PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue
Part Twelve: Kylie Minogue
I have penned several features regarding the legend…
PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue
that is Kylie Minogue (this is an especially timely one), but I have never really covered her in too much detail. Don’t get me wrong: I love her work and grew up listening to her…and she is definitely someone I would love to interview soon enough. Last week, I featured Aretha Franklin in my Female Icons section and there is no doubt that she deserves that accolade: to me, there is nobody as powerful as Franklin. Many might ask whether Minogue, as one of the queens of Pop, is worthy of such attention. Absolutely. Not only has her music inspired many other artists and changed lives but her recent appearance at Glastonbury brought people to tears and it made me wonder why she was not afforded a headline slot on the Pyramid Stage – she was doing the ‘legends’ slot but could easily have made for a memorable headliner. Regardless, Minogue is touring at the moment and I will talk more about that in the conclusion. The fact she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to cancel her scheduled Glastonbury headline set in 2005 is reason enough to mark her as a bit of a legend. She battled back and stayed resilient; it was not long until she was back recording and, let’s hope, there are many more years left to come…
I do think that she gets overlooked when it comes to the iconic Pop artists of the past few decades. Sure, one can name Madonna and Kate Bush as leaders but where does Kylie Minogue fit in?! Let’s sort of go back to the start (step back in time?!) and I shall mention when Minogue arrived in my life. Like many people, perhaps her debut album, 1988’s Kylie, passed us by. I recall hearing The Loco-Motion (written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King), and I Should Be So Lucky. Whilst Minogue would go on to create deeper and more substantial songs, one cannot deny the 1980s brilliance and memorability of those early tracks. I was aware of Minogue and her debut from, I think, about the age of six or seven (at the end of the 1980s or right at the turn of the 1990s). I love the innocence of the cover and the fact that the songs have this youthful and spirited sound. It is understandable that Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman’s songwriting factory would be favoured by Minogue. They were masterful when it came to cranking out hits but, rather than Minogue being a generic Pop artist, she was already establishing herself as someone to watch. To me, she started to develop by the time her follow-up, Enjoy Yourself. With hits such as Hand on Your Hand and Wouldn’t Change a Thing, the album was a success.
Although her first couple of albums provided a footing and found Minogue establishing herself as a definitely contender, I definitely think 1990’s Rhythm of Love is a strong album. There are few Pop albums with a better one-two than Better the Devil You Know and Step Back in Time. The sheer infectiousness of the tracks and the effusiveness of Kylie Minogue means these songs were a success then and have remained favourites now. The joy of hearing Minogue today belting out these tunes today resonates with fans old and new. I was a child when the Rhythm of Love album arrived but I recall the best songs being played loud and constantly; from serious radio-play to my friends playing the songs through various boom-boxes and radios, it meant that I was well aware of Minogue from the start of the 1990s. The first few albums from Minogue had a definite pattern and style and, from the start through to 1994, a string of radio-friendly hits arrived. Like I said, these songs were more memorable than a lot of what was arriving in the charts. Maybe it was the delivery and panache of Minogue or the fact that the Stock, Aitken and Waterman machine was a perfect fit for Minogue. In any case, the partnership was over by 1994’s more serious and deeper Kylie Minogue. Notice the fact Minogue named 1994’s breakthrough ‘Kylie Minogue’ whereas she just used ‘Kylie’ on her debut – the covers are very different and you can see this definite transformation from the ingénue who was making her name to an artist who was making strides to be taken more seriously.
Minogue broke away from her previous tenure and contract and signed with Deconstruction in early-1993. She was allowed more creative freedom and, having earned that freedom because of her previous success, Kylie Minogue is a more satisfying, varied and experimental album. Minogue definitely had a feeling that 1993/1994 was a blank canvas and she could reinvent herself – without compromising her reputation and breaking too far away from her foundations. If some of her earlier albums opened with a rousing and commercial Pop blast, Confide in Me is a different beast altogether. More alluring, sumptuous and layered than her previous hits, it sounds more natural and loose. It is a fantastic song but not the only peach on Kylie Minogue! Rather than discuss all of her albums in chronological order, I will highlight two distinct phases that occurred after Kylie Minogue.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue
A reinvention would occur at the turn of the century but, after the changes and evolution on Kylie Minogue, Impossible Princess showed that this was not an artist willing to repeat herself or stay still. The experiments and boundary-pushing songs continued aplenty in Impossible Princess but some critics were a bit lukewarm. I guess when it arrived – in 1997 – one could hardly expect Minogue to produce an album like Kylie Minogue: it would sound jarring against the changing landscape and might get overlooked. Despite the fact Minogue was adding Techno, Dance and unusual strands into a Pop album, it took a fair few years before critics responded to the complexities and merits of Impossible Princess.
