She may once have been seen as “Madonna-lite”, but Kylie Minogue has doggedly come into her own as a gay music icon. From her roots as a teenage Australian soap opera actress warbling I should Be So Lucky, Kylie has over the years earned credibility as a serious pop-contender.
It may be surprising to realize that it’s been over two decades since we were first introduced to her: In July 1987 Kylie released her first single, a remake of the 1962 Little Eva hit Locomotion. The song hit number one in Australia and remained in the top spot for seven weeks, becoming the biggest Australian single of the ‘80’s. Twenty years later she now holds the record for the most played female artist on UK radio over the last 20 years.
She has released ten studio albums, two live CDs, seven live concert DVDs, plus her Greatest Hits and the Ultimate Kylie double album and multiple video packages. This is, of course, in addition to 43 singles released internationally.
Unlike other celebrities Kylie has remained remarkably scandal free. She has a
likeability that sees her warmly loved by grandmothers, teenage girls and gay men around the globe. And while her brand of pop hasn’t made any attempts to change the world, her determination to remain loyal to an unapologetically fun-loving and tongue-in-cheek gay sensibility has earned her much respect.
It’s a phenomenon that that some more “serious” musical artists fail to grasp: At the recent 2007 Q Music Awards where Kylie received the Q Idol Award, Ian Brown, former lead singer of the Stone Roses tore into her, saying, “I don’t know what Kylie’s doing at a music awards to be honest. I don’t think she’s cute. I don’t think she’s good looking. Her music’s rubbish – she makes music for little kids.”
In true Kylie style, she never responded to the rant.
The States remains a difficult market for the singer. Her only really big hit with the Yanks was the smash Can’t Get You Out of My Head; her style of euro-dance-pop remains largely ignored in hop-hop, country and rock-dominated USA.
It’s clear that Kylie is best-loved and appreciated in the rest of the world. She’s performed for Royalty in Britain and Europe, received countless gold and platinum discs; three Grammy nominations (and one win in 2004); she’s been honoured with numerous prestigious awards and in 2000 closed the Sydney Olympics. She most recently performed for Al Gore when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo.
She’s also sold-out six world tours, including the critically acclaimed 2006/2007 “Showgirl Homecoming” concert which saw her concluding the original Showgirl tour that was cut short due to her illness.
Her breast cancer diagnosis came as a shock to the world. After all, how could such a “nice girl” be struck by a potentially deadly ailment at such a young age? The world seemed to collectively wish the best for her, something she was certainly aware of:
“I felt those good vibes and well-wishers and I’ve kept a lot of the little cards from them because I cherished them at the time. I really loved them. A lot of them would just say, ‘Kylie, Popstar, Australia,’ or just ‘Pop Princess’ or something and they actually, a number of them, found me so that was really cute,” she says.
“Gay icons, there’s a lot of tragedy in their lives…I’ve had a lot of tragic hairdos and outfits. I think that makes up for it…”
Kylie overcame the difficult challenge with her typical sense of style and decorum – eventually jubilantly returning to the stage. On 11 November 2006, she resumed the Showgirl Homecoming Tour with a performance in Sydney. She jokingly apologised to the audience for being, after 18 months, “fashionably late”. The Sydney Morning Herald described the show as an “extravaganza” and “nothing less than a triumph.”
Kylie’s latest CD, her 10th studio album X, was released at the end of November, preceded by the catchy hit 2 Hearts. It was recorded in London, Stockholm and Ibiza and is her first studio album since Body Language in November 2003. The title came about after fans spent the months before its release referring to the then un-named CD as “X.”
“Whether they’d made that up or they thought that it was called ‘Kylie X’ and so we thought, ‘Well, that makes sense.’ It’s my tenth studio album and there we go, ‘X’, nice, clean and simple,” explains Kylie
While the album failed to hit number one in the UK on its release, as widely expected, it is nevertheless another gem from this now-veteran star. Continuing the journey she began with her classic Light Years (2000) it’s a pop-dance confection, with a few tracks hinting at Janet Jackson, Goldfrapp and even Gwen Stefani.
The coming month will see the DVD release of White Diamond, a documentary which she made with long-time creative director William Baker. It gives fans the unique chance to see Kylie’s triumphant return to the world stage after her bout with cancer. The film includes intimate close up backstage footage and interviews with Kylie about her journey to recovery.
Kylie has long acknowledged and encouraged her gay fan base not only by producing fag-friendly dance music and by creating a flamboyant and diva-like image, but also by performing at gay venues and events (such as at Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras) and supporting gay causes. She has, however rejected the idea that this is some kind of contrived marketing strategy.
“A lot of record companies market directly towards ‘the pink pound’. But I never did that. They kind of adopted me instead,” she commented about her gay fans, adding that, “Somebody once said to me, ‘Gay icons, there’s a lot of tragedy in their lives. But you don’t really have that.’ I said, ‘I’ve had a lot of tragic hairdos and outfits. I think that makes up for it.'”
Indeed, her outfits have themselves become legendary in their own right. So much so that in 2005, ‘Kylie – the Exhibition’ opened in Melbourne. The exhibition featured costumes and photographs spanning Kylie’s entire career and went on to tour Australian capital cities receiving over 500 000 visitors. It then opened at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London in January 2007 where the show set a new attendance record with 8 000 visitors in one week.
January 2007 also saw Madame Tussaud’s in London unveiling a new waxwork of Kylie. This is her fourth waxwork and only the Queen has had more models created by the famous tourist attraction.
Kylie ended the year with the announcement of a European tour in 2008 inspired by the new album, which she promised will be “fresh, exhilarating and innovative.” The tour, which kicks off in Paris in May, was virtually sold out within the first half hour of the tickets going on sale. More dates are expected to be added.
In the Observer Music Monthly section, gay singer Rufus Wainwright recently chose his top ten gay icons: At number four, he placed Madonna, followed by Kylie in fifth spot. At the risk of perpetuating the never-ending Madonna/Kylie comparison, his comments are perhaps the most spot on assessment of the two talents I’ve come across:
“Madonna: There’s a dark force at work here – she subverts everything for her own gain. I went to see her London show and it was all so dour and humourless. She surpasses even Joan Crawford in terms of megalomania. Which in itself makes her a kind of dark gay icon.
“Kylie Minogue: I love Kylie, she’s the anti-Madonna. Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself