Over the last 20 years, Kylie Minogue has gone from coquettishly singing ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ on children’s television to strutting around impossibly huge stages surrounded by dancing robots, twirling gymnasts and more bright lights than a month of Christmases. But now, in her 40th year, Kylie faces a challenge the likes of which she has never seen before. A task of incredible – no, nigh-impossible – immensity that can nevertheless be summed up in a single question: how do you out-kitsch Atlantis?
‘Well it certainly is something,’ she laughs down the phone to the Time Out office. Right now she’s in her adopted home of England, preparing for the latest leg of her X tour [to promote her latest album of the same name], which will kick off with a private gig at Dubai’s favourite crazy hotel. And it’s obvious she’s been giving it some thought. ‘I think I have to unite with the venue. Normally I have to create the atmosphere, create that world, so to be stepping into a world that is already incredibly…’ She pauses. Over the top, we venture? ‘Constructed and… yes, OK, over the top – I think I’m going to feel perfectly at home.’
Atlantis won’t be her only stop in the emirate – she’ll also be doing a bigger public performance at Festival City. So what’s the difference between the two? ‘The Atlantis show is shorter, so I’ll mainly be doing hits there. In fact I think they’re all hits. And then it’s back to the regular tour show, which includes a number of songs from X and also songs going right back to the beginning. It’s a big change from years ago when I didn’t have enough songs to actually fill a concert. Now the hardest part is deciding how many we can squeeze in and what we can lose.’
She’s not kidding. In the last 21 years Kylie Minogue has released 52 singles and 10 albums. And since she swapped the grease-covered workboots of Charlene, her mechanic character in Aussie soap opera Neighbours, for a pair of dancing shoes, Kylie has rarely strayed from top 40 charts all over the world. But that’s not to say that her career hasn’t had its ups and downs. After achieving amazing success in the late ’80s and early ’90s with cheesy and cheerful pop classics like ‘The Locomotion’ and ‘Better The Devil You Know’, the late ’90s saw her career going through a low ebb as collaborations with indie boys Nick Cave and The Manic Street Preachers failed to pay off commercially. Happily, the new millennium came around and all past sins were washed away as ‘Spinning Around’ became the first in a series of credible pop hits that would fling her back to superstardom. It’s a position in which she’s remained ever since, even after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, throwing her life (and career) into turmoil.
In fact, post-2000 Kylie has gone further than she’s ever been before, becoming a bona fide disco doyenne, arguably on a par with the likes of Madonna and… well, just Madonna really. Ever since Cher apparently had her entire body surgically replaced with that of a terrifying robot and ran off to do Vegas cabaret, Kylie has become the only person with the glamour, the cachet and the experience to go toe-to-toe with Madge.
So can Kylie see herself, Madonna-like, still leaping and gyrating at 50? ‘Oh, that’s the big question,’ she says, uncomfortably. ‘I have days where I could very easily imagine that and others where it’s absolutely not on my radar. It’s something I don’t know the answer to. But my stage show and stage persona have changed over the years, and in the same way I think age will bring different restrictions on how I present the show.’
This euphemistic talk perhaps belies a little discomfort at the thought of growing old. And that’s natural, of course, especially when the media – us included – insist on bringing it up. We feel a little guilty as we ask how she felt at turning 40 this year, but she takes the question in good humour. ‘I can’t say that it’s been without moments of anxiety – that’s a long way of saying “sometimes it was”. But I was in the middle of touring at that time, which was great – I was doing something that I love to do – and I turned 40 in Paris, with a quiet dinner with family and friends.’
That must have been a moment of wonderful respite from the endless media chatter over her age. ‘There was so much talk about it. For six months prior to my birthday I was already labelled 40. And I was like, “Guys, give me a break – I’m still 39!” I feel fine now – I think I’d rather just get to it and experience it.’
And that experience has, she says, been pleasurable. Not least because this latest phase of her life has seen her cast off the producers, songwriters and boyfriends that had previously defined her in the media’s eyes. ‘I’m becoming my own woman, which is very liberating and exciting,’ she agrees. ‘I always had a feeling that I’d start to get my act together when I struck 40. And thankfully, so far, that’s proved to be true. It’s about feeling a sense of ownership over what I do, accepting who I am and what I feel about myself.’
Aside from admitting to a little nostalgia about her Neighbours days, Kylie assures us that she’s happy with her lot. Especially since she’s branched out of the pop biz, having released a children’s book, The Showgirl Princess, and briefly returned to acting with a guest spot on popular UK sci-fi series Doctor Who. ‘My CV has a few different things on it now. I’m hoping to do more acting next year – that would be nice.’ Kylie with a CV? Is she planning to throw it all in and get an office job then? ‘I did do typing at school,’ she suddenly enthuses. ‘I always thought I would make a great secretary, but not so much for my typing skills. I would be kind of slinking round the office and wearing a tight skirt.’ We would have offered her a job, but we were too busy choking on our coffee. Kylie – if you’re reading this, give us a call. But let us enjoy that Festival City gig first…
The girl next door
Having played a mechanic in the soap opera Neighbours, it made sense for Kylie’s pop persona to be similarly unglamorous. The videos for 1987’s ‘The Loco-Motion’ and ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ portrayed her as being as cute as a button and as sexually threatening as cotton wool.
From 1990’s ‘Better The Devil You Know’ onwards, Kylie’s videos became increasingly provocative. She also began a much-publicised relationship with then dead-famous, now famously dead INXS front man, Michael Hutchence.
As she approached the mid-’90s, Kylie began another shift into a more credible, muso-acceptable image. The cover of 1993’s Kylie Minogue had her in glasses and a suit, and 1996’s Impossible Princess was co-written by indie band The Manic Street Preachers.
The pop princess
After a few years in the wilderness, Kylie came back hard with 2000’s Light Years. She also developed a more glamorous look, inspired by the ’40s and ’50s pin-up girls of illustrator Alberto Vargas.
After that, Kylie’s shows and videos became increasingly abstract and bizarre; 2002’s Fever was inspired by the sci-fi film Metropolis, and her early 2008 videos were set in futuristic nightclubs. Most recently, however, she’s swung back to a glamorous, mature ’20s aesthetic.