Give Stupidity a Chance

Writers - Tennant/Lowe
First released - 2019
Original album - Agenda (EP)
Producer - Pet Shop Boys, Tim Powell
Subsequent albums -(none)
Other releases - (none)

Not exactly an exercise in subtlety but, perhaps in our current sociopolitical climate, subtlety isn't what's called for.

First mentioned publicly by Neil in a June 2018 onstage "conversation" at Oxford University, he described it at that time as a song about populism. As he later said to another interviewer, "It's close to a protest song, but it's also funny." And the official PSB website calls it "a satirical song about the poor quality of political leadership in the modern world." It is, in fact, one of three avowedly satirical songs among the four on their 2019 EP Agenda, all of which were recorded in late 2018.

Opening with a couplet that pretty much summarizes the entire narrative that follows—

Intelligent people have had their say
It's time for the foolish to show the way

—the lyrics of this brief song (less than three minutes in length) make pointed stabs at the U.S. presidency of Donald Trump. This becomes most apparent in its second bridge:

Forget political correctness
Let's talk man to man
Chicks are always up for it
You gotta grab whatever you can

This essentially paraphrases the well-publicized comment Trump made in his notorious 2015 interview with radio presenter Billy Bush—"Grab 'em by the pussy"—the sort of language that, in an earlier, more decorous age would have damned a candidacy, but which had little political fallout in these far cruder, far more jaded times. To be sure, other references in the song to wealth, narcissism, cronyism, and corruption also find their primary inspiration in Trump.

It would be wrong to think, however, that this song is only about one man. The song's official lyric video employs scenes from North Korea, and given Neil's well-known opposition to Brexit, it's not hard to imagine that the rise of populism beyond American shores greatly concerns him as well.

While Neil undoubtedly disapproves of "giving stupidity a chance" in the political realm, he also taps into a very real, perhaps only partly unconscious motivation in the public sphere. After all, if people are thoroughly dissatisfied with the state of the world after it's been run for so long by presumably intelligent people, then why wouldn't they pin their hopes for a change on somebody who's presumably less intelligent? Do desperate times indeed call for desperate measures? If that's the case, then giving stupidity a chance may be one of the most desperate measures of all. But what people fail to understand is that, rather than making things better than they were before, stupidity will probably make things even worse.

The song's refrain hints broadly at the possible consequences:

Let's lead this world a merry dance
Let's give stupidity a chance

But is it just a dance of thoughtless abandon, or something even more dangerous? After all, a centuries-old trope refers to what is known in various languages as the danse macabre, the totentanz, the "dance of death," in which the Grim Reaper leads everyone—high and low, rich and poor—in the universal dance of mortality. Maybe that's the ultimate expression of populism.


List cross-references