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Friday, June 1, 2012

Impossible Princess: Kylie's Silver Jubilee

Elizabeth Windsor is not the only royalty celebrating a landmark anniversary this year. Pop's eternal princess Kylie Minogue is marking 25 years at the top, a remarkable achievement in music's most disposable genre. There are very few acts indeed who can match Kylie's consistency as a hitmaker, but I think her bigger achievement is that she has managed to stay relatable and exceedingly loveable despite being a pop icon. We have watched Kylie grow up from tomboy girl-next-door to sexbomb starlet, kept the faith through her career highs and lows and willed her through her personal crises. Kylie has been celebrating her Silver Jubilee in style, with an inspired Anti-Tour, performing b-sides and rarities in (relatively) intimate venues, and releasing a new "best of" compilation album, due out on Monday. So although Kylie will not be floating down the Thames on a barge or pretending to enjoy geriatric pop in her honour this weekend, it still seems fitting to reflect on some of the reasons why we all love Miss Kylie Ann Minogue.


I Should Be So Lucky (1987)

Yes, we know her first single was a cover of Little Eva's The Loco-Motion, but for most people Kylie's arrival as a pop star was heralded by this most infectious of pop ditties. As a piece of art it is questionable, but as a work of pop it is pure genius. Although the cool kids pretended to hate it, they were all singing it into their hairbrushes in the privacy of their bedrooms. Kylie was already a star through her unlikely role as the gamine garage mechanic Charlene in the Australian soap Neighbours, but the hyper-girlie Kylie we saw in the oh-so-cute video made it feel like we were meeting her for the first time. Who can resist her blowing bubbles in the bath with a hairdo that can only be acceptable in the 80's?



I Should Be So Lucky began a string of huge hits for Kylie under the mentorship of Stock Aitken Waterman. Although it can be challenging to differentiate many of their compositions, with their often plodding and plinking predictability, once they realised that Kylie was a superstar they did up the ante with some era-defining singles, such as Better The Devil You Know, What Do I Have To Do  and Step Back In Time. Inevitably Kylie outgrew the limitations of being a SAW marionette and after four albums she bid them farewell with a firm intention to reinvent herself as a more credible music artist.


Did It Again (1997)

Kylie's first non-SAW album, Kylie Minogue, definitely had a more grown-up feel. The lead single Confide In Me was a solid slab of adult pop, with an amped-up sexuality we'd not seen before from our girl-next-door. The follow-up singles struggled though, as the public didn't seem to be buying in to this new Kylie. Free to experiment, the mid-nineties found Kylie trying out everything from indie to dance, though it was clear none of these new clothes were a perfect fit.



She intended to call her next album Impossible Princess, but it's scheduled release was just after the untimely death of Princess Diana, so it became title-free for while to avoid causing offence. It is fair to say the album might have benefited from some publicity, as it barely registered on most people's consciousness. Kylie's journey of self discovery was continuing apace, but it left the audience slightly baffled. Kylie has always had a keen awareness of how she is perceived and the intelligence to not buy into her own image, so she cleverly played up this confusion on the video for the standout single from the album, Did It Again.



In the video Kylie portrays her multiple personalities: Indie Kylie, Dance Kylie, Cute Kylie and Sex Kylie. The four Kylies compete for supremacy in a spectacular catfight. Although there's no clear victor, Cute Kylie seems to have the upper hand and a baseball bat by the time it's all over. In an industry not known for humility or self awareness, the video showed the faithful that Kylie had not left us and disappeared up her own ego, she was just working out some stuff. Although this period was not a commercial success for Kylie, it was clearly critical in allowing her to grow as an artist and work out what it was she wanted to do with the rest of her career.

Spinning Around (2000)

Many pundits had written Kylie off by the end of the nineties; in pop it is virtually impossible to resurrect a career after two "flop" albums. Reflecting on her musical walkabout, Kylie would later admit: "I learnt that you can run, but you can't hide. I'd been running from my old images, my history, pretending it wasn't the real me". She had realised that the different styles of Kylie could coexist in a new, more confident Super Kylie. She signed to the EMI label Parlophone and begun working on her comeback album. This time she was ready to embrace her pop side, but with the crucial difference that she would now have full control over song selection, production and image.

Kylie's first single for Parlophone, Spinning Around, became her first to enter the charts at number one, both in the UK and Australia, and heralded a new Golden Age. The song was pure pop brilliance, co-written by Paula Abdul, it sounds like a lost sister to her own huge hit Straight Up. It has a funky feel and a sassy lyric, with Abdul's trademark of seeming to cram too many words into the available space. Kylie's voice radiates happiness and she delivers the song with empowered attitude. This was the Kylie we had all been waiting for, and the most golden thing of all was the debut of a 50p pair of hotpants in the classy video that would make Kylie's bottom an international treasure.


