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GUY RAZ, HOST:

And if you're just joining us, you're listening to WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

And it's time now for music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

RAZ: In 1986, this song, "West End Girls" by the Pet Shop Boys, went right to the top of the charts.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) In a West End town, a dead end world. The East End boys and West End girls.

RAZ: For the past 25 years, the London-based synth-pop duo have done one thing better than almost any other duo in Britain: The Pet Shop Boys have managed to sell records - a lot of them - 50 million worldwide since Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe founded the group in the early '80s.

They're about to release their latest studio album "Elysium." And this is the first single. It's called "Winner."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINNER")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) You're a winner. I'm a winner. This is all happening so fast.

RAZ: When I spoke with Neil Tennant recently, he told me that when he and his bandmate, Chris Lowe, started writing songs for this record, they had a realization.

NEIL TENNANT: It became clear after a while that we were writing songs about being pop stars at our age, which is in our 50s. And pop music is in theory, well, it used to be, a young people's musical form.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINNER")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) It's been a long time coming. We've been in the running for so long, but now we're on our way.

TENNANT: I think the main thing is whether people still think the song sounds fresh. I think the funny thing about pop music is it goes through a phase of being dated, and then it sort of comes out of that and sounds fresh again. So for instance in the '90s, everyone used to despise '80's music because they thought it sounded really dated. And then suddenly, in the last 10 or 15 years, it sounds really, really fresh and also more interesting because '80's records have sort of unusual lyrics and experimental music compared to some pop music nowadays.

RAZ: I want to stick with this theme of your early stuff because there's a song actually called "Your Early Stuff" on this record.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR EARLY STUFF")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) You've been around, but you don't look too rough. And I still quite like some of your early stuff.

TENNANT: This song came about because I travel around London in a taxi; I don't have a car. The London taxi drivers can be very talkative. They'll ask me questions about the Pet Shop Boys when they recognize me. And sometimes they're very, very flattering; sometimes they're quite rude.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR EARLY STUFF")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) Those old videos look pretty funny...

TENNANT: Or they just assume that maybe I've retired now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR EARLY STUFF")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) What's in it for you now, need the money?

TENNANT: And I would say to them, do you listen to music? And they say, no, I listen to talk radio, which is what taxi drivers tend to have on. And also, there's always the thing in music, people will say, I really like your early stuff, which is normally regarded as the, kind of the pure. Whereas - we were talking about this the other day; we often like people's latest stuff, like Chris is a fan of Elvis Presley's latest stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YOUR EARLY STUFF")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) You've been around, but you don't look too rough. And I still quite like some of your early stuff.

RAZ: On that topic, I mean, on this idea of your early stuff, you get asked about it. And recently, you guys played the closing ceremony at the Olympics, which was great. It was amazing to see all these performers and you guys and George Michael onstage. But you did perform probably one of your - if not your biggest hit, "West End Girls." That was the number one track in this country.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

RAZ: That song I've read you refer to it as the first number one rap record in the U.S.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Rapping) Sometimes you're better off dead. There's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head.

TENNANT: Yeah.

RAZ: What do you mean by that?

TENNANT: Well, when we wrote the song, it was meant to be a rap record. It was influenced by Grandmaster Flash, but I said it in English accent. If it had been in an American accent or in a rap accent, you'd realized it was a rap record and the verses are rapped.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Rapping) If, when or why, what, how much have you got? Have you got it? Do you get it? If so, how often? Which do you choose, a hard or soft option?

TENNANT: It's interesting no one ever mentions it a rap record if you think about it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

TENNANT: (Rapping) Sometimes you're better off dead. There's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head.

PET SHOP BOYS: (Rapping) Sometimes you're better off dead. There's a gun in your hand and it's pointing at your head. You think you're mad, too unstable.

TENNANT: I mean, it was a - early '80s rap rhythm.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Rapping) In a West End town, a dead end world. The East End boys and West End girls.

RAZ: When you started out your music, was - and to some extent, still is hugely important in the gay community. And at the time, at that time, when gay culture was still not yet mainstream, it was even more significant. Did you guys consciously seek that out, that place in gay culture?

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Rapping) Too many shadows whispering voices.

TENNANT: Well, I've always had a very ambivalent relationship with the idea of gay culture. For instance, we were briefly on Atlantic Records in the mid-'90s, and all of the marketing was done by the gay marketing department. And I sort of resent the idea that being gay means you liked a certain kind of music, which maybe that includes the Pet Shop Boys. But now, I think we are - in Britain anyway, and I think in large part in America, in a more open society where people's sexuality doesn't have to determine every aspect of their life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WEST END GIRLS")

RAZ: What do you make of this notion that pop music, electronic/dance and hip-hop have kind of begun to merge? That you turn on the radio and you will hear elements of all these things in a Katy Perry song or a Kanye West song or a Rihanna song.

TENNANT: No, I think what happened was that P. Diddy went to Ibiza one summer, and suddenly it became a thing for hip-hop stars and rap stars to work with euro music, house music. So Snoop Doggy Dog can be performing with David Guetta, which 20 years ago would have been completely unthinkable, wouldn't it? That's my vision for the future, part of my own future anyway. But we never make plans, you know, we never work on the - on what we're doing and think about the next thing. We don't look ahead very far. In pop music it's foolish to look ahead very far.

RAZ: That's Neil Tennant. He and Chris Lowe are the Pet Shop Boys. Their new record "Elysium" is out this week. You can hear more music from the record at nprmusic.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LEAVING")

PET SHOP BOYS: (Singing) I know when enough's enough and you're leaving. You've had a lot of time to decide on your freedom, but I can still find some hope to believe in love. Our love is dead...

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Check out our weekly podcast. Search for WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or go to npr.org/weekendatc. And don't forget, a new round of Three-Minute Fiction is now open. Submit your story at npr.org/threeminutefiction. The winner will be published in The Paris Review. We're back on the radio next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening, and have a great week.

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