Kylie Minogue: Crazy for Kylie!

7.11.2010

By Noah Michelson

The Australian pop star's long-overdue arrival in the U.S. with a brilliant new album proves, once again, there's more to Kylie than "The Loco-Motion."

To see our exclusive photo slide show of Kylie, click here.

On a sweltering June night, deep in the cool, cavernous belly of the New York Public Library, Kylie Minogue is dressed like Cinderella on her way to the Black Party. In a white Jean Paul Gaultier gown outfitted with a harness that stretches from its leather bustier to fasten around her tiny waist, she looks out over a sea of men pushing bits of rubbery lobster around their salad plates and asks, 'Can you believe I'm here in New York?' The predominantly rich, gay, and famous audience -- Marc Jacobs, Cheyenne Jackson, and Lance Bass among them -- have put out $1,000 or more to see Minogue host amfAR's Inspiration Gala honoring Gaultier and Ricky Martin, and they titter appreciatively in response, delighted to be in on her little joke. They know exactly what the diminutive Australian singer is getting at.

Minogue has sold more than 60 million albums worldwide, was the most-played female artist of the last two decades on U.K. radio, and has received an Order of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth II for services to music and a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres insignia, one of France's highest cultural honors. But to most Americans -- the straight ones, anyway -- she is only vaguely familiar, a name they can't quite put with a face but with whom they feel they might have once shared a brief, bright moment years ago.

Minogue came to America in the summer of 1988 -- a baby-faced 20-year-old pop pilgrim peddling a catchy, if slightly dorky, cover of Little Eva's 1962 hit 'The Loco-Motion' -- years before Britney or Christina bobby-pinned their first pairs of mouse ears on top of their heads. She came before Fergie had inhaled her first hit of meth, before Lady Gaga was bluffin' with her muffin (in fact, her muffin was barely out of her mother's oven). But the considerable fame the single brought her in the U.S. dried up faster than you can sing 'chug-a chug-a motion.' By 1989, she seemed well on her way to being a one-hit wonder.

Peter Waterman, one-third of the producing and songwriting team Stock Aitken Waterman -- better known as the Hit Factory and responsible for monster singles from '80s acts like Bananarama, Rick Astley, and Minogue -- partly blames a lack of promotion for the sudden radio silence. 'We couldn't get [Minogue's] people to commit to America,' he says. 'You've got to give America respect -- it's the biggest country in the world as far as record sales are concerned.'

Furthermore, by the early '90s, rap and grunge were taking over the airwaves. Reigning pop queens Madonna and Janet Jackson were dirtying up their images and sound by shedding their inhibitions -- and more and more clothing -- on their albums and in their videos. It was difficult to pinpoint exactly how to pitch the squeaky clean Minogue to an increasingly pop-phobic nation. 'It's very simple to sit in a studio in London and think, This will be a hit in America,' Waterman says. 'But how arrogant is that? We had no bloody clue what would be a hit in America.'

Undaunted by the American lockout, Minogue looked elsewhere and concentrated on promoting her ever-expanding empire -- which today, aside from 11 studio albums, three live CDs, and eight live concert DVDs, also includes bed linens, lingerie, and a line of fragrances. She came to be worshipped as a bona fide pop deity in almost every major market in the world, bar the United States. Minogue was an irresistible mash-up of the girl next door and the simpering sex kitten. Straight women wanted to be her, straight men wanted to bed her, and gay men -- overseas and in the U.S., where they make up the bulk of her fan base -- couldn't get enough of her. 'She's like Glinda the Good Witch,' says Scissor Sisters' Jake Shears, who befriended Minogue when they first worked together in 2004. 'She has a really loving, open, sexy spirit that makes a lot of gay guys think she'd be a great best friend.'

In 2002, she released the throbbing, hypnotic 'Can't Get You Out of My Head,' a clear departure from the bubblegum pop of her previous singles, and the song shot to number 1 on nearly every European chart. Its deceptively simple 'la la la' chorus was so inescapably catchy'and unlike anything else on the radio at the time'that even in the U.S. it launched into orbit in the Billboard Top 10. Still, she forewent touring here, dropping by for just a short spin around the late-night talk-show circuit, and instead chose to channel most of her energy into promoting the single in proven markets like Europe, Australia, and Japan. Other than her public struggle with breast cancer in 2005, it was the only time in the last 20 years that her name resonated in America.

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