Girls Don't Cry

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2006
Original album - Format
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums - Fundamental 2017 reissue Further Listening 2005-2007 bonus disc
Other releases - bonus track with single "I'm with Stupid"

The official PSB website reported that during the week of February 13, 2006, the Boys were working on this track, released as one of the bonus tracks with the single "I'm with Stupid." It was inspired by the 1999 film Boys Don't Cry, which told the true story of the Nebraska teenager Brandon Teena, who was born a girl but lived as a boy, which led to her being brutally raped and murdered in 1992.

Often artists themselves, by their own admission, aren't 100% certain of the meaning (or meanings) of their own work. Despite its known source of inspiration, such is the case with this song. As Neil says in the July 2006 issue of Literally,

"The song is a story about a girl who I think is maybe a lesbian, but actually we don't know what's happened really. She's running away. She's possibly killed her boyfriend, she's possibly leaving town because they've discovered she's having a lesbian affair, she's possibly pregnant and her boyfriend's rejected her. We just don't know…."

The relatively brief midtempo track describes a suburban teenager whose "instincts lead a different way." She dresses and acts like a boy, which results in her having to endure harsh taunts ("words that could almost murder"). Nevertheless, she bears them as best she can: "Whatever boys say, girls don't cry." Neil twice refers to this being "the final day," therefore suggesting that the song's central character—possibly Brandon Teena herself, but possibly a parallel imaginary figure—may very soon be killed.

As one of my site visitors has speculated, the protagonist of this song—or at least of the final verse—may not be the "Brandon Teena figure" at all, but rather a girlfriend who survives:

In the pocket by her heart is a dog-eared polaroid
A picture of a girl with her arm 'round a boy
Who went missing the final day

If this is indeed the case, then the "boy who went missing" may be the character directly inspired by Brandon Teena.

It's little more than a snapshot of a song, yet the Pet Shop Boys manage to imbue their protagonist with a distinct aura of heroism. She maintains her dignity simply by continuing to be who she is in the face of mindless hatred. In this sense, despite death, she triumphs.

In more recent years, Neil has asserted much more directly that "Girls Don't Cry" is "about a girl who murdered her boyfriend," adding, "You don't know really what the motive is." In light of this, I suppose that any possible "heroism" she might possess would depend on that motive.


List cross-references