In this retrospective review, AllMusic had this to say:
“By 1997, much of the pop music landscape had changed. The music papers were declaring the "Techno Revolution" was on, Oasis and Manic Street Preachers were ruling the charts, and simple dance-pop seemed to be the domain of teenage girls. So what does the dance-pop diva of the '90s do? She recruits Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore, and Nicky Wire, starts writing unaided, and completely changes musical direction. Enter Kylie Minogue's Impossible Princess (the title was changed to Kylie Minogue after the death of Princess Diana). From the trippy cover art to the abundance of guitars and experimental vocal tracks, this was her "great leap forward." The move got her in the papers, but, unfortunately, critical acclaim was lacking (and so were sales). Critics called it a mistake, and the public was less than impressed. Which is sad, because this is a pretty damn good record. Unlike her early work, this album sounds stronger and has a more natural feel. Her songwriting abilities have come a long way, and Impossible Princess actually flows together as an album. Worth another look”.
In a musical climate with U.S. Rock and the tail-end of Britpop, it is understandable some were a bit slow to attach themselves to Impossible Princess – even though artists like Björk were splicing the same sort of genres as Minogue.
Although the iconic Pop artist would take a few more years for her reputation to be cemented, Impossible Princess’ average reaction and retrospective regard meant that another reinvention was needed. Rather than continue to push Techno and Dance, 2000’s Light Years was more focused on Pop and Disco. There were some darker shades and tenser songs but, on the whole, Light Years is an updated and more ambitious version of her first few albums – the song quality is better and Minogue is a stronger and more adventurous singer. New writers and producers (including Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams) added to Minogue’s cannon and I think Light Years ranks alongside the best Kylie Minogue albums ever – it might just be her best record.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue
Other artists in her position might have suffered a lack of confidence after some bad reviews or taken their music in the wrong direction. The experience and savvy Minogue knew what was needed and constructed an album with some growers - but there were plenty of instant hits. Spinning Around and On a Night Like This is another potent one-two; Your Disco Needs You is one of the best Dance tracks of the early-2000s and Kids is a track that is impossible to forget – a duet with Robbie Williams, it is a winner that is brimming with sexual chemistry and confidence. Spinning Around definitely lodged in the public mindset, helped in part by the eye-opening video of Minogue in gold hotpants dancing in/on a bar.
Mixing sleek and sophisticated tracks with camper and more throwaway numbers, Light Years is a perfect bridge between her early career and the more experimental albums of 1994 and 1997. I have mentioned atomic one-two Minogue album tracks but let’s talk about the quick follow-up to Light Years: 2001’s Fever is a fantastic offering and surprisingly complete and different considering it was released a year after Light Years. Consider, also, the cover art for both albums, too. The first few Kylie Minogue albums were sweet and innocent: projecting the singer as accessible and the girl-next-door type. In a reverse of what one might expect, the more mature Minogue is a sexier and more risky artist on Light Years and Fever’s covers – indication that these albums are sexier, more assured and physical. Before I move on to Fever and its potential benchmark status, The Guardian were impressed by Light Years:
“There's the fantastic Kids, a duet with Williams also featured on his new album, and Loveboat, a homage to the 1970s TV show of the same name. The latter is a female response to Williams's Millennium - it sounds very similar but has a less cynical approach to love. The familiar references to martinis, bikinis and 007 are all there - Williams really should try joining a new video club - but so too are the verbal come-ons that'll either make you squirm or laugh out loud. "Rub on some lotion," Minogue pleads breathily, "the places I can't reach." More amusing still is Your Disco Needs You, a call to arms that the Village People would be proud of. Minogue has her tongue firmly in her cheek for this camp slice of epic disco that will doubtless become the obligatory soundtrack to every Christmas office party.
