On the one hand, in the pop music arena, worldbeaters such as Kylie Minogue are few and far between. Singers and performers of her stature and popularity rarely maintain their power for as long as she has. Her streaks of number one singles in both Australia and the U.K. are nearly insurmountable. And yet, on the other hand, her inability to really crack open the American pop market over the course of her career is a story that is heard all too often from groups hailing from nations as pop powerful as Australia and the U.K. Eventually, with the hugely successful “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Kylie would rattle the American pop psyche, reminding the rather insular scene that the bubbly girl who had first made waves with the 1987 cover of “The Loco-Motion” had developed into a stylish, experienced, and able pop performer with a clear agenda — both musically and visually — and the chops to match. To focus on Minogue’s American problem would only be looking at a small fraction of the larger story.
Born in Melbourne, Australia on May 28, 1968, Kylie began acting in television dramas at the age of 12. Although the small roles brought her a fair bit of exposure, it was her 1986 debut on the insanely popular soap Neighbours that catapulted her to stardom. In Australia, Minogue’s role as the tomboy Charlene won her a number of awards, but in Britain, the exploits of that character and her love interest — played by the actor Jason Donovan — attracted record numbers of television viewers, and made the Aussie drama one of the most watched shows in the U.K. Understanding Minogue’s megastar potential, as well as her ability to vamp and sing, Mushroom Records signed her to a contract in 1987. Her success was immediate, as her debut single, “The Loco-Motion” (a cover of the 1962 Little Eva hit) rocketed to number one.
With Australia firmly behind her move to pop music, Kylie headed to England and partnered with the production team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman. The first track that the group released with Kylie, “I Should Be So Lucky,” would dominate the Australian charts, as well as a number of charts in Europe. Her pop status was further consolidated with her debut album, 1988’s Kylie. While she was blazing a trail across the globe, her success in America at first seemed possible. MTV was showing “The Loco-Motion” with regularity, and it even hit the number three spot on the Billboard chart, while “I Should Be So Lucky” managed to make a few waves as well. But it was not to be, as the American market seemed to balk, not releasing anything after her second album until 2001. As the ’80s drew to a close, Minogue’s stature worldwide only grew. Her duet with Jason Donovan, “Especially for You,” sold over a million copies in 1989, even while being critically panned. A second full-length, Enjoy Yourself, was also released that year, along with a handful of singles that managed to further dominate charts in both hemispheres. In the midst of this pop success, Minogue also managed to appear in her first feature film, The Delinquents.
Many things would change for her in the frenetic decade of the ’90s. She began to trade in her cutesy, bubblegum pop image for a more mature one, and in turn, a more sexual one. Her relationship with the late frontman of INXS, Michael Hutchence, and her shedding of the near-virginal façade that dominated her first two albums, began to have an effect, not only on how the press and her fans treated her, but in the evolution of her music. Released in 1990, Rhythm of Love, its worldwide hit single, “Better the Devil You Know,” and its follow-up, “Shocked,” took her out of the stifling world of teen pop and brought her into the more adult world of dance music and nightclubs. Her career was not without its ebbs, however. As she began to flex a bit more creative muscle, her relationship with Stock, Aitken & Waterman began to grow tiresome. Their sound had dominated for a number of years on both sides of the Atlantic (America seemed to take more to their other star, Rick Astley), but the scene was beginning to move on, and Kylie’s fourth and final album with Mushroom and the production team, Let’s Get to It, would sell disappointingly. Freed from the yoke of both a production team and a mainstream pop label, Minogue began a long trend of collaborating with up-and-coming and hot producers and songwriters, which not only allowed her to roll with cultural trends and stay current in an extremely fussy and fickle genre, but allowed her to branch out into new areas of performance unheard of by most pop singers of her style.
Now signed to the dance label Deconstruction, Minogue released a much more mature and stylish dance-pop record in 1994’s Kylie Minogue. The reviews were not all positive, but the desire to show growth and maturity was evident in spades. The singles “Confide in Me” and “Put Yourself in My Place” were slicker, more stylish, and less hooky than anything she had previously recorded. While the record sold well and Kylie made more movie appearances (1994’s Street Fighter and 1996’s Bio-Dome), the next couple of years were fairly quiet except for the hit single (and seemingly unlikely collaboration) with Nick Cave entitled “Where the Wild Roses Grow.” A dark ballad (with a video based on the Millais painting Ophelia) about a murder — the duet featured Cave as the murderer singing his point of view, and Minogue as the victim singing hers — the single was widely successful in Australia and the U.K, earning Kylie a new set of fans and a new sense of respect for the diminutive Minogue from more arty quarters.
