Kylie: Let’s dance through all our fears
This article is taken from our special print edition Crack Magazine: The Collections, Vol. 1.
There’s something fitting about Kylie Minogue, patron saint of Saturday night, getting a little introspective on a grey Tuesday morning. The Australian pop phenomenon, perhaps unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree: “This is getting too existential!” she protests, as our conversation drifts to – what else? – the nature of stardom. But that radiant smile is detectable even over an unstable connection, and she concludes a train of thought that’s equal parts obfuscatory and revealing. “We’re all just living, breathing organisms…” She means all of us, humankind. “We’re all just trying to function. I get home, the lashes come off and the heels come off and I’m, like…” She sounds surprised by what she says next: “I’m in track pants right now.”
Kylie Minogue. Always the most relatable member of pop’s Golden Circle, and always handy with a diversionary tactic. Seeing as the call takes place the old-fashioned way, with no video, her dab hand at scene setting is much appreciated (those joggers, she’s quick to clarify, are “nice ones” by Bella Freud). Indeed, the reason the interview is happening at all is to discuss her new album called – in a fit of audacious economy – DISCO. But the gravitational pull of her 33 years in music is palpable, with even the most throwaway answer opening a temporal sinkhole to another era, staining the entire conversation in the primary colours of pop cultural history. She says things like, “when I was going through my indie phase, for want of a better word”, and casually tells me that Can’t Get You Out of My Head, the closest a pop single has ever come to its platonic ideal, is 19 years old to-the day. “Congratulations,” I say, although this feels immediately stupid.
Dress and headpiece: Dilara Findikoglu
Shoes: Kylie’s own
Perhaps the philosophical mood can be explained by the fact that Minogue is, at 52 years of age, poised at one of the most intriguing junctures in her career. Last year saw her play Glastonbury’s beloved ‘Legends’ slot, a show made especially poignant in light of the fact that her 2005 headline performance was cancelled due to her breast cancer diagnosis. To hear Minogue tell the story, being tasked with following the likes of Shirley Bassey or Dolly Parton was one of the biggest challenges she has faced. “I got myself in a bit of a pickle with it,” she says, recalling the intense planning stages. “We were trying to give it a bit of everything without it sounding like a karaoke machine.” She and her team ummed and ahhed over whether or not they should have costume changes (“not really a Glastonbury thing”) and they laboured over a setlist that would provide good value to fans casual and hardcore – not so easy when you’re restricted to 75 minutes. Worst still were the sleepless nights spent catastrophising, envisioning a nightmare scenario of dancers crushed by sets and time mismanagement: “The anxiety leading up to it, I couldn’t even call it Glastonbury, we just called it the short show,” she remembers, her voice growing animated.
Of course, the fears were baseless. The most viewed Glastonbury performance of all time with a live TV audience of 3.9 million, it was a high camp spectacle that captures the contours of a dazzling three-decade stretch: 14 studio albums, 34 Top 10 hits and at least four discrete phases. For Kylie and for much of the audience, it was unexpectedly moving: a Proustian headrush as potent as poppers. “It was just a presentation of life,” she says, trying her best to sum it up. “I don’t mean that to sound too grand. But wow, [it represented] time and time is emotional.”
How do you follow that? Minogue, you might argue, is no stranger to reinvention, the beats in her career enshrined in the very lore of pop culture. Her 1987 transition from star of Australian soap Neighbours to chart sensation wasn’t too tricky, assisted by public affection and the songs of Stock Aitken Waterman. Then, the stakes got higher: she junked pop altogether when she signed to dance label Deconstruction in 1994, a noble flop which nonetheless suggested a will to experiment. Two years later, she duetted – unexpectedly and brilliantly – with Nick Cave on Where the Wild Roses Grow, a canny move that earned her more cool credibility than 1997’s self-consciously indie album Impossible Princess ever could. At the turn of the millennium, she signed with Parlophone and the curtain was raised on her imperial phase – a run of albums that turned a generation into poptimists: Light Years, Fever, Body Language. Most ingeniously, the last few years has seen her play up some of her more consistent characteristics – showgirl, gay icon, chat show staple – to futureproof against the warps and wefts of fashion, creating her own microclimate within the industry itself. Even so, that Glastonbury set looked like she had achieved final form, reaching the limitations of her own mythmaking.
