This ballad deals with a financially one-sided relationship sung from the perspective of a kept woman. Vocalist Neil Tennant told Mojo magazine August 2013: "I come from an era when people didn't talk about sex at home, where a lot of things were unsaid. So you sort of had to read between the lines, to the extent that one could even, oneself, not know what the songs were about. 'Rent's' funny - I was imagining a woman who was being kept by a politician, but when people would ask, what is the missing word between 'I love you' and 'you pay my rent?', I'd say 'I don't know, really.' The title came about because we used to like the idea of provocative titles. That was a punk thing."
The Pet Shop Boys dismissed this at the time as a "mercenary love song."
The video for the song was directed by Derek Jarman. It features two intercut storylines - one filmed in black and white and the other in color. The color part features Liverpool actress Margi Clarke (Letter to Brezhnev) as the partner of a wealthy man, who is played by Alexander Thynn, 7th Marquess of Bath. Neil Tennant is their chauffeur.
The title implies the lot of a rent boy (a male prostitute), and despite Liza Minelli covering it in 1989, it wasn't until the sleeve notes to the reissue of Actually that Neil Tennant confirmed that this song was written from a female perspective.