It's only when Minogue deviates from the fun that the album falters. Bittersweet Goodbye is an overblown ode to love that seems like an excuse for a video featuring satin sheets, while the title track is suitably spacey, though it still left me singing Brotherhood of Man's Angelo at the end. Ultimately, Minogue shines brightest in the blinding lights of a club and Light Years is an album that should be played as you force your boob-tube into place and drain the remnants of that can of hairspray before you go out. This time round Kylie's got it right”.
I love Fever and its quality tracks but, as you get with critics, there are those who will find fault and be snobbish. A lot of Kylie Minogue’s albums get the two best tracks done right away but, rather than go in with the best material right at the off, Love at First Sight, Can’t Get You Out of My Head and Come into My World are songs two, three and seven respectively. There is a great weighting when it comes to the big hits but Fever has a nice distribution of bangers and slower, more nuanced tracks. In my view, the two-album explosion of Light Years and Fever was Kylie Minogue at her peak. AllMusic, in their review of Fever, explained how Minogue was on this golden run:
“The first single, "Cant Get You Out of My Head," is a sparse, mid-tempo dance number that pulses and grooves like no other she's recorded, and nothing on Light Years was as funky as the pure disco closer of "Burning Up."
And while it's hard not to notice her tipping her hat to the teen pop sound (in fact, on this record she works with Cathy Dennis, former dance-pop star and writer/producer for Brit-teen pop group S Club 7) on songs like "Give It to Me" and "Love at First Sight," her maturity helps transcend this limiting tag, making this a very stylish Euro-flavored dance-pop record that will appeal to all ages. Not one weak track, not one misplaced syrupy ballad to ruin the groove. The winning streak continues”.
I shall talk about some of her albums post-Fever but, in my view, that sense of recovery (after Impossible Princess) and domination between 2000/2001 is what makes Minogue an icon and ever-evolving star. Like Madonna post-True Blue (1986) and post-Erotica (1992) (and on 1998’s Ray of Light), Minogue was capable of these turns, leaps and unexpected triumphs. 2003’s Body Language continued her fine run and gave us the fine single, Slow, whilst X (2007) and Aphrodite (2010) were lauded because of Minogue’s impressive writing, versatility and, to an extent, it was more of a return to the Pop sound – breaking a little from the Dance and Disco of her previous couple of records. I think the mark of a truly great artist is one who can keep producing hit albums but not do the same thing; keep the style and sound fresh but retain that core sound. That might sound like a hard balancing act but Minogue has managed to achieve this time and time again – growing stronger and more surprising as her career has developed.
Her latest album, 2018’s Golden, finds her moving into Country territory. Rather than produce another Pop album or something with Dance overtones, Golden is a more mature, soft and reflective – are there artists as chameleon-like as Minogue?! It seems that every album has been a chance for Minogue to take her music and imagination to new genres and, owning them all, one wonders where she will head next. This sort of takes us to where she is now. The ever-popular and stunning Kylie Minogue has not long let the dust settle from her triumphant Glastonbury set and she seems to be in a really happy place right now. Not only will her Glastonbury appearance remain in the hearts of her existing fans whilst bringing in new followers but one suspects Minogue herself will struggle to get over it for some years. The poise, power and passion Minogue has put into her music since the late-1980s is inspiring and impressive to say the least! Right now, one can enjoy a Kylie Minogue retrospective with her new greatest hits collection, Step Back in Time and it is a perfect assortment of Pop gems for those who know Minogue inside out and for those who are fresh to her work. Before wrapping things up, I want to bring in a couple of interviews Minogue has conducted over the past few months.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jackie Nickerson for The Times
The first, with The Times is illuminating and revealing. She is very open and frank and, in this exert, discusses her cancer diagnosis and feelings regarding motherhood today:
“It’s remarkable that Minogue has the stamina to dance until 5am at an age when many women are experiencing the menopause. Indeed, she’s already been there, done that. As is common with younger breast cancer patients, her menopause was medically induced when she had treatment, to suppress her oestrogen levels. On Desert Island Discs, she stated that she would love to start a family. It’s a difficult subject to broach, but I wonder if she feels the chance to have children has passed. “I can definitely relate to that,” she answers. “I was 36 when I had my diagnosis. Realistically, you’re getting to the late side of things. And, while that wasn’t on my agenda at the time, [cancer] changed everything. I don’t want to dwell on it, obviously, but I wonder what that would have been like. Everyone will say there are options, but I don’t know. I’m 50 now, and I’m more at ease with my life. I can’t say there are no regrets, but it would be very hard for me to move on if I classed that as a regret, so I just have to be as philosophical about it as I can. You’ve got to accept where you are and get on with it”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue
The second interview I want to source from is with PAPER. Again, it is a revealing piece but Minogue is asked about particular time periods in her career and how she responded to the ups and downs:
“There was an awkward phase in your career between 1991 and 1994, when you released Kylie Minogue and Impossible Princess. What were you seeking during that period?
Perhaps if I'd been at that stage of my life and career at a different point in time, it definitely would have been different. That was the mid '90s, and you can hear that I am being influenced by Björk and Garbage, and indie pop, and people like Tricky. That was where I was trying to fit in. It turns out that wasn't exactly my lane. I think for fans, they love seeing and hearing something different, and it definitely was a learning curve for me, which I am thankful for. It wasn't successful, but strangely moved in its own way. But I think the start of that we got right, which was "Confide in Me"
IN THIS PHOTO: Kylie Minogue performing at Edinburgh Castle in July 2019/PHOTO CREDIT: Alan Rennie
I always wondered about how insanely quickly you followed up Light Years with Fever then Body Language. What was the timeline like for you? You must have felt unstoppable.
It was all very noughties. I don't know about unstoppable, but it was all happening. Like I said before, before "Spinning Around," I just didn't know what the future held for me. So, yeah, it was busy. Through that period, I got back into live touring. That's the one thing I will be thankful for Impossible Princess. It made me go on the road in Australia. I had to fight for a measly projector and two dancers! Basically, the set was cardboard and lycra. We had literally nothing, but it just kind of got me on stage and connecting with the audience and doing small gigs. That led to 2001, the tour which was for my Light Years album. Then we went stratospheric with Fever and did the Fever tour, and really nailed that. Then Body Language, so right, it was busy.
In 2018 you released Golden. Country music is having a huge moment right now — you were one of the first pop artists to get on that resurgence.
That was thanks to my A&R, who incidentally was the same A&R who did "Spinning Around." In the initial part of recording for Golden, we didn't really have a direction. It was going in with some of my old favorites and new people and just seeing what would happen and what the collision brings out creatively. We kept trying to get a country element but we couldn't quite get it until I went to Nashville, and then it all made sense…
That place must have particular lay lines or something. There's a spirit there, and it would have been totally disingenuous to suddenly be country, but definitely taking the inspiration from the songwriting point of view and putting stories into the songs. It was good at that point in my life to explore that. I don't think that will leave me, moving forward. Although God, if another "Can't Get You Out of My Head" came my way, I would take it, thank you very much. I would write it, or I would take it.
There is no stopping the iconic Minogue and, having won fans across the world, the demand for her music and live performances is still huge. It seems like she is a far better situation than she was back in 2005 and, clear of cancer and having delivered one of her career-best sets at Glastonbury, might this extend into a burst of new creative energy in the form of an album?! One feels Minogue is owed a rest and I guess she might want to return to her native Melbourne for some family time and relaxation.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kylie Minogue
I opened by asking the question as to whether Minogue can be seen as a musical icon alongside such stellar artists like Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé and Joni Mitchell. There is no denying the fact these women have all made a huge impact on music in their own ways. I know of many modern artists who look up Kylie Minogue and, whether through performance or fashion, Minogue has definitely inspired close followers and those aspiring to be like her – the mark of any idol. Throw into the mix that instantly recognisable catalogue of songs and the fact Minogue is one of the nicest people in music – with a determination and sense of control – and you have someone who have a bona fide legend and icon. Long may her brilliance continue but, when you think about it, Kylie Minogue has already given the world…
SO, so much.