She Pops

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2017
Original album - Elysium 2017 reissue Further Listening 2011-2012 bonus disc
Producer - Pet Shop Boys
Subsequent albums -(none)
Other releases - (none)

According to Neil, this track was written and recorded in early 2011 around the same time they were working on songs that would become the album Elysium. In his own words, it "sounds like a Korean or Japanese pop song," while the title refers to the style of street dancing known as "body-popping." It remained unreleased until the Boys decided to include it as a bonus track with the 2017 reissue of Elysium.

Without a doubt, it's the lightest, airiest and, yes, poppiest thing they've released in years. (One of the fastest, too.) In fact, it's one of the poppiest tracks in their entire career—and for a band that has always openly, proudly promoted a "pop manifesto," that's saying something. But what else would one expect from a song with such a title and theme? It's the sort of track I can't imagine ever fitting on a Pet Shop Boys album. Rather, it has "b-side" written all over it, and I'm surprised our musical heroes didn't see fit ever to put it to that use.

The lyrics paint a character portrait of a young woman—in many ways something of a wallflower ("Spends a lot of time silent / Has her head in a book")—who undergoes a sudden transformation whenever she hears a song she likes in the dance clubs she frequents. She then all but takes over the floor with her energetic dancing, drawing the attention of everyone around her, including the boys who then can't help but start "watching her every move."

The thing I find most noteworthy about the lyrics is the way they employ several blatantly, very self-consciously ungrammatical expressions of the sort that one rarely finds in PSB songs. That's not to say that "bad grammar" is unheard of in their lyrics—certainly not—but it's the specific type of faulty grammar used here that's interesting. The "incorrect" verb in the song's first two words, "She don't," while commonplace in popular music overall, is most unusual for the Boys. Yet one can hardly blame them considering that its "correct" alternative, "She doesn't," simply doesn't work with the song's rhythm and context. Neil "corrects himself" in the very next line, "Doesn't want rock and roll," because "good grammar" now works with the rhythm. This again is common in popular music—to make grammar the servant of the metrical scan of the lyric.

Far more remarkable, however, is the way that Neil employs a certain other "ungrammatical device" that's extremely unusual for PSB. While by no means unheard of in pop music in general, I can't think of another example of it in the Boys' corpus. It's what one might describe as the "inappropriate subjunctive" in the line "No one notices her until she dance" instead of "until she dances." (Compare it to an "appropriate subjective" in a sentence like, for instance, "I asked that she dance." It sounds terribly old-fashioned because it is—but it's "correct.") Again, the rhythm of the line probably explains why Neil sings it the way he does. No stickler for grammar in pop music, I find it strangely charming. But I also love the way it shows the Boys loosening up in a rather unconventional way, at least for them. It underscores the fun of this song, and I can't help but think Chris and Neil had a lot of fun with it themselves.


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