Pet Shop Boys Singer Neil Tennant Shares Intense Opinion on Taylor Swift's Songwriting

Neil Tennant and Taylor Swift

For Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, it’s not the intensity of Taylor Swift’s fan base that bothers him—it’s her music.

While speaking with The Guardian’s music critic Alexis Petridis during a live event in London on Mon., April 22, the band’s primary vocalist shared his intense opinions on what he believes are faults with the megastar’s songwriting. Tennant explained that it’s a view he shares with his bandmate Chris Lowe, who also attended the live event.

Early during the trio’s conversation, Tennant, 69, said that he thinks of the 1980s as “the last great creative songwriting period” in popular music. When Petridis mentioned that he’d spent the last week listening to Swift’s new album, The Tortured Poets Department, and suggested that much of pop music today is focused on “the self,” Tennant agreed.

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“To have a successful pop career now, you have to have a series of relationships which are amazing, and then break up tragically,” the singer said, inspiring a wave of audience laughter. “I sometimes wonder what the other half of the relationships feel about this,” he joked.

Later in their conversation, the topic of modern pop music resurfaced. While Tennant said he and Lowe “pay attention” to modern pop music, they aren’t as immersed in the genre now as they were at the height of Pet Shop Boys’ fame. Even so, Tennant said he, like many others, has listened to The Tortured Poets Department since its release last week.

“Taylor Swift sort of fascinates me as a phenomenon,” Tennant said. “She’s so popular, and I sort of quite like the whole thing. But then when I listen to the records, we both have the same feeling, actually.” Tennant gestured to Lowe before asking, “For a phenomenon as big, where are the famous songs? What’s Taylor Swift’s ‘Billie Jean’?”

Petridis suggested Swift’s 2014 hit “Shake It Off” might qualify as her big number. Though Tennant acknowledged the popularity of the song, he maintained that it wasn’t as significant as the hit from Michael Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller.

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“Is it though?” Tennant asked of “Shake It Off.” “Because, actually, I even know that’s the answer. But I listened to that the other day, and it’s not ‘Billie Jean.’ It’s not.”

Lowe then suggested that the song went “in one ear, out the other.”

“Yeah, it is a bit like that,” Tennant agreed. He then paused to praise the vocals and production of Swift’s music. “She’s got a great voice, by the way,” Tennant said. “And the production’s beautiful. The new album’s absolutely beautiful.”

Tennant said he does “appreciate” the collective experience of Swift’s fandom before explaining what he views as the big problem with her music.

“I like the fact that it brings all these people together, even multigenerational,” he said. "But I just think the one disappointing thing is the music. Not even—not the lyrics. The music.”

Despite Tennant and other Swift detractors, the pop star shattered streaming records days after releasing her 11th studio album, which landed as a surprise double album on April 19. With her latest project now available for public consumption, Swift is preparing to return to her successful international Eras Tour, which is scheduled to resume in Paris on May 9.

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