This month, pop chameleon Kylie Minogue returns with a new record deal, a new album that blends country with dance, and a new look that’s equal parts showgirl and cowgirl.
It’s not her first time at this particular rodeo. At the turn of the millennium Kylie was ready for a new chapter. The ’80s saw her star turn on Aussie mega-hit soap, Neighbours segue into a massive teen-pop career, working with hit factory PWL and their song-writing team Stock Aiken Waterman. Throughout the ’90s Kylie attempted to find her feet as a grown-up, going from dance to her much hyped ‘Indie Kylie’ phase. The results had mixed commercial success, though her collaborations with Nick Cave and Manic Street Preachers gave her a hit of the credibility she wanted so badly.
Minogue’s Impossible Princess album came at the end of that experimental decade. A personal and revealing work, it’s now a cult hit with her fans, but the record’s arrival was fraught with problems. The UK release was delayed significantly due to the death of Princess Diana, and it underwent a title change. The album underperformed and it seemed that for Kylie it was time to go back to basics to reboot her pop career.
Minogue’s resurgence would be tied to both a fellow pop icon of the ’80s and an emerging songwriter searching for her big break. Minogue’s A&R stumbled upon a demo of ‘Spinning Around’, whose writers included Paula Abdul and Kara DioGuardi.
Abdul had had a similar kind of pop success to Minogue’s in the late ’80s and early ’90s as she combined her considerable experience as a choreographer and dancer with catchy tracks like ‘Straight Up’ and ‘Opposites Attract’. Like Minogue, Abdul had found her career stalling in the mid-90s and was in the midst of attempting a comeback.
Kara DioGuardi, would go on to pen huge hits for Enrique Iglesias, Kelly Clarkson, Christina Aguilera and Pink amongst others, was beginning her journey as a songwriter. Kylie’s team saw the potential in the track and eagerly snapped it up.
“With ‘Spinning Around’ it was time to be pop-tastic again,” Minogue said in her book Kylie Fashion. “I had happily experimented with different styles and sounds and looks, as it gave me a new perspective, but I was ready to let the sunshine back in.”
Despite being written for another artist, ‘Spinning Around’ seemed perfect for post-90s Kylie, with its lyrics about finding a “new direction” that “leads back to me”. The track was a joyous nod to disco, all strings and dancefloor-ready production. It fit the mood of a time populated by teen-pop, from Britney Spears to Christina Aguilera and bubble-gum pop dance acts like Steps and The Vengaboys, while still feeling utterly Kylie.
Minogue had already earned her stripes as gay icon, sound-tracking the lives of queer youngsters the world over, and performing at Sydney’s Mardi Gras festival throughout her career. With ‘Spinning Around’ she was riffing on gay disco culture and finding a new-found confidence in her campy pop roots, just as mainstream depictions of gay characters on shows like Will & Grace and Queer As Folk were entering the mainstream. As being gay became an ever bigger part of the pop culture lexicon, a bona fide gay icon had gleefully made a comeback with her campest pop moment yet.
I had happily experimented with diferent styles and sounds and looks, as it gave me a new perspective, but I was ready to let the sunshine back in.
The video cemented Minogue’s icon status too, convincing Kara DioGuardi she was fortunate to have an Australian pop star sing the song she wanted to build a career on.
“I was thinking, ‘Kylie Minogue? Who’s Kylie Minogue? I got to make some money or I’m going to have to go back to my real job’,” DioGuardi recalled in an interview with Billboard. “I saw her ass in the video – she had these hotpants on and the video was sick – and I was like, ‘Okay, I like Kylie Minogue. I’m going to make some money here’.”
Those gold hot pants, reportedly bought for 50p at a market by her stylist, made Minogue’s bum tabloid fodder and the video’s use of disco-era fashion would serve as a blueprint for the accompanying album, Light Years. It was stuffed with campy pop gems like ‘On A Night Like This’ and ‘Please Stay’, and cult gay classic, ‘Your Disco Needs You’, a turbo charged Kylie meets ‘YMCA’ stormer.
‘Spinning Around’ was a commercial success, debuting at number one in Australia and the UK, her first British chart-topper in a decade. Pop Kylie was officially back, and to prove it, Madonna wore a t-shirt with the words ‘Kylie Minogue’ splashed across it during her MTV Europe Music Awards performance in 2000. The following year Kylie released ‘Can’t Get You Out My Head’, the biggest hit of her career. The disco-tinged return of ‘Spinning Around’ set up a stellar second act for Minogue’s career, giving her her first US hit since ‘The Locomotion’ in 1987 and cementing her status in Europe and Australia.
These days Minogue is flirting with an ‘authentic’ country-inspired image that is becoming en vogue as acts like Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Kesha shed the spectacle they had become known for. But ‘Spinning Around’ exists as a reminder that sometimes a dose of pure pop sunshine can be just what your career, and your fans, need.