Kylie Minogue: Crazy for Kylie!
By Noah Michelson
Last September, U.S. fans finally got theirs when Minogue brought her For You, For Me tour to North America, for a short, six-city run. 'I wasn't here to prove anything or sell anything and that was absolutely liberating,' the 42-year-old Minogue says, all five-foot-one of her curled up on a couch in the Mandarin Oriental during a week of nonstop events in New York City, which culminated in a surprise midnight visit to Splash, the city's most famous gay club, where she performed her new single, 'All the Lovers,' and debuted snippets of her 11th studio album, Aphrodite. 'That whole tour last fall was from the heart. I might as well have just burned hundred dollar bills because it cost me a fortune, but I didn't care,' she says. 'I thought, I have to do this now or I'll regret it.'
This sudden urgency was, in part, set ablaze courtesy of one Lady Gaga, whose dizzying ascent to power has in a few short months changed the face of the music industry and whose influence on the market now offers Minogue the opportunity to finally win over America. But, paradoxically, rather than cashing in on the Auto-Tuned, electro-scuzzy craze now dominating radio and the iTunes sales chart (and which she has flirted with in the past, most notably on 2008's X), Minogue is boldly going exactly where she began: back to 1988.
'Lady Gaga dropped a meteor in the middle of the pop landscape -- which is amazing,' Minogue says. 'But it meant that we had to take that into account. It wouldn't have made any sense to go down that road to try to fit in.' Instead, Aphrodite delivers lighthearted pop songs -- woozy with crushes, trampled hearts, and late-night excursions to the local disco -- made up of sweeping piano lines, fizzing synths, and layered background vocals, all of which would have sounded right at home on Minogue's debut.
'The record isn't trying to be clever -- it delivers exactly what we want from Kylie, which is pure pop,' says Shears, who cowrote the standout 'Too Much' with Minogue and Calvin Harris. 'When we were writing lyrics together, sometimes she'd put something down and I'd think, Oh, my God, that is the lamest thing I've ever heard! And then it comes out of her mouth and it's absolutely brilliant. That's the beauty of her and that's the beauty of great pop music'taking something very, very simple and injecting it with meaning and emotion.'
'We didn't want to try to reinvent the wheel,' Minogue says. 'We just wanted to make really good songs.'
Really good -- and really gay. Aphrodite was helmed by executive producer Stuart Price, who is responsible for some of the queerest -- and best -- pop music to emerge from the past decade including Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor and Scissors Sisters' recent Night Work. 'I made some of the gayest-sounding songs I've ever made with Kylie and Jake,' Calvin Harris told the Sydney Star Observer. 'I'd listen to it and think, Wow, this is really gay.... The old euphoric rush has something to do with pop music.' Shears agrees. 'I can't stand labeling something 'gay music,' but there is something incredibly anthemic about the album.' For her part, Minogue laughs and claims, 'I don't have any objectivity,' before conceding, 'The songs definitely make you want to put your hands up, which probably makes Jake and Calvin think of being at the club. There's a micro-rush in all of them -- we give you a minute to calm down and then it's 'whoop whoop' all over again.'
But a trip to the club alone does not a gay man -- or gay sensibility -- make. And Minogue's uncertainty regarding Aphrodite's queer quotient is ironic. When her videos aren't directly exploring queer themes -- in 'All the Lovers,' (see above) for instance, Minogue casts herself as a goddess conducting and blessing a pansexual orgy from atop a writhing pyramid of half-naked bodies -- they're soaked in homoeroticism, camp, and the kind of sexual empowerment that has long been an envy of the gay community. Her live shows have featured covers of Boy George's 'The Crying Game,' 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow,' Madonna's 'Vogue,' and ABBA's 'Dancing Queen.' Her muscular, kinetic backup dancers are regularly cross-dressed and coupled in same-sex pairs for playfully raunchy numbers (like a shower scene in a men's locker room). Sometimes they're stripped entirely of their gender, reduced to H.R. Giger'inspired drones that worship Minogue, their alien queen, or dressed as a jubilant gang of futuristic pop-and-lockin' androids. It's almost as if Minogue is attempting to push past our obsession with sex and sexuality to free herself, and us, from its limitations.