May 2011

Outlier Goddess

Flying just under the megastar radar here means Kylie Minogue gives her U.S. fans a better view

LORRAINE
ALI

A pop icon from Stockholm to Sydney, Kylie Minogue has ruled the U.K. charts since Thatcher was in office, selling out some of the world’s largest arenas on tour. But when it comes to the American mainstream, she’s still on the periphery of superstardom. Despite 65 million-plus album sales globally, she’s had less than a handful of hits in the U.S.—think “I Should Be So Lucky” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head.”

“It’s an odd thing, my relationship to America,” says Minogue, 42. “People kind of know my music and kind of know what I look like. But when they put the name to it all, that’s when something clicks, and it’s like, ‘Ah, okay, you’re that girl.’”

That Girl will pack the Hollywood Bowl when her highly choreographed, glitter drenched Aphrodite—Live 2011 tour touches down on May 20. Onstage, Minogue leads the fabulousness in outfits that would challenge the most seasoned Vegas showgirl, flanked by legions of scantily clad male dancers. With smaller venues getting a slightly altered production, U.S. audiences will miss her magical dancing waters. But she says the show will be just as rich and far more intimate.

“Not exactly the local pub, but definitely more up close and personal,” Minogue says with a laugh. “As a performer, smaller is more terrifying somehow, yet there’s also something liberating about not competing with my 20-year history of shows. For a lot of people, this will be the first time they’ve seen me. That’s a good thing. It keeps me on my toes.”

Minogue honed her stage skills as a child actor back in 1980s-era Melbourne, Australia. The petite blonde got her break at 18 in the Australian soap opera Neighbours. The show was huge in the U.K., as well as in her homeland, and, in 1987, provided a springboard for her first single, “The Loco-Motion.” She rose to Madonna proportions of fame across the pond and eventually decided to devote her career to music.

“Americans missed out on that narrative arc from child actor to pop star,” says Billboard editorial director Bill Werde. “It really informed how people felt about her and, in turn, her music. Also, she’s a dance artist, and until recently, those kind of songs just didn’t resonate here. Now we hear it everywhere— Britney, Katy Perry. But not that long ago, when she was dominating music in the U.K., we were listening to Creed. In a strange way, Kylie was almost ahead of her time.”

Minogue has since rattled expectations by performing duets with the Australian postpunk group Birthday Party’s sardonic frontman Nick Cave and Judas Priest’s leathery Rob Halford. Alternatively, she was bestowed the honorary title of Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2007 by Queen Elizabeth. But her most unexpected role was as the face of breast cancer.

The singer herself was diagnosed in 2005 and now uses her battle with the disease as a platform for raising awareness. “I tried to maintain the privacy I needed, but at the same time, I lead a public life,” says Minogue, who recently celebrated five years in remission. “I felt I had to let people know how things were going and when I was feeling well. It was a badge of honor I never expected—knowing that I’m giving people some hope in dark times. It’s something very delicate and very strong at the same time.”

Despite it all, Minogue quite famously says there has been no real tragedy in her life—just tragic outfits. Which brings us to her status as a gay icon. “I’m really proud of that distinction,” says Minogue. “It’s a genuine long-lasting relationship.” Rufus Wainwright couldn’t agree more. He recently played a benefit with Minogue in New York and referred to her as “gay shorthand for joy.”

“Kylie is one half fairy queen and the other half dominatrix,” says Wainwright. “She manages to be kind and motherly while at the same time showing you traces of her underwear. Only an Australian can pull this off.” And that’s fair dinkum.

NOW HEAR THIS

SONG: “Out of My Head”
ARTIST: Lupe Fiasco

“One of the biggest hits this summer will be this track from Fiasco, off his recently released CD, Lasers. Mid-tempo, with a catchy hook and Lupe’s traditional cool flows, the song features Mr. Steal Yo Girl Trey Songz himself on the hook. It’s infectious and bears the birthmark of an instant favorite. A guaranteed hit.”  —DJ E-Man, music director, Power 106

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SONG: “Lovely (featuring Pusha T)”
ARTIST: John West

“Just in time for summer comes this melodic, sparkling ode to love by newcomer West. Calling to mind John Legend and Robin Thicke, West has a soulful voice that’s already well known to those who’ve cruised Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade in the last four years. The newly signed Mercury/Island Def Jam singer first began drawing crowds there as one of the strip’s more engaging street performers.”  —Gail Mitchell, senior editor, R&B/hip-hop, Billboard

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SONG: “The Birds”
ARTIST: Elbow

“The opening track on the Manchester, England, group’s Build a Rocket Boys! is a flat-out masterpiece. Elbow singer Guy Garvey spins an intoxicating tale of youthful innocence at times reminiscent of Peter Gabriel. The languid build of music and lyrics clocks in at just over eight minutes and will draw you to a faraway place. Well worth the trip, and so is the rest of the album.”  —Jason Bentley, music director, KCRW

*******

Album: Uniko
ARTISTS: Kimmo Pohjonen, Samuli Kosminen & Kronos Quartet

“The Finnish have a curious craving for tango, but like kimchi quesadillas off a food truck, fashionable fusion isn’t always commendable. Pohjonen, an accordion player of spectacular versatility, is the exception. With such fusion geniuses as Kronos Quartet and sampler Kosminen, Pohjonen produces a jubilant, oceanic sonic mix in which, say, gurgling Tuvan throat singers and the newest of soulful tango might meaningfully mate.”  —Mark Swed, music critic, Los Angeles Times

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