Pop music’s hot panted priestess of party Kylie Minogue is back, releasing her new disco-inflected LP Kiss Me Once via Roc Nation, and swapping notes with Pharrell, Ariel Reichstadt and Brooke Candy along the way. Here, she chats about how the album sees her in a steely optimistic mood, and how starring as a judge on The Voice isn’t all armchair criticism and after-parties.
Things you may or may not know about Kylie Ann Minogue, OBE: London museum Madame Tussauds have cast four different Kylie waxworks in its lifespan (only The Queen has had more); she’s the only female artist to have had number one albums in the UK in the 1980s, the 90s, the 00s and the 10s; her classic 90s anthem “Better The Devil You Know” is spun at 12.30am on the dot every Saturday night at G-A-Y, and has been since the legendary club opened twenty one years ago; the gold hotpants she wore in the music video for her first and biggest 21st Century hit, “Spinning Around” were found in a bargain bin in an Oxfam, bought for 50p, and are now insured for £1 million.
But all the prestige and trivia Kylie has whisked up in her decades-long tenure as pop music’s perma grinned Hua Mulan pales in comparison to just how punishingly jet-lagged she is the day Rollacoaster meet her in north west London. She’d just flown back from Sydney to celebrate Australia Day. It’s an advent she could hardly brush to one side because, let’s face it, she basically is Australia. Born in Melbourne, she is to the west all it means to be from a corner of the world represented by a handful of prejudice-riddled soap operas: sunny, socially inclusive, criminal record-clean, occasionally salacious and eternally easy on the eye.
This March, she releases her twelfth LP, Kiss Me Once. Thumbing through the eleven-strong list of tracks, an hilarious triptych of sex-related song titles jump to the fore: “Sexy Love”, “Sexercise”, and Giorgio-esque disco funker “Les Sex”. Is she on some kind of sexual pilgrimage following her sad break-up with model boyfriend Andrés Velencoso back in October? She certainly taken a few giant leaps since then, and even at the height of 5’ 0” (sorry, Kylie).
The first was signing to Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label last year – an imprint known for launching the careers of Rita Ora and J. Cole – after a split from her manager-of-twenty-five-years Terry Blamey. All the separation and loss that proceeded Kylie’s 2010 LP, Aphrodite (Kylie’s breast cancer scare was under a decade ago, too) may have left the weaker willed with the complexion of a fifty-a-day busker, chiming their way through Patti Smith’s Radio Ethiopia on a busted Jag-Stang. “Signing to Roc Nation was an epiphany – not to go with them, but to make a change. I didn’t know where I was going – but my epiphany was a horizon with nothing on it,” she says. “I don’t normally have anything near to that kind of clarity- and I don’t know how many you have in your life, but that was definitely one. I met with [Roc’s co-owner] Jay Brown and I happened to be reading a book called [Malcolm Gladwell’s] Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking at the time, which helped me decide in the first 60 seconds that I met him – ‘You’re the one, let’s do it’.”
Kylie knows her fans fell in love with her for her music’s bounce and steely optimism (see her flit around a dimly lit villa in head to toe Dior with French actor Clément Sibony, in the video for lead single “Into The Blue” – a song she co-wrote on her 45th birthday). It’s why Kiss Me Once was never going to be anything but winning and up (and not relive her slightly sombre mid 90s, when she collaborated with the likes of Scratch Acid [the mournful “Confide In Me” from 1994’s eponymous fourth LP], and Nick Cave [the beautiful “Where The Wild Roses Grow”, from The Bad Seeds’ 1995 album Murder Ballads]). It’s also why the album’s brilliant Sia Furler-penned title track is one of the most spirited pop tracks of 2014 so far. Kylie’s Furler partnership is a masterstroke: the music industry quaked slightly when the Adelaidean released her good-upsetting lead single “Breathe Me” back in 2004, and waited at her door for years for more. Keeping a low profile but continuing a solid run of output, Furler wrote songs for the likes of Ke$ha and Rihanna – but none of which touches “Kiss Me Once”.
“I definitely went into this album with more of a sense of a purpose, of regeneration,” she says, hopping on the studio’s £16,000 burnt umber couch (“I feel like I want to go interiors shopping in the place, or something.”). “But it’s great because it sounds like me – I feel like me when I sing the songs. Lyrically, it’s where I’m at the moment: the feeling of euphoric pop, but that there is some melancholy in my life, too.”
