By Isabela Raygoza @isabelaraygoza
Infectious Euro dance-pop meets the tough streets of Southern California in Pet Shop Boys’ eye-opening new music video, the reggaetón-tinged “Twenty-Something,” which we’re premiering right here on Uforia Music.
The high-energy yet heart-rending song is the pop icons’ second single off Super, their recently-dropped thirteenth studio album, and tells the story of a young Latino man who gets caught in the web of adversity.
So how did the British duo get inspired by California “cholo goth” band Prayers for this music video? Last year, Prayers covered Pet Shop Boys’ classic hit “West End Girls” and revamped it into an esoteric offering of combustible synthpop. “[Pet Shop Boys] loved the authenticity and feel of the video [“West End Girls”] and wanted something similar for their new song “Twenty-Something,” says director of all Prayers’ videos, Gavin Filipiak, who Pet Shop Boys handpicked for this song. “For this video, they were imagining a Hispanic character going through the same struggles described in the song’s lyrics. This inspired me to shed light on the ugly social issues of poverty and high rate of recidivism in California.”
Indeed, the Golden State is notorious for its overcrowded prison status, reaching a staggering 173,000 inmates in 2007—largely thanks to its draconian Three Strikes Law, which means that for any three offenses, one could get sentenced to a lifetime of prison.
Besides having a prolific career since the early ‘80s loaded with dancefloor bangers and celebratory hits, The “West End Girls” duo also comes charged with a social and political punch. The group is known to drop political references and offer social critiques (e.g. “Love is a Bourgeois Construct,” “Twentieth Century”) throughout their heady repertoire, so it’s no surprise that singer/songwriter Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe tackled a poignant issue of age and poverty for this song.
“It’s meant to be a sympathetic song because the basic message is that if you’re twenty-something it’s quite hard to get a decent job, and it’s quite hard if you do get a job to get paid enough money,” says Tennant.
The story for the “Twenty-Something” music video was co-written by Filipiak and Prayers lead singer Leafar Seyer, a.k.a. Rafael Reyes. It follows the hardships of a twenty-something-year-old homeboy who is released from prison. While making an effort to integrate himself into working-class society, his financial struggles and gangster lifestyle lead him back into an endless cycle of violations and, ultimately, incarceration. “When I heard the song, it was very easy for me to come up with the concept [of the video], because I know the struggles of being Chicano, being a twenty-something, and being a person of color in America,” Leafar Seyer says over the phone. “On top of that, add the lack of education and a criminal record with multiple felonies—it’s nearly impossible to get a job. So the concept of the music video comes from my environment.”
He continues, “They get into gangs because they need to survive and they need to make a living. For some, that’s all they really have. So they go into this lifestyle, and it creates a vicious cycle. I’ve been caught up in this cycle myself.”
The 40-year-old Mexican-American began gangbanging with the Sherman Grant Hill Park 27 click as a teenager. In 1994, he opened up Pokéz, a San Diego staple and alternative restaurant, and eventually started Diamond Dogs, an art and music collective for retired gangsters. He started Prayers in 2013.
He also served time in prison, so the video is a very personal one to him. “I’m glad that the world gets to see what we’re going through. I’m very excited that Pet Shop Boys, who are two white Londoners, are going to show [this to] the white man. They’re validating us and they’re doing something very powerful because they’re saying ‘look this exists,’ he says.
“I wrote a powerful-ass video and they didn’t wanna change a damn thing about it,” Seyer enthuses. “I can be a Mexican telling you about my struggles, but you’re not going to listen because I’m another brown man talking about the brown man struggle. So when a white man from London speaks about the brown man struggle, then muthafuckers listen. So it’s a beautiful, powerful thing. It’s a bridge between Southern California and London.”