Saturday, November 17, 2012
Classic Music Video of the Week: Pet Shop Boys, "West End Girls"
For a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s in an isolated town on the windswept plains of central Nebraska, MTV was a vital conduit to a wider and more interesting world. Back in those prehistoric days before the internet, it was pretty damn hard to get ahold of stuff outside of the mainstream; I had to rely on whatever was on TV, magazine rack or in the video store. Those of us who took the time to dig deeper beyond the crimp-haired monstrosity that was American popular culture from roughly 1986 to 1991were part of a secret fraternity. In '93 I went to a week-long statewide scholars summer camp at the University of Nebraska, and I instantly made quick friends with three other kids based on our mutual interest in punk rock, The Smiths, and Jimi Hendrix.
MTV was crucial, since shows like Yo MTV Raps! and 120 Minutes played music that the local Top 40 station never would have touched with a ten meter cattle prod. So while other kids in my school were listening to Vanilla Ice and Bon Jovi, I was a huge fan of Teenage Fanclub and Eric B and Rakim. That process started sometime around my transition to high school in 1990, but before that point slightly edgy stuff that hit the mainstream began to broaden my horizons.
"West End Girls" is a good example of this. It was a hit and MTV spun the video, but it did not march in step with the era's hairspray and pastel vibe. The band is not jumping on a stage with fireworks blasting in the background, or conjuring a magic red car. They simply wander around London in overcoats, and do so in rather mundane locations. It's a cool, detached song made by its mood rather than its melody. I had no clue at the time what the "West End" was, or that singer Neil Tennant was gay. I just thought the song sounded cool as cool could be, and the images of London intrigued me, from the iconic symbols of double decker buses to the Tower Bridge. It was an alien and intriguing world, and it was right in my living room. For all the justified criticism MTV received at the time for its rank shallowness and frivolousness, I am sure there were plenty of misfits like me who found a cherished lifeline to a better world.