Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue returns | How the pop princess has endured by mastering reinvention

You don’t sell more than 80 million records in a career spanning three-and-a-half decades without some instinctual understanding of staying power, but Kylie Minogue has defied the odds in a way few can rival. With her sixteenth studio album Tension out this week – heralded by the huge popularity of its lead single ‘Padam Padam’ – Jasmine Valentine explores the pop star’s aptitude for reinvention.

Every so often, there comes a woman so exceptional that she crafts the world of pop music to her image. If all goes well, it stays that way for years – even decades – while she shifts and shapes into something new. Typically, these women in it for the long run have tended to be eponymous, such as Cher and Madonna. Most recently, this praise has (rightfully) been heaped onto no-surname-needed Kylie, who at 55 has continued to serve the wealth of fans she’s built up.

This year, that means the release of her sixteenth studio album, Tension. Three years after her last release, she held the international charts in the palm of her hands with her surprise hit of the summer, ‘Padam Padam’. Everywhere from local gay bars to high streets played the song on repeat, spawning social trends and placing Kylie back at the summit of both UK and US charts.

Indeed, with her forthcoming album’s title track– the lyrically risqué dance track ‘Tension’ – out now, the flames of hype have started to ignite once more from her fandom, in a way ‘Padam Padam’ established after its release in May. In short, Kylie is resonating like never before and is doing so in a way she’s not yet tried.

But how did she get here? The once plucky Australian soap star from Neighbours used to be better known for her acting chops, chasing around after then-heartthrob Jason Donovan. Her 1998 debut album Kylie propelled the child actress into the music spotlight with songs like ‘Locomotion’. You could easily make the case that after her first album, the hits never really stopped. Pretty much every Kylie album contains songs that not only people can name but will say is a certified banger.

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From ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ to ‘Better The Devil You Know’, ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ to ‘Timebomb’, Kylie has provided a soundtrack for multiple generations to savour and relish. While doing this, she’s constantly reinvented herself – a musical Doctor Who, constantly appealing to the world around her.

Kylie Minogue

Photo: Chris Jackson

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was all about fuelling the happy-go-lucky vibe. The need for feel-good pop was a demand that couldn’t match the supply, and Kylie was only too ready to fill the gap. This then branched into a sexier sense of self as the 90s went on, resulting in the early 2000s corker of an album, Fever. For the uninitiated in Kylie’s mythology, visuals of the singer in an all-white hooded suit with a scandalous amount of cleavage will rival ones of her dancing on a bar top in a halterneck and shiny gold hotpants.

In the mid 2000s things go dark, things took a personal turn for the worst, when Kylie was diagnosed with breast cancer. Not only does she come out the other side, but she’s armed with an album in the form of X when she does. Songs such as ‘2 Hearts’ and ‘Wow’ slide Minogue into a sultry jazz era, reflecting the spirit of a woman who knows exactly who she is and isn’t afraid to show it. Even though nine albums had been released in the 15 years since her debut, it’s 2010’s Aphrodite that marks Kylie in her full bloom. It’s an album that showcases Minogue at her peak self, evolving to the ever-changing landscape as she embodies the goddess she is.

Kylie Minogue

Kylie Minogue in her Aphrodite era. Photo: Friedemann Vogel

Though her albums are each a shining example of what she continues to get right, there have been notable instances of Kylie being in a dialogue with the world around her. Filling the Legends slot at Glastonbury in 2019, she broke records at the time for the largest crowd assembled on a festival Sunday, with her live performances racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. Her master plan? Assemble a rip-roaring collection of her best hits, tied-in with the current bops she was continuing to pump out. Her staging and performance had been re-thought out for a festival audience, with her demeanour never precocious, complacent or patronising.

The same thing happened when she entered another incredibly saturated market: the art of the timeless Christmas album. Understanding this was something that could suit her skillset as well as appeal to her cross-generational audience, it’s now her version of ‘Santa Baby’ that listeners visit as a first port of festive call.

Kylie Minogue Glastonbury

Kylie set a record at Glastonbury and memorably performed alongside the likes of Nick Cave. Photo: Ian Gavan

Kylie has also continually shown she’s not above where she came from, or looking to burn bridges in her past. When the news broke that Neighbours was finally coming to an end, she appeared in a cameo role as her character Charlene, much to the delight of longstanding Kylie and Jason fans.

So just how has Kylie Minogue managed to maintain a 40-year career high? When her career is looked at closely, the answer isn’t something singular. What first strikes people and fans about Kylie is her lack of fear. She acts as a chameleon in her craft, able to thrust herself into whatever social phenomena, needs or wants she finds herself confronted with.

Kylie Minogue

Over the years, Kylie has never been the same woman twice, yet has always managed to hold onto the magic that intrinsically makes her who she is. Listening to an unknown song from the ‘80s to now, Kylie’s name and face could be matched to her work without context. She has become so comfortable with her sense of self – or perhaps always has been – that it never knocks her confidence or shows in her work.

At the same time, Kylie is able to assimilate herself with the right people. Back in 2001, the “right” person was Cathy Denis, a successful singer-songwriter who is probably best known for her own 1990s hit ‘Touch Me (All Night Long)’. During a recent interview on BBC Radio 2, Denis revealed that she co-wrote Kylie’s eternal classic ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ in a matter of hours, coming up with the iconic “la la la” opening riff while she was in the toilet.

Before that, it was ‘80s pop titans Stock, Aitken & Waterman who launched Kylie into orbit with her cover of ‘Locomotion’. Today, the “right” person is ‘Padam Padam’ co-songwriter Ina Wroldsen, who has written for the likes of Calvin Harris, David Guetta, and Anne-Marie. Each of them respects their craft and instinctively understands what works.

Much like the crafting of the Kylie persona, Minogue shows no hesitation in jumping ship to work on something new with someone unknown. If life were a detective TV show, Kylie would be best known for keeping her finger on the pulse. Staying overwhelmingly connected with her audience, she’s able to give the people what they want on both sides of the creative coin – the apex of what artists strive for. As a show of appreciation, fans take Kylie straight back to her true home: the charts.

Kylie Minogue BBC Radio 2

Kylie Minogue performing at BBC Radio 2 In The Park. Photo: Cameron Smith

In the present moment, all of this manifests in Tension becoming the next best thing since the pop equivalent of sliced bread. Each song preview or visual teaser only offers up more evidence that the album is set to be Kylie’s biggest and most anticipated success story since 2010’s Aphrodite, which was the last time she made the U.K charts prior to 2023.

So far, Kylie has put it all on the line to reinvent her pop once more, and her efforts are paying off. And if the album ends up missing the mark entirely, it won’t matter: Kylie Minogue will reinvent herself all over again.

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