Her eagerness to expand on this collaboration led to the work that would make up her 1997 album, Impossible Princess. While the lead single, the more rock-tinged “Some Kind of Bliss,” was the result of working with James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore of Manic Street Preachers, the rest of the album (for the most part) consisted of further collaborations (David Seaman, for instance) and efforts to expand on the dance-pop that was Kylie’s bread and butter. The album, soon retitled Kylie Minogue in England due to the death of Princess Diana, was successful, but her attempt at developing her sound met firm resistance critically, with many radio stations and journalists writing her off, figuring her career had run its course. Obviously, this was not to be, as Kylie toured the world for the album, selling out stadiums (as usual) and appearing in a number of specialty concerts over the next two years.
In 1999, having been dropped from Deconstruction but signing to Parlophone, Minogue shed the indie influences that guided Impossible Princess and set about creating dance-pop that was more disco than anything in her catalog. The resulting album, Light Years, and its lead single, “Spinning Around,” were huge successes, bringing her critical acclaim for returning to what many considered her calling (big pop and dance numbers) and winning herself a new generation of fans, then currently worked up by the renaissance of pure dance-pop that was the order of the day at the onset of the 21st century.
Her place in pop music history would be consolidated in 2001, and she would be reintroduced to America after more than a decade as well. That year’s album, Fever, and its massively successful (and aptly titled) single, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” were the first to be released in the U.S. since Enjoy Yourself, and the single managed to chart stateside at number three. Even the Grammys began to recognize Minogue, as the first of many nominations (eventually she would win for “Come into My World” in 2002) finally happened that year. While her next album, 2003’s Body Language, was not as big a seller as Fever, it was another successful attempt at broadening her sound (with electro and hip-hop for instance) and winning more fans. A greatest-hits package (her second), 2004’s Ultimate Kylie, acted as a catalyst for her worldwide Showgirl tour, but that was to be set aside as a diagnosis of breast cancer sidelined her.
In 2005, she underwent successful surgery and follow-up chemotherapy. Eventually making a full recovery, Minogue started back slowly, but would eventually finish her Showgirl tour, and in 2007 she released her tenth album, X. While some were put off by her lack of introspection on the record, it was well received and sold well enough to convince Kylie that 2009 was the time to undertake her first tour of the United States. Although limited to a few dates and select cities, the North American jaunt was a rousing success, and an Internet-exclusive album of the New York show was made available at the end of that year. As X was making waves in 2008, Kylie was also honored by Queen Elizabeth with an OBE (Order of the British Empire) for her services to music. Kylie released her 11th full-length, Aphrodite (a set executive produced by Stuart Price), in 2010. That same year she guested on songs by Hurts (“Devotion”) and Taio Cruz (“Higher”), and released a holiday EP titled A Kylie Christmas.
In 2012, she celebrated her 25th year in the music biz with a greatest-hits collection (The Best of Kylie Minogue), a new single (“Timebomb”), an exhaustive singles collection (K25), and an album of her hits reimagined for a small band and orchestra (The Abbey Road Sessions). She also found time to restart her acting career, with an appearance in Jack & Diane and a leading role in the acclaimed Holy Motors. Not one to take a rest, Kylie spent a busy 2013 appearing on Laura Pausini’s single “Limpido,” signing with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation management firm, and recording a new album. In early 2014, she began appearing as a coach on the U.K. version of The Voice. Her 12th album, Kiss Me Once, which featured songwriting and production from the likes of Pharrell, Sia, and MNDR, was released in early spring of 2014. Soon after, she hit the road on an ambitious concert tour that took her from Istanbul to Madrid to Perth, with many stops along the way. The tour was documented on the 2015 CD/DVD Kiss Me Once Live at the SSE Hydro. She kept up her breakneck pace that year, appearing on Giorgio Moroder’s single “Right Here, Right Now” and hitting the top of the dance charts with a spot on Nervo’s “The Other Boys.” She had roles in the ABC Family show Young & Hungry and the film San Andreas, released an EP with producer Fernando Garibay titled Kylie + Garibay and finally, in November, ended the year with her first full holiday album, Kylie Christmas. In the summer of 2016, Kylie returned with a contribution to the Absolutely Fabulous movie, the theme song “This Wheel’s on Fire.”
After signing with BMG, Kylie returned in 2018 with her 14th album, the Nashville-influenced Golden, which included the country-tinged single “Dancing.” ~ Chris True
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