Elsewhere on the record (named partly because of its risqué ambiguity, and partly because of the intentionally hashtag-friendly acronym, KMO), pop’s fame-making savant Ariel Reichstadt (Florence, Sky Ferreira, Haim) co-produces “If Only” and Pharrell chips in to pen the sticky “I Was Gonna Cancel” (a Jay Brown hook-up). “Pharrell is so in control in the studio, like a scientist in his lab. It’s quite awkward working with new people sometimes, because you don’t know how it will work. You’ve just got to feel it out. But he was amazing.” Last year, there was rumour that the album was to feature silicone-obsessed Tumblr rapper Brooke Candy on a song called “Get It Up Ya” . The final tracklisting says otherwise, but suffice to say the Dalston paving slabs that roof trans/alt club Vogue Fabrics quaked uncontrollably the day Diesel launched the news on their site.
This new sense of purpose fuelled Kylie’s decision to join fellow celebrity judges at ITV’s popstar recruitment series The Voice – that, and will.i.am gate crashing a meeting she was in. “I had a meeting in LA with Jay Brown and the producers from The Voice UK and Will surprised everyone by saying he was coming, too. He pretty much bombed my meeting,” she laughs, before opening up about the chat. “They told me all the stats about how it would boost my record sales and all that, but I’d heard it all before. I said, ‘That’s great, but my question is to Will – How has the experience impacted you?’ He said he learnt a lot about himself and how he reacts with his audience, and it’s true. If you’re going to be someone other than yourself every day on the show, you’re going to have to be Meryl Streep; a great actress. You have no option but to be yourself, and it’s kind of liberating. At the end of a 13 hour day, when there’s still all those cameras about, there’s nowhere to hide. You have to let go.”
Did she consider the fun her fellow pop singer sister Dannii was having as a panelist on rival programme The X Factor, ahead of agreeing to join the show? “Fun wouldn’t have been the word that comes to mind,” she says. “I’ve seen my sister go through it, and she loves it, but I know from watching her over the years, it’s full on.” Ultimately, Kylie’s brand of calculated optimism steered the way. “I was putting my list of pros and cons up. I’ve had a lot of experiences, but I haven’t had an experience like this. What’s the worst that can happen? You make a fool of yourself, but I’ve already done that over and over and over again, anyway. Let’s try it. And actually, it’s been a great experience.”
Of course, it’s had its heartbreaking moments, too. At best, The Voice has forced Kylie to deal with self-doubt head on and in conjunction with life in the public eye. At worse, she finds the show’s rejection process next to unbearable. “Initially, I was like, ‘Don’t be too buzzer happy, just cool your boots’. You have to say ‘no’ a lot, and I don’t like that. That’s the uncomfortable part of the show.” In episode three, she marched onto the stage to whisper into the ears of a young and mortified singer called Miles Anthony, whom the team had just sent home. “Don’t beat yourself up. We all mess up sometimes,” you can just about hear her say. It’s really difficult to watch. “I was really rocked by that. I naturally fret and get to work the next day and wonder if the person who’s heart I broke was alright. I want to turn around for everyone.” The worry and long days have made her ill, she says. “I was so sick for three days on the show. My cup had Lemsip in it – it may have looked like water, but it was Lemsip. I was high as a kite that evening.”
But Kylie has always been much, much more to her true fans than the grin and “The Loco Motion.” Despite her various high profile set backs – her broken relationships with fellow Neighbours star Jason Donovan in her late teens, INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, who died of autoerotic asphyxiation years after the pair separated, and French actor Olivier Martinez – Minogue has remained both a ray of light and an active philanthropist. She’s been a lifetime supporter of charities and research programmes like The NSPCC, Childline, and the American Foundation for Aids Research, donating thousands on thousands to each. After her cancer scare, the singer she set up a charity concert to raise money for research foundations. After the Boxing Day 2005 Indonesian tsunami, she spent a week in Thailand helping those affected.
In 2006, singer Rufus Wainwright famously summed up all that is pure and positive and life affirming about Kylie, and I could hardly have said it better. “I love Kylie, she’s the anti-Madonna. Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself inside out. She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.”
Words: Jack Mills
Styling: Matthew Josephs
Photography: Liam Warwick