In the 1980s she went from Aussie soap star to global music icon. Still at the top of her game at 50 and ahead of her first arena gig in Leeds we salute the singer known simply as Kylie..
At one minute past midnight on May 28th this year, Kylie officially marked her 50th birthday in the way we’d all like to usher in our half centenary – with a few dignified words and a racy photo with only a jewel encrusted guitar to protect her modesty.
For Kylie there was no crying into a bottle of gin bemoaning where the previous five decades had gone and no looking into the
mirror wondering who the slightly wrinkled face staring back belonged to. Or if there was, she hid it well.
“And so, a new decade begins,” began that birthday Twitter post. “How thankful I am for the opportunities life has afforded me. 50…Let’s go!”
Truth is, she has much to celebrate and not just because the proceeds from those 80 million album sales are enough to keep her in gold hot pants until her dotage. There’s the fact she has enjoyed rare longevity in business which is notoriously fickle; the fact she embraced her status as gay icon long before it was particularly fashionable and perhaps most impressive of all, the fact she hasn’t crumbled – at least publicly – in the unforgiving glare of the spotlight in which she has stood for most of her life.
And those birthday celebrations must have tasted even sweeter given the previous year had been such a tough one. In the February she separated from her fiancé, the British actor Joshua Sasse and the split didn’t sound like an amicable one. Kylie, who just a few months earlier had gushed so lovingly about him on Desert Island Discs that even Kirsty Wark could barely disguise the lump in her throat, has since admitted she was a little broken by yet another painful chapter in the story which is her love life.
Still it takes more than the brush off from a 30-something actor to keep a girl down and Kylie, who brings her latest tour to the First Direct Arena in Leeds this October, is not only looking as good as ever, but her new album, the appropriately titled Golden, is a pretty decent advert for the benefits of a little heartache.
“When I first went into the studio I didn’t know where I was going,” she says of the making of her first album for four years. “I would like to say I had this bold idea and that’s what we went for, but it actually took about six months to pin down what the sound was going to be.
“That process is equal parts fun and frustration, but once we had it, from there on in it was just a case of elaboration.”
Kylie co-wrote the album with Steve McKewan, who has previously worked with the likes of Keith Urban, and Amy Wadge, who collaborated with Ed Sheeran on his hit song Thinking Out Loud.
It’s dripping with emotion and while it’s still recognisably a Kylie album, she says she went into the studio determined to inject a more human element into a standard pop dance record.
“I wanted to write personal lyrics, I wanted to tell a few stories which were my stories at the time,” she says, never referring to Sasse by name but it’s clear who she is talking about. “The studio by default has to be a safe place, a place where you have to feel able to make a fool of yourself and to try something new. It might turn out spectacularly wrong, but if you don’t try you will never know.
“It just felt really cathartic and once I got the initial stuff out of my system then we were able to refine what we had. Throughout though, I just wanted everything to feel authentic and believable.”
Aside from the title track, if there is one song on Golden which perfectly illuminates where Kylie was when she recorded the album it’s Dancing.
“My greatest fear is loneliness and that song I see as being divided into three parts, a sort of beginning, middle and end,” she says. “The first verse is about that very human instinct of wanting to connect with people. The second is about the point once you’ve connected and that fluttery feeling we all know where everything seems possible.
“The third is about end, but it might just be the end of the night rather than everything.”
Recorded in Nashville, the home of country music, Golden channels a little of that strong, southern belle spirit and represents another successful reincarnation of the woman who made the unlikely leap from soap star to rock vamp via a reign as an 80s bubble gum pop princess.
It was fairytale stuff, but even back when she had just walked off the set of Neighbours and was churning out hits, conveyor belt-like, for Stock, Aitken and Waterman there were signs that she was destined for greater things than a revival of Little Eve’s Loco-motion.
While most serious reviewers dismissed Kylie’s eponymous debut album as lightweight, manufactured pop there were a couple of critics who saw something of substance behind the sweet girl next door image.
Nick Levine of Digital Spy was on the money when he said: “Anyone who denies I should Be So Lucky classic status has clearly let their tune detection muscles turn to flab…The bog-standard S.A.W. production renders Kylie as dated as that haircut on the album cover, and it’s as loaded with variety as a loaf of bread, but the little Aussie pop rocket is already showing signs of personality and the record’s quintessentially ’80s charm ultimately wins through.”
And so it proved. INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who she dated for two years at the end of the 80s, has often been credited with pulling Kylie out of the shadow of Charlene. He once memorably said that his hobby was ‘corrupting Kylie Minogue’ and she has never disagreed.
“I was backstage and somebody said, ‘Michael would like to meet you’,” Kylie later recalled of their first meeting. “I was too naive to think why he’d be interested in me. I just thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’. And then people went back to his hotel room and I went and saw things I’d never seen before.”
She didn’t need to elaborate. However, while Hutchence, who was later found dead, aged just 37, in a Sydney hotel room, might
have been the catalyst, Brand Kylie wasn’t all his making. She has always been a grafter and admits in those early days it was a bit of a baptism of fire.
“I didn’t know what I was doing. I learnt everything on the job,” she told the BBC earlier this year. “It wasn’t like I had been doing lots of gigs and then I released a record. It was the other way around. I never felt like I had to fight as a woman, but I did have to fight as an artist and as a person.”
She showed that same fight when she made her comeback after recovering from breast cancer. Dressed from head to toe in feathers, the 2006 Showgirl Homecoming Tour was nothing short of a triumph. These days Kylie no longer has to fight in her professional life, but her personal life continues to be a little bruising. She is currently dating GQ creative director Paul Solomons and rumours of the pair’s engagement have been flying, but as she said herself: “You need a lot of luck to find people with whom you want to spend the rest of your life. Some people manage to find their soul mate. Others don’t. I think love is like a lottery.”
Whether Solomons proves to be the one or not, being 50 appears to be suiting Kylie.
“I don’t know if it is the 50 thing, it probably has a lot to do with it, but life is maybe slowing down, which sounds ridiculous because there is still so much going on. The difference is it’s happening at a slightly different pace, and in a different head space, and a different understanding.
“When we were recording the new album, there were a few words that I wanted to get into a song. I didn’t know how, and I didn’t know where, but they were ‘We’re not young, we’re not old, we are golden’. What I meant by those words is that whatever point of life we are at, we are who we are. We can’t be younger or older, all we can really do is try to shine and be strong and malleable and all the things gold represents.”
And right now, Kylie seems to be listening to her own advice.
Kylie, Golden, Leeds First Direct Arena, October 4th. firstdirectarena.com