Thursday, November 1, 2012

Brief notes: On Kylie Minogue

I've just read a rather good interview with Kylie on the Quietus in which she talks her way through her entire career. Once again, I came away from it with the realisation that Kylie has pretty much always been the perfect pop star for me - every major stage of her career has corresponded to a matching stage in the development of my own musical tastes with such perfect timing as to almost beggar belief.

 I never really watched 'Neighbours', so it all started with the kid-friendly plastic pop of the PWL years. Cue me, aged 7 or 8 and first starting to go to school discos, starting to realise that hey, this moving-rhythmically-to-music thing can be pretty fun. Additionally, I notice that doing the Locomotion means getting to interact with girls, something which is rather appealing for reasons I haven't quite figured out yet but will return to with a vengeance in a decade or so's time. After a couple of years of this she makes her first major career change, transitioning into more sophisticated material like 'Confide In Me' just I was first starting to really listen to contemporary music as an assertion of my own independence, rather than just singing along to whatever my parents would play in the car. Another swing, another hit.

Then, just in time for my typically adolescent blinkered "Only Serious Rock Music Is Real Music" stage, she transforms again, this time collaborating with Nick Cave ('Where The Wild Roses Grow' was, inevitably, my first introduction to the Bad Seeds, who - equally inevitably - went on to become one of my favourite bands). Then comes the (frankly nowhere near as good as I thought it was at the time, but then again, I was 16, and 16-year olds tend to have pretty shit taste in music) "indie" record, 'Impossible Princess', complete with a couple of songs written by James Dean Bradfield of the Manic Street Preachers...right at the point when I was most passionately obsessed with them, trawling record shops and music magazines for absolutely everything they'd ever done. There's a bootleg recording of her joining them live to sing the gorgeous 'Little Baby Nothing', a song which was originally written with her in mind. It's rough quality, and the performance doesn't show either of them at their best, but I'm still happy that it exists.

So far as I was aware she sort of disappeared for a few years in the late '90s, which was lucky because that's when I was first beginning to explore heavy metal, spiky postpunk and ugly-noise postrock stuff, and I really wouldn't really have been in the right frame of mind for Kylie. Then in around 2000-2001, just as discovering Warp Records prompts my abrupt left-turn into electronica and dance music, and I start to get the hell over my "real instruments=real music" snobbery...bam. Up pops Kylie again, displaying impeccable timing, with the marvellous 'Spinning Around' and then a year or so later the even-more-marvellous 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head', which is quite clearly one of the best pop songs ever recorded. Her 'Fever' album is, completely sincerely, up there with Radiohead's 'Kid A' and Bob Dylan's '"Love & Theft"' (both of which also came out in 2001) as one of my very favourite records of the '00s.

I finally saw her live a few years ago here in Oslo, and it was without a doubt one of the best concerts I've ever seen in my life. Impeccable choreography, brilliant stage design, spectacular pyrotechnics, and a magnificently smart, self-aware sense of camp balanced with just enough sincerity to make it work. As she reappeared for the first set of encores sat astride a gigantic bling-encrusted skull, 30 feet above the stage, wearing what appeared to be a bright red cabaret-drag interpretation of a nazi SS uniform, it occurred to me that this was exactly the sort of subversive theatrical iconography which Marilyn Manson had spent much of the previous decade incorporating into his live shows. But, of course, it was infinitely more impressive and successful. Selling subversion to an audience of pre-subverted Spooky Kids is like shooting fish in a barrel. Taking the same sort of thing and presenting it - completely successfully - to a mainstream pop audience...that's a neat trick, as Lady Gaga has spent the past few years amply demonstrating.

Obviously, it doesn't exactly hurt that Ms. Minogue is also strikingly easy on the eyes (let's just say that her adoption of a more overtly sexual image, and the 'Confide In Me' video in particular, came along when I was at a uniquely impressionable age). Thinking about it, my crush on Kylie has lasted longer than any other infatuation I've ever had with anyone, celebrity or otherwise. But that's more of a fringe benefit, really. The woman is a goddess, and I have absolutely no problem agreeing with the Quietus interviewer's description of her as a "pop genius".

Yay Kylie.