Four decades in, the Pet Shop Boys know the secret to staying cool

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FILE British band The Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant, left, and Chris Lowe perform after receiving The Oustanding Contribution To Music award at the Brit Awards 2009 at Earls Court exhibition centre in London, England, Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009. Forty years and 50 million record sales after the Pet Shop Boys rose to fame with West End Girls, the iconic British duo is releasing a new album. Nonetheless is their 15th studio album. It arrives Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/MJ Kim, File)

LONDON – Chicken Kiev, AI-generated press releases and the annoyance of fan selfies while performing — there was a lot on the minds of the Pet Shop Boys as the iconic British duo prepared to release a new album.

Their 15th studio album, “Nonetheless,” comes Friday — 40 years (and 50 million record sales) after Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe rose to fame with the single “West End Girls.” Bands of any longevity — especially such a long one — are often asked the cliche: “How do you stay relevant?” For them, it's about never trying to be cool.

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“That’s something a lot of people try and do, to be somehow cool, which is therefore completely uncool, because it’s trying too hard,” Tennant told The Associated Press recently. “So we have just followed our own instincts.”

“We’ll always be relevant in our world,” Lowe added, laughing.

A testament of that relevance? Classic Pet Shop Boys hits were used as plot points in two cult movies last year: a karaoke scene in “Saltburn” featuring “Rent” and a key Christmas scene in “All of Us Strangers” soundtracked by “Always on My Mind.”

This is worlds away from Hollywood past, where, Tennant says, “It’s a Sin” was always overused for the young guy walking into a gay club “reducing us to this sort of cliche of gay disco.”

“Nonetheless” remains upbeat despite being written in the U.K. during the coronavirus pandemic, when most people were locked down at home.

“Well, the weather was nice, wasn’t it?” Lowe jokes.

“It was a very productive time,” Tennant adds, noting that the cancellation of their tour eased the pressure.

“I think that’s why it sounds in a way quite optimistic, because life was different. It was a different sort of life with no pressure, apart from not trying to catch the virus,” he says.

The first single, “Loneliness,” addresses the social isolation of the pandemic but was written as a positive message. Another lockdown-themed track, “Why Am I Dancing?” was Tennant asking himself: “Why are you enjoying this situation of being by yourself so much so that you can actually dance?”

“And I’m probably cooking at the same time,” he is quick to add.

“Cooking and dancing, now that’s a little podcast idea, isn’t it?” Lowe jokes.

And while Lowe says he’d be popping a ready-made pie in the oven, Tennant would be making dal, brown rice and vegetables or a chicken Kiev.

“You’ve got a good story for that,” Tennant says, looking to his bandmate.

“I wrote to (U.K. supermarket) Marks & Spencer… asking them to change the spelling of chicken Kiev to chicken Kyiv because of the war,” Lowe says. They did eventually change it.

Despite living through big changes in the way music is consumed, the band remain philosophical. Despite new ways of listening and discovering music, “music is still music.”

And when it comes to Spotify, while Lowe says it has helped him discover a lot of new music, both hate the app’s recommendations.

“With us, The Pet Shop Boys, it will say, ‘If you like this, you might like Duran Duran,’ so it thinks you’re all '80s,” Tennant explains. “And if you’re us you say: ‘You might like Years and Years electronic pop music or Kraftwerk from before us.’”

“Sometimes they might just think, ‘Well you’re gay so you might like Boy George because he’s gay as well.’ It’s very, very stupid,” he says.

Pet Shop Boys will perform five special performances at London’s Royal Opera House in July, but please don’t run to the front of the stage and then turn your back for a selfie.

“I just deliberately move out the way. Sorry to be a spoilsport but I find it really, really rude,” Tennant says.

Cellphone users aren’t all bad for business though.

“You now know when something is working because all the phones come out,” Tennant explains.

“Cigarette lighters are replaced with phones for a ballad it looks really quite gorgeous, it’s really quite moving,” he adds.

Artificial intelligence is changing the industry, but the band doesn't have any plans to use it anytime soon — well, at least not in its music.

When their publicist called for a quote on the album for a press release, they turned to ChatGPT, which described the album as “a celebration of the unique and diverse emotions that make us human.” They went with it.

“It’s a great quote” Tennant admits. “We sort of agree with it. We normally make some flippant remark, whereas ChatGPT gave us this very earnest description which is actually accurate.”

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