Popular Music

Taking it seriously: intertextuality and authenticity in two covers by the Pet Shop Boys

Mark Butler 


When musicians ‘cover’ a previously recorded song, they provide an intertextual commentary on another musical work or style. This paper considers several ways in which such commentaries engage constructions of authenticity, focusing on two covers by the Pet Shop Boys: ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’, originally by U2, and ‘Go West’, first recorded by the Village People. I analyse the musical sound, performance style, and lyrical themes of each pair of songs, as well as the discourse surrounding their production and reception. I also consider how scholars have theorised authenticity in the interpretive traditions engaged by these songs. I argue that the Pet Shop Boys’ version of ‘Where the Streets Have No Name’ is subversive, poking fun at certain common ways of expressing authenticity in 1980s rock, while their cover of ‘Go West’ repositions disco - a genre that has widely been construed as inauthentic - as a type of ‘roots music’ for the gay community of the 1990s.