Dress: Halpern from MATCHESFASHION
Brooch: Archive Trust Judy Blame
She’s adamant that isn’t so. “As much as we already couldn’t fit all the songs in, I was already going, ‘I’d love to make new music, I’d love to do something new!’” she admits. “I certainly don’t want to shy away from…” She chooses her words carefully. “I’ll sing Love at First Sight and Spinning Around and Can’t Get You Out of My Head forevermore, and gladly! But if you’re creative and curious…” She hesitates. “I still have that absolute drive and desire to [keep making music], and that’s all I wanted.”
And so, on 21 July, a teaser video for an album was posted to Minogue’s official Instagram account and just like that, a world rent asunder by a global pandemic was ushered into the new DISCO era. “Yeah, I can’t lie. I did have moments of doubt we should see this through, or wait, or do something different,” she laughs. For Minogue, lockdown was spent in her London home, by herself. She grew obsessed with gardening, and enjoyed watching the seasons change, but once the decision was made to press on with her 15th studio album, it was business as, well, not quite usual. Recruiting the socially distanced guidance of the engineers she was already working with, she installed a studio set up in her living room. Now, she says, when people show off their studios online, she nods in recognition. “Yup, I recognise that, that and that.”
Minogue’s flirtations with the dancefloor have traditionally thrown up her most intriguing moments. Confide in Me, the greatest thing to come from her dalliance with dance label Deconstruction, is gilded trip-hop; Slow’s libidinal throb and negative space tapped into the aughts’ obsession with minimal techno; even Golden, her 2018 album of country music cosplay, was launched with a press show at infamous Berlin club Berghain. From what can be gauged – BMG are keeping the full album close to their chest ahead of the November release date – DISCO is perhaps a little less risky, but nonetheless judiciously timed and perfectly executed; a manifestation of her personal affinity for disco which began in 1978, when she was a pre-teen in Melbourne. “I was ten years old,” she reminisces. “I was peaking with the likes of Gloria Gaynor, Chic, ABBA, Earth Wind and Fire, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees. Their songs never leave your system.” For looks and feel she “leaned into Debbie Harry for attitude, Diana Ross for the epic drama of stillness and Studio 54 for, well, everything!” Crucially, the end product tempers those classic references with concessions to now: strutting first single Say Something combines transcendent synths with a chorus that references both a Pride slogan and our Current Moment; Real Groove tilts at something more youthful, more slick, more Dua Lipa. Only Miss a Thing truly leans into yearning, sting-adorned disco – a throwback look that she carries off well. In short, Minogue has taken the temperature of 2020 and delivered what her audience most needed: a potent dose of escapism. As she says herself, “that’s kind of what I do.”
The answer, while throwaway, illustrates a keen sense of her own self-awareness that is the engine of her artistry. A gradual mastery of her narrative which perhaps explains why, as an interviewee, she is capable of delicately and charismatically redirecting a question to tell the story that she’d prefer to be telling. She’s genuinely thrown off stride, however, when asked to remember when she first asserted a sense of agency over her career. Minogue considers the question at length, nodding to a number of turning points, including signing to Deconstruction, or playing Glastonbury and turning 50 in the same year, before reconciling that it’s an ever evolving process. “Even now, I don’t just do what I want, there’s a lot of moving parts within this,” she says, honestly. Later, she alights on an anecdote that reveals a little more about the lens she views herself through. It’s from her Indie Kylie phase, when she was trying desperately to outrun her past. Her friend, Nick Cave, punctured her pretences. “I would’ve thought, ‘Nick will think this is really cool’. But actually what Nick Cave really loved was the pop songs,” she laughs. “I’m there with Björk as my pin-up and Nick saying, ‘Why aren’t you doing Better the Devil You Know?’” In 1996 Cave invited her to take part in the Poetry Olympics at the Royal Albert Hall where she recited, tongue in cheek, I Should Be So Lucky, introducing the first inklings of Kylie the self-referential star. “I literally tried everything to get out of doing that Poetry Olympics because I didn’t get it. But Nick Cave has never led me astray,” A beat, for dramatic effect. “Although it might look like he has.”
