off,” Tennant responded with: “Is it though? No, ’cause I actually even know that that’s the answer, but I listened to that the other day, and it’s not ‘Billie Jean.’ It’s not… Melodically — she’s got a great voice, by the way, and the production’s beautiful — but melodically … it’s all sung one or two notes going up and down… But, anyway, it’s a fascinating thing.”

When Petridis suggested that Swift fans share a desire for a collective experience, Tennant responded: “I like that, I even sort of appreciate that, and I like the fact that it brings all these people together, even multigenerational, but I just think that the one disappointing thing is the music. Not even the lyrics, the music.”

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