The album Light Years was a smash, selling over 2 million copies worldwide. Kylie would take the album on tour and begin to emerge as a significant live talent. Collaboration with her stylist William Baker led to much more ambition in her live performances, with Kylie eating up the stage in a variety of characters and roles. Each subsequent tour would be more ambitious and more spectacular: Showgirl Kylie was born.

Can't Get You Out Of My Head (2001)

It was critical that Kylie cemented her comeback with another huge hit to show that Light Years was no fluke. Kylie had debuted a new song on her tour, but the low key production on Can't Get You Out Of My Head failed to signal the phenomenon that was about to be unleashed. Another iconic video (this time with Kylie in a futuristic city) and another iconic outfit (a Grace Jones homage that no doubt required significant amounts of tape) ensured the song was everywhere on TV, but it was the unbelievably catchy hook that made it by far the biggest international hit of Kylie's career. The hypnotic "la la la"s of the chorus worked like a pop infection, with nation after nation falling to the pandemic. It is as if the song's title works like a magic spell, with the hook literally taking root in your cerebrum. The production on the track is top notch, it took Kylie into the coolest clubs, while simultaneously storming radio playlists and echoing around the school playground. All artists dream of having such a moment in their career and Kylie was suddenly in huge demand from all corners of the globe.



Importantly the song reminded the USA of Kylie's existence, scoring her a top ten Billboard hit for the first time in well over a decade. The album Fever was an even bigger hit than Light Years, selling over 7 million copies, including over a million in the US. Kylie was now building a catalogue of new hits to rival her first coming and another stunning tour underlined this comeback as complete.

Kylie's career would continue to blossom over the noughties, with her albums Body Language and X providing more pop gems for her growing army of fans. We all held our breath in 2005 when Kylie was diagnosed with breast cancer while in the middle of her all-conquering Showgirl Greatest Hits Tour, but she fought the disease and won, much to everyone's relief. The bravery, dignity and empathy Kylie showed through this battle won her a new kind of admiration. When faced with the possibility of losing Kylie, we all came to fully appreciate what a good thing we had.

All The Lovers (2010)

Few would have predicted in the late 1980's that Kylie would still be a hit pop artist over two decades later. Her most recent studio album Aphrodite is another blast of unadulterated pop joy. The lead single All The Lovers was in Kylie's own words "euphoric" and sets the tone for the album. The album feels and sounds like Kylie has finally fully owned her role as pop's high priestess, dispensing hymns of bliss to those willing to receive them. In a world wracked with financial meltdowns, natural disasters and coalition governments don't we all need a little pop cheer? The song sees the many faces of Kylie reconciled; she is sexy, edgy, cute and extremely danceable. It is remarkable in the maturity of its theme, showing how a pop princess can grow up gracefully, acknowledge she's been around the block a few times, but can still make the kids dance. The video is yet another visual feast, with Kylie being carried aloft on a pyramid of scantily clad hotties. She is such a natural performer that, despite the many distractions, it is Kylie who transfixes your view throughout.



The Aphrodite World Tour was her most amazing show yet, with high wire flying and Vegas-style fountains, without doubt the best pop show I have ever seen. The album became Kylie's fifth number one in the UK, making her the first female artist to have number one albums in each of the last four decades. Although she has struggled to maintain her profile in America, throughout most of the rest of the world Kylie reigns as pop's most loved princess. She may be Australian, but she has become very much a part of the fabric of British life in a way that very few foreigners have achieved. She is also rightly revered in her homeland as the international icon she has become.

Timebomb (2012)




The latest party gift Kylie has bestowed in her Jubliee year is the new single Timebomb, which shows she sees this milestone as a new beginning rather than an era coming to its conclusion. Its command to "dance like it was the last dance" sums up the song's theme of living in the moment. The song warns "we're on a timebomb, it might not last long", but if Kylie has earned anything over the last quarter century it is surely the right to expect that the run up to her Golden Jubilee should be equally fabulous; I can't see her party ending just yet. So join me in raising a very fitting glass of bubbly to Kylie and mark this most gratifying of anniversaries. Long may she reign.


If you enjoyed reading this blog, please consider forwarding it or linking to it from your Facebook or Twitter account. You can post feedback below or to my Twitter account, @divasblogger. Sign up for alerts at divasblogger@gmail.com or follow me on Twitter. The Best of Kylie Minogue is released on 4 June on EMI.

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