West End Girls

Now that we have this blog and are free of the strictures of the website, I feel more free to write about whatever I want and… I hope you enjoy it! I was actually close to writing an analysis of three Pet Shop Boys videos for the main site, but now that we have this outlet, I’ll try it out with one.

Just like the Pet Shop Boys themselves at this period, this video is a masterpiece of coded gay male images and messaging. The video was co-directed by Eric Watson, who did all of the little photos inside their Please album sleeve, the majority of which are very obviously coded as gay [leather, one leather one in a suit, cruising aimlessly in a working-class street], and it continues in this vein. We open with a shot of a smiling, wholesome, white boy and girl mannequins in a window, which might be seen to represent a perfect ideal of heterosexuality. But soon we see that gay men are silently moving through this urban landscape.

Now, I have never seen this interpretation anywhere, but it has always seemed obvious to me: Neil, in his suit, and Chris, in his street clothes, with Chris walking a few steps behind Neil, or standing silently next to him, presents the image of a wealthy man who has hired a gay street hustler. Pair that with the song itself, which magically seems to ooze gay cruising atmosphere out of its every note, and features leading questions that may or may not have a sexual connotation [How far have you been? Do you prefer a hard or soft option?]. The lyrics discuss “dead-end worlds” where we have “no future and no past,” and the chorus addresses class difference, with East-end boys [i.e. lower class] and West-end girls [i.e. upper class]. With this in mind, the boys’ themselves present an image of a West-end businessman who has picked up an East-end boy, an impression reinforced that the boy has no voice, but stands silently in the background while the businessman takes charge.

They pose in various seedy urban environments [including a train station, notorious bathroom cruising spots], and at a certain point the words “piano bar,” a code for gay bar, flash across the screen. The final image provides a counterpoint to the opening shot of idealized heterosexuality, as we pan past the bright lights of the theater district to glimpse that, in the background, a seemingly-gay young man moves off through the night.

I’m not sure it adds up to any kind of big statement, but no one says it has to. It’s a music video, and it extends the atmosphere of the song while adding a whole visual level, and in this case, building on the indelible expression of the London gay culture of the mid-80s.

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