Kristof Magnusson’s book about the Pet Shop Boys: We Are the Pop Culture

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3:09 p.m. today

Gerrit Bartels

Queer identification figures and dancers on polished sound surfaces: Kristof Magnusson tells how the Pet Shop Boys have accompanied his life.

Right at the beginning of his book about the Pet Shop Boys, Kristof Magnusson points out that concerts by Neil Tennant and Chris Howe have the character of a folk festival. A wide variety of people can agree on the British band, and songs like “West Ende Girls” or “Being Boring” now decorate the collective memory household.

For Magnusson, who has Icelandic roots on his father’s side and is the author of novels such as “That’s Us” and “Doctor’s Novel”, the Pet Shop Boys are much more: queer identification figures who made his adolescence significantly easier. “The absence of clearly heterosexually coded images” in their videos and songs was a “benefit” for him.

Magnusson tells how the Pet Shop Boys accompanied him from his youth, whether in Hamburg, Leipzig, Reykjavik or Berlin; also because he cavorted in scenes in which authenticity was at the top of the agenda and they naturally had nothing to do with the Pet Shop Boys.

Tennant and Lowe liked to sit at the bar in Berlin’s Café Rizz

Against this background, he explains how this band, which has existed since the mid-eighties, behaves with the beautifully polished surfaces and the deep artyness, and the sometimes complex lyrics in comparison with the offensive hit-heaviness. Interestingly enough, despite all his knowledge, Magnusson has already missed a Pet Shop Boys album, only to then point out the remix albums or the collaboration with Dusty Springfield all the more empathetically.

His observations from Berlin, especially Kreuzberg, are nice: from the Olfe furniture (“it felt like collected issues of Butt Magazine had materialized in pub form”) or the now-defunct Café Rizz, where Tennant and Howe used to hang out from time to time sat at the counter.

For all his fanaticism, Magnusson kept his distance and didn’t write a hagiography. He highlights the improvements for many gay white men, including with the help of the Pet Shop Boys. But also that, for example, queer Afro-Americans or non-binary gender identities are hardly to be found in Howe and Tennant.

Irony and postmodern ambivalence are not everything – and in the orbit of the Pet Shop Boys, the entire work has long detached itself from its authors. Ageless for eternity, art beats decay. Magnusson’s comment is all the nicer: “The Pet Shop Boys always seemed particularly human to me.”

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