Kylie Minogue: Her Story So Far

Kylie Minogue: Her Story So Far

Kylie Minogue, a global music sensation who, though she hasn’t made as big a mark in the U.S. as she might have hoped, has been a star pretty much everywhere else for more than a quarter century now, has been in the news of late for two reasons. First, she signed a management contract with Roc Nation, a music label headed by Jay-Z.  He might at last secure her props from the ‘States.

Second, she rocked a striking mustard-yellow dress at a pre-Grammy Awards event this month. These are surely good reasons for a bit of a trip down memory lane.

When Kylie first appeared up on the music scene, she was just another dime-a-dozen pop princess, doing a song that was already then (in 1987) achingly familiar, The Loco-Motion.

Kylie’s Loco-Motion is not in any way an improvement upon that of Little Eva in 1962, [recorded six years before Kylie’s birth, and seven years before the birth of Shawn Corey Carter, aka Jay-Z] and I have to say, probably reflecting my own generational biases all too well here, that the definitive version remains that of Grand Funk Railroad in 1974. One odd change in lyrics does set Minogue’s version apart, though. Instead of motion “like a railroad train” she proposes motion “like a railway train.”

The Big Screen

The Delinquents (1989)

Minogue has performed in several movies. I’ll mention only three here. Her first role was in the 1989 flick “The Delinquents,” as Lola Lovell. This whole movie was a piece of young-lovers-are-so-cute escapism, in which the singer played a teenager in the Australian town of Bundaberg in 1950. Her character becomes pregnant by “Brownie” Hansen (played by American actor Charlie Schlatter). Lola and Brownie run away from their home town in expectation that that way they can have the baby together and live happily ever after without interference from their parents or the welfare agencies.  After various melodramatic twists and turns, they are to be found back at home and married in a proper wedding with both of their families in attendance.

Minogue sang “Tears on My Pillow” for the soundtrack.  “Tears” is a genuine period doo-wop song, done back in the day by Little Anthony.  It was the work of composers Sylvester Bradford and Al Lewis. You cannot listen to Little Anthony doing this without ingesting the whole doo-wop era. It’s in the background, it’s in the foreground, and it’s around the sides.

Here, though, is how Minogue did it. And you can see, even in the background of the track the Little Anthony type of Doo-Wop sound is only a spectral presence. Meanwhile in the foreground Kylie’s own singing is something else entirely. And peeking out from around the sides? – more than a hint of Olivia Newton-John of Grease.

Petra Von Kant

In 1996, Minogue got involved in something a bit campier. She was Dr. Petra von Kant in Bio-Dome.  This movie was an effort at starting a Bill-and-Ted type comedy pairing, in which the characters Bud and Doyle would provide the laughs and various straight men and straight women would chew up the scenery. But those central characters, played by Pauly Shore and Steven Baldwin respectively, stunk up the joint, so this movie and the whole idea of a franchise disappeared quickly. Minogue called it her worst career move.

Nonetheless, it did give the world this classic moment. By this time clearly the chomper of that carrot was no longer an interchangeable pop princess. She was doing her own thing. Sometimes, when you do that, it doesn’t work. But if you’re brave, you plough on.

The soundtrack of Bio-Dome is as easy to forget as the movie, and Minogue/von Kant made no contribution to that.

Dance Floor Diva

Ah, but from here on her career is more of a triumphal progression than a struggle. In the 21st century, Minogue has been carving out her considerable market share of the dance floors of the world. In 2002 she released “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”  The video for this song has its own attractive weirdness, but it’s the music itself, the hypnotic techno-beat and the almost-as- hypnotic chanted chorus that make this a memorable booty-shaker. It was all over the radio waves in the U.S. Or maybe it just seemed that way at the time; because the chorus is so hard to … well … get out of one’s head.

In 2004 Minogue advanced her dance floor diva cred, winning the Grammy for Best Dance Recording for “Come Into My World.” It beat out formidable competition. The other nominees for that award that year included two other career-extension marvels: Cher, “Love One Another,” and Madonna, “Die Another Day.”

Billboard magazine, in a piece written that January, just after the nominees were announced, praised the selection as a fair reflection of the “diversity that exists in clubland,” and quoted Ron Slomowicz, a DJ based in Nashville, Tenn., who had said, “It’s as if those doing the voting actually know what’s going on in dance music.”  Grudging praise, but frankly Slomowicz sounds like the sort of hipster to be found in any field, which can once in a while hand out such grudging praise and knows it will stand out from a background noise of carping.

She Has Been So Lucky

In 2011 Kylie was on tour, the Aphrodite – Les Folies tour, reviewed here.  The critic for The Guardian was not impressed, and here (in contrast to Slomowicz’s comment for Billboard) one gets the impression not of faint praise as hip praise, but of faint praise as understated condemnation.  “Kylie’s career has never been based on gritty realism but this latest production, themed loosely around Greek mythology, opens up new frontiers in high camp.”  And so forth.

Still: what did he know? Triumphal progressions don’t depend on critics. This tour did 72 shows around the world in 52 cities and earned more than $58 million. High camp sells. Santiago Felipe of The Village Voice said of one of these shows that Minogue “radiated at maximum wattage throughout the evening.” And in November of that year, the Australian Recording Industry Association inducted her into its ARIA Hall of Fame.

Personally, I just want to say I wish Minogue and her new managers well in all her and their future endeavors. Despite Bio-Dome, I have high hopes upon learning that an upcoming movie is in the works. She is to be featured in a musical romance called Walking on Sunshine.

And I’ll end by coming full circle, linking you to a performance of one of her early hits, “I Should Be So Lucky.” She was doing a girl-next-door thing here.


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