“Being a chameleon, I like being quite malleable and adapting to situations. So I probably did things that I was on the fence about, sometimes it worked, sometimes I should have just got off the fence”
She describes this as a turning point. “OK, I can duck and dive and try and run away from you,” – her early career – “but actually this would be better if we actually became friends.” Watching her relish performing I Should Be So Lucky, sung this time, on the Glastonbury stage, gives just a hint of how far she’s come.
With the subject of the past and agency raised, I’m reminded of a meme of Kylie – Stock Aitken Waterman years – singing Better the Devil You Know for a bored and indifferent audience of Spanish politicians. The meme’s meant to be funny, but there’s something about the power imbalance that feels uncomfortable. Recent years have seen a groundswell of women coming forward to break the silence of deep-rooted and industry-wide sexism. Was that something she encountered? “I didn’t sense any of that then, I honestly didn’t. I auditioned, I got my job, I turned up to work, I drove my own car, I learned my lines… I never felt anything other.” But she does recall a time that doesn’t sit quite right with her now. “I would say more in the lad culture in the 90s. A lot of things looking back I’m like, ‘Oh my god.’ But that was the time.” She refers to the endless roll call of bikini-clad photoshoots that were par for the course for female pop stars. “You wouldn’t get me in them now, put it that way,” she jokes. “At 25 or 30 it was absolutely fine, but then you look from a wider angle…” Then, after more thought: “Also, I do try to do everything, so if I’m on the fence, I’ll try and do it… I will just try and push myself. Maybe it’s being a performer, being a chameleon, I like being quite malleable and adapting to situations. So I probably did things that I was on the fence about, so I’ll try it, sometimes it worked, sometimes I should have just got off the fence.”
Dress: Acne Studio
Earrings: Archive Gillian Horsup
It’s a rare moment of openness from someone careful to not say too much, for fear of throwing a wrench in the “moving parts” of all this. But it’s becoming less rare. Last year, home video footage of Minogue formed a central part of Richard Lowenstein’s documentary about INXS’ Michael Hutchence, Mystify. Minogue and Hutchence famously dated between 1989-1991 and the footage used in the film is taken from during this time. Intimate and playful, it’s the kind of home video that might be captured by two people larking about and in love. What prompted her to let her guard down so fully for the sake of the film? “I know Richard Lowenstein from back in the day and I always liked him, and he was extremely close with Michael,” she explains. “It took me a while to find [the footage] – I didn’t think I had as much as I did – but it was instinctive trust that Richard would tell a sensitive story.” She hasn’t brought herself to watch the film yet.
“I’ll sing Can’t Get You Out of My Head forevermore. But if you’re creative and curious… I still have that absolute drive and desire to keep making music”
We’re nearing the end of our allotted time, and her PR jumps on the line to draw things to a close. Then the unthinkable happens. The line goes dead, technical issues. When it’s salvaged she’s still there, graciously waiting. Again, she’s had time to think about the story she wants to tell; this one’s about David Bowie. “I’ve heard from someone who has done a few documentaries on him that he didn’t speak to anyone the day before his Glastonbury performance because he was so nervous, or he was centring himself or whatever,” she says. “That led me to think of how much solace I take when I hear other artists talk about what it means to be an artist, the human side. We all try to present as whatever we try to present as, but there’s all that stuff behind which is difficult to talk to about – that life.” Then, the interview is over. Kylie Minogue, the most human of pop stars, once again keeps the legend intact.
Photography: Jenny Brough
Photography Assistant: Ho Hai Tran
Styling: Davey Sutton
Styling Assistants: Steven Huang and George Jones
Hair & Makeup: Christian Vermaak
Set Design: Ibby Njoya at Future Rep