Kylie Minogue on Glastonbury, lockdown and her favourite Kylie era

By Mark Savage
BBC music reporter

  • Published
Some of Kylie's looks through the yearsImage source, Getty Images / EMI / PWL / BBC
Image caption,
The pop star has reinvented her image and her sound dozens of times over the last four decades

Kylie Minogue is in perpetual motion.

Ever since her first TV appearance on Aussie soap The Sullivans at the age of 10, she's evolved from actress to pop star to fashion icon, children's author, talent show judge and even a successful designer of home furnishings.

Her career is defined by an inquisitive restlessness. Even in music, the area where she's most famous, the star has balanced mega-pop hits like Better The Devil You Know and Can't Get You Out Of My Head with more experimental tracks like the sultry electro potboiler Slow or the glitchy, atmospheric Cherry Bomb.

But through it all, Kylie's strong suit has been joyous, escapist disco. It's the first music that she fell in love with, as a child in mid-1970s Melbourne, long before she harboured ideas of becoming a pop star in her own right.

"When I was eight or nine I used to have pretend Abba concerts in my bedroom with my friends," she told Smash Hits magazine in 1988. "We'd put on dresses and pretend to be Abba and we'd prance about the bedroom or the lounge singing into hairbrushes. I was always the blonde one."

After a dalliance with country music on her last album, Golden, Kylie has rekindled her love affair with the dancefloor for her 15th record - the appositely-titled Disco.

Although she started writing it last year, the record was far from finished when lockdown struck in March. Suddenly, the star had to turn her London flat into a DIY studio, surrounding herself with blankets, duvets and even clothes racks so she could record her vocals in isolation.

But for someone who's in perpetual motion, who once professed "I'm either moving around, or I'm asleep", quarantine was heavy going.

"It's hard to dig deep and stay positive," she says, "and I had a moment like that, during the first lockdown where I had to confess to someone else that I was struggling," she says.

"And actually, if I wasn't able to work on the album, I perhaps would have gone the other way."

Image source, BMG
Image caption,
The pop star is challenging Little Mix for next week's number one album

Of course, Disco isn't a sombre reflection on the fallout of a global pandemic. Like Dua Lipa and Lady Gaga, who released disco-centric albums earlier this year, Kylie is prescribing her fans 40 minutes of joyous escapism.

"So much of this year has been about connection, or lack of connection, that to be making something whose purpose is just to reach people really gave me motivation," she says.

Speaking from her London home two days before the record's release, Kylie also talked about the "overwhelming" experience of playing Glastonbury, her abandoned career as a flautist, and which Kylie era is her favourite.

Disco is something you've referenced all through your career, going right back to Step Back In Time. What do you feel when you step on a dance floor?

Depends on which dance floor and which night. At the moment it's a kitchen disco so it requires a bit of imagination!

But I think disco is a place of expression and a place of losing yourself or finding yourself. When you shine a light on a mirror ball, the light is infinite. It colours you and it affects your being in that moment of time. And the night might not last forever, but I think the notion of disco as a place of escape and abandon is something that most of us have got somewhere within us.

You've written some philosophical lyrics this time around. What inspired the line: "We're all just trying to find ourselves in the storms that we chase"?

A lot of that song, Say Something, was a stream of consciousness - but I do believe [that lyric]. Sometimes you wonder, "Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this?" Or "this might not be the safest road to take," but I think it's through adversity that we find ourselves.

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What are those situations for you? When have you taken risks where you've worried about the outcome?

Oh, all the time! It might sound like a superficial way but things like not getting a proper job when I left school and having the dream of acting. I signed up for the dole but I actually never got a cheque because I got an acting job, and then leaving the number one show [TV soap opera Neighbours] to pursue music, and to try different genres within my pop world. Fashion faux pas - there's certainly been plenty of those.

They're maybe not risks with a whole lot of depth or gravitas - but they're risks all the same, that change the course of your life.

