Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant Wants to Know What Taylor Swift's "Billie Jean" Is

"For a phenomenon as big, where are the famous songs?"

Photo: Neil Tennant by Alasdair McLellan (left), Taylor Swift by Beth Garrabrant (right)

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Apr 25, 2024

Everybody and their mother knows that Taylor Swift released The Tortured Poets Department less than a week ago. Nonetheless, did you know that Pet Shop Boys are about to release an album called Nonetheless tomorrow (April 26)?

In the interest of remaining topical, the legendary synthpop duo of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe didn't shy away from talking about the biggest pop star du jour in conversation with The Guardian's Alexis Petridis for their An evening with Pet Shop Boys event earlier this week, which saw Tennant question what Swift's "Billie Jean" is.

"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... for a phenomenon as big, where are the famous songs? What's Taylor Swift's 'Billie Jean'?" he asked.

When someone suggested "Shake It Off," Tennant countered, "Is it though? Because actually, I even know that's the answer, but I listened to that the other day and... it's not 'Billie Jean.' It's not."

The artist went on to praise Swift's voice and the production on the 1989 hit, but remarked, "Melodically, it's almost a recitative," using an operatic term that basically means a more spoken-style of singing that doesn't use many notes.

Tennant added of Swift's Eras Tour-driven chokehold on pop culture, "I like the fact that it brings all these people together, even multi-generation, but I think the one disappointing thing is the music — not the lyrics, the music."

It's quite arguable that both of those things were kind of lacking on TTPD, which provided ravenous fans with a whopping 31 mid-tempo wordy synthpop tunes to digest. As for the "Billie Jean" thing, I think I wouldn't be alone in suggesting that "Cruel Summer" could certainly be a contender.

Find Exclaim!'s ranking of Swift's 25 best songs here, and the full conversation with Tennant, Lowe, and Petridis below. 

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