Kylie Minogue Shares the Stories Behind Her Classic Pop Hits
The artwork for Kylie Minogue's new greatest hits compilation Step Back In Time promises "pop precision since 1987," and unlike a lot of the puffery out there, this album cover doesn't lie. Whether concocting ice-cold robo-pop gems like "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," frothy retro disco with "Spinning Around," dark, beguiling gems such as "Confide In Me" or delivering lilting queer anthems like "All the Lovers," Minogue can boast one of the most consistent catalogs in pop.
She started out in a decidedly '80s teeny-bopper lane (making early hits like "I Should Be So Lucky" while still a teen herself) but quickly developed her own restlessly creative artistic vision. Since then, she's continued to thrill and build a devoted fanbase even as U.S. radio interest waxed and waned.
Ahead of Step Back In Time's release, Kylie got on the phone with Billboard for a glittery strut down memory lane and talk about "New York City," the irresistibly joyous ode to sowing wild oats in the Big Apple that is the collection's new song.
Before we talk about your past hits, I wanted to say thank you for releasing a studio version of "New York City." I was at Bowery Ballroom when you gave it its live debut and have been obsessed since.
You were? Okay, so you get it.
The response was insane.
You know the history of it and story of it. We rehearsed it before that gig, the soundcheck, and we were all spaced out with jetlag. And you guys gave us so much energy that we did it twice. So I went back in [afterward] and finished it, so it changed a little bit, but I don't think I've ever done that with a song – done a slapdash version of it just because we were in New York and then gone back and finished it. So thanks for that.
Going back to the start with your "Loco-Motion" cover and other Stock Aitken Waterman productions. Do those songs feel like part of your catalog, or is it like a different life?
Both actually. (Laughs.) It's just a completely different time in life for all of us. And that was the sound then — that and probably rock, '80s big hair rock bands. And that's what Stock Aitken Waterman were doing, and the songs were working at that point in time. So it's worlds away from where I am now, and where we are, but there's no now without then.
What there an album or song where you suddenly felt like adult Kylie taking control of your career?
I think the whole thing was gradual. Some parts might have looked otherwise. The first change was "Better the Devil You Know" in the sound and the lyrics of that song, especially the video and the look. And then I suppose when I signed with DeConstruction in the mid '90s, that was always going to be a different sound, because I'd only really worked with Stock Aitken Waterman so that was quite a drastic change. But most of them have been bit by bit. There were moments [in my career] that seemed like a completely different gear, or "oh, she's taking a right turn, we thought you were going to go left." But it's hard for me to look at it with that objectivity because I'm with me all day.
Jumping ahead to Light Years. "Spinning Around" was co-written by Paula Abdul – did you talk to her about it when you took the song up?
I didn't. It was a song my A&R came across, showed it to me, we loved it, recorded it. It's got a bit of a staggered background, where it took quite a while to the right versions of it. Not for me, my vocals were my vocals, but my A&R at the time was like a dog with a bone and wouldn't let go of that song. And that was another change [in my sound].
Light Years was a definite move toward disco after the alt-rock lean of Impossible Princess.
It was a determined, all-hands-on-deck segue back into pop. We probably over-popped pop, if that's possible. Songs like "Love Boat" are so frothy, but then that led the way to "Can't Get You Out of My Head" and the Fever album, where we went more – I remember my key words for Lights Years were "cocktails!" and "sunsets!" and yummy, delicious stuff. And then with Fever we were suddenly robotic and ice cool, like an icy feel.
And Fever is a classic. It reintroduced you to American audiences.
Yeah! Before that I was just "The Loco-Motion" girl forever. Actually, when "Can't Get You Out of My Head" was released, I didn't have an American record company. A DJ played it, this is before streaming, so someone decided to play it — thank you very much — and all of a sudden it's "We're putting you on a private jet, you need to be in Miami this weekend!" And I was like "what?" That took me by surprise as well. I hadn't given much thought to the American market and suddenly I was there again. For that little burst, anyway.
You didn't think it would break through in the U.S.?
I hadn't thought about America. I thought it's just not my market. So then I was trying to keep up with it. But I knew the song was great. Then when it took over and I had all sorts of artists covering it, it just had no cultural barriers. It's probably the most covered song I've ever done. It was amazing and a brilliant time.
And Fever boasts another all-time favorite, "Love at First Sight."
That was a writing session I did in Dublin with a couple guys I worked with on the previous album, Light Years. At one point we weren't sure which part was the chorus or the bridge, and we delivered four or five demos to the label at the time. And we were pretty certain about "Love at First Sight." And it just got a "eh, we're not sure about it." And we were like "what?! Really? Are we that wrong?" And thankfully, they came back and said, "Wait, we do like it." That was probably the first big song where I was really there since its inception. And I love performing it to this day.
Was there a lot of pressure on Body Language, the follow-up album?
Just a little. (Laughs.) We were doing more experimentation with that. As a body of work, it's not as concise as Fever, which would be hard to match, but I did enjoy the recording process on that. The standout on that is "Slow."
And then on X, you worked with a young Calvin Harris before he conquered the globe.
He was great. He was possibly a bit nervous, I think he confessed as much afterward. He was really doing well at that time — Calvin's melody choices and everything he did was amazing. It's no surprise he's gone on to crush everything. And also that was when I wrote "I Believe In You." God, what was that on? That was the same day I met Jake Shears and Babydaddy.
I think that was on another hits comp, Ultimate Kylie.
Oh you're right. See, you're better than me. Don't enter me in a Kylie competition. Do not place your bet on me. I can't tell you how many records I've sold, how many No. 1s. I don't know.