Image source, BBC Radio 2 / Sarah Jeynes
Image caption,
The singer played a special set at the BBC Radio Theatre earlier this week for Zoe Ball's Radio 2 Breakfast Show

The last track on the album, Celebrate You, is all about leaning on friends for support. Was that inspired by lockdown?

That song was written a handful of days before lockdown so we knew that something was coming. You know, there was a kind of unsettling feeling in the air and we were conscious - the other writers and I - of the emotion creeping in, and wanting to take care of each other.

The lyrics are addressed to someone called Mary. Is she someone from your life?

That actually came from "mumble-singing" to find a melody. But Mary is all of us. She's anyone who needs a cuddle and some reassurance.

I always picture that song as last call at the pub. All the family are there and maybe Aunty Mary's had one too many. The truths are coming out, there's been some tears, lots of hugs. Everyone's danced, everyone's partied - and this is the wind-down, back to Earth kind of song.

Image source, BMG
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Kylie on lockdown: "We've just got to be strong together and hope for the best hope for better days."

It's nice to hear you talk about the writing process like this because you don't get recognised for it. Maybe that's because those early hits came from the Stock Aitken Waterman hit factory - but on this album you have a co-writing credit on every song. Is it important to you to be in the mix?

For myself, yeah. I don't need to be recognised for it - but I absolutely love the writing process. To me it's like magic: You go into a session with nothing and you come out with a song. And because I don't play instruments, I do melody and lyrics. I need to do that with other people.

Don't you play piano and flute, though? You entered competitions when you were younger...

I did! You know what? I still have my original flute from high school. It was a very handy instrument - you can just put it in your bag - but I didn't carry on with that.

Then I played piano for a number of years and I always learned by ear, so I can only read music very slowly. So as much as I can't play, I have a sense of musicality.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The star's set included hits like Spinning Around, Shocked, Confide In Me and I Should Be So Lucky

When you played Glastonbury last year, it became the festival's most-watched performance of all time. What went through your head as you walked onto the stage?

I suppose the overriding thought was, 'Wow'. I was blown away.

In the dressing room, there's this swarming team of people - dancers and musicians and friends and family - but the moment that you step onto the stage you're suddenly alone. I mean, you've got your band and dancers but in a sense I am no longer moored at the port. You're going out to sea and you're not quite sure what's going to happen.

But by the time I was in position on that set and it spun around.... There's a shot that became a gif or a meme and that encapsulates better than I can what was going through my mind - because I just, I shook my head, I smiled. It was wild to see that many people, and to feel that many people.

After that performance, you said you didn't want to become a tribute act to yourself and that Glastonbury was an opportunity to "wipe the slate clean". What did you mean by that?

I suppose I didn't want to feel like that was it. I felt like there was more music and more new experiences [to come].

And in a way I feel that there was a line drawn - but I didn't want the line to be above me. I wanted it to be a line acknowledging that I did it, I made it that far. I wanted to be able to use [Glastonbury] to propel me to go even further. Not to erase any of the past - that show was a celebration triumphs and a celebration of getting through the difficulties, and to have that history, that 30-plus year history with so many people is a glorious thing.

Image source, BBC / Glastonbury
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Kylie's Glastonbury set came 14 years after she was forced to pull out of a headline slot following a breast cancer diagnosis

I'm thinking about that history and all of those songs and all of the looks you've had over the years. I know fans debate furiously about their favourite Kylie era... but what's yours?

Oh. Ooh. You're an awful person to ask me that!

There's so many and they all represent something different... I'm really, really trying to commit to one - but as soon as my mind thinks of one era, another one will tap me on the shoulder and say, "Wait, wait. What about this one?"

I guesssss one of the eras that really seemed to be galactic in its own way was the Fever era [Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Love At First Sight].

It was just one of those moments where the planets are aligned and everything worked - the songs, the imagery, the moment. So I don't know that I would call it my favourite because I can find something to appreciate in all of them, but I'm going to choose that one, just because it did so well.

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Disco is out now.

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