The Pet Shop Boys' 10 greatest protest songs

—in my opinion, of course. The Pet Shop Boys aren't often thought of as social commentators, but they have indeed written and recorded quite a few songs that place them firmly in the hallowed pop/rock/folk tradition of protest against the ills of society and/or government. Although I could easily list at least two dozen such tracks here, I prefer to restrict it to my own totally subjective tally of what I consider to be their ten most effective "protest songs." In fact, I even list them in descending order, with the first being, in my opinion, their greatest protest song of all:

1. Integral

What it protests: Government bureaucracies that treat people like depersonalized, digitized entities without any rights that they're obliged to respect.

2. We're All Criminals Now

What it protests: Governments and their law-enforcement agents who assume that everyone is a potential terrorist—even to the point of killing innocent people—and the associated decline in personal privacy. The bitter irony is that, in the name of making us safer, we're quite possibly becoming less safe.

3. The Theatre

What it protests: Casual disregard by the privileged for the plight of the destitute among them.

4. DJ Culture

What it protests: The fact that people are often willing accomplices in their own deception, whether it's by warmongering politicians or by commercial interests that try to dissuade them from accepting themselves as they are.

5. Birthday Boy

What it protests: Hate crimes—or, perhaps more pointedly, the bigotry that underlies them.

6. A Red Letter Day

What it protests: The fact that, even today, gay people still don't enjoy many of the same rights that heterosexuals do. This is now less a problem in some parts of the world (such as the U.K. and U.S.) than it was at the time the song was written and recorded, although in much (probably most) of the world it's still just as serious.

7. Shopping

What it protests: Government privatization efforts (the selling of government-owned national industries to private corporations) in the United Kingdom during the administration of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But does this one deserve bonus points or demerits for going completely over the heads of 99% of everyone who's ever heard it?

8. After the Event

What it protests: The pop-culture phenomenon of mass expressions of superficial collective grief, especially when they take the form of spontaneous public shrines composed of photos, flowers, balloons, stuffed animals, and the like.

9. It's a Sin

What it protests: The fostering of personal guilt by religious institutions in general, and the Catholic Church in particular.

10. How Can You Expect to Be Taken Seriously?

What it protests: Preachy, pretentious rock stars whose social causes come across as excuses for self-promotion. As music critic Chuck Eddy has described it, this is an "anti-protest song"—or, to put it another way, a protest song against protest songs. And if you think the Boys may have risked walking a thin line with this one, let's just say that their preferred tactic of taking a more indirect, illustrative approach with their own instances of social commentary makes their pills somewhat easier than most to swallow.

In case you're wondering, while all of the songs on the Boys' 2019 EP Agenda are certainly protest songs—in fact, they're among the most overt protest songs of their career—none of them, in my opinion, match in quality those I've listed above, perhaps in part because they are so overt. Thus I don't rank them among their ten "greatest." Nevertheless, I would be remiss not to make note of them here:

Finally, honorable mention goes to—

The gist of this track's protest comes not from PSB themselves (hence the "honorable mention") but rather from excerpts of a remarkable February 2014 speech by Panti Bliss, for which the Boys provided a musical backdrop. It has never been released except as a download from the official PSB website, although recordings can still be found elsewhere online.

What it protests: Both homophobia itself and, even more explicitly, the hypocritical defense mechanism employed by persons who exhibit homophobic attitudes to try to shield themselves from criticism of their homophobia, in which they suggest that gay people cannot rightly discern for themselves what is homophobic and oppressive, and that to call them "homophobes" is to engage in "hate speech."