The Many Minogues: An Examination Of Kylie’s Obsession With Cloning Herself
Kylie has doubled, even quadrupled, herself in numerous music videos over her career - but what exactly is she trying to say?
In 1997, Kylie Minogue was asked the same question ad nauseam: which Kylie is she, really? The video for Impossible Princess cut ‘Did It Again’ features four Minogues battling it out in front of the camera — Sexy Kylie, Cute Kylie, Indie Kylie, Dance Kylie.
Impossible Princess was all ‘Indie Kylie’, an odd mesh of influences — techno, Brit-pop, vaguely Eastern guitar and drums, electronica — that, at the time, divided critics, though it’s since widely regarded as one of her best and a creative break-through.
It makes sense Indie Kylie is the last one standing at the end, though Minogue didn’t mean it to say the other Kylies were dead. Her answer was always a variant of “I’m definitely all of them”, both banal and revelatory.
Examine any veteran popstar and you’ll find a handful of contradictory identities and eras: for the cynics, it’s just a constant re-branding purely for profit. But for poptimists — or just those willing to find merit in a compromised space — each reinvention is a postmodern fracturing, a shift into some completely new look and sound that’s as ridiculous as it is self-serious.
The commitment is key: and while Kylie’s reinventions have never been quite as garish as Lady Gaga’s or Madonna’s, her ability to change remains admirable, as listeners might otherwise feel confined to their lot in life. Successful too — with DISCO, her fifteenth album, Minogue became the first woman to have #1 albums across five decades.
The shifting itself is the freedom, where a wig or makeover offers the same liberation as the music itself, where pop euphoria offers an escape. More cynically, the shifting is a curse, as (mostly female) popstars are constantly expected to resell themselves, at risk of the public rejecting the pivot as inauthentic or trend-chasing.
Minogue isn’t immune to the latter, though has mostly remained ahead of the curve — sometimes to her detriment, as the electro-pop of 2007’s then-overlooked X was a pre-cursor to Gaga’s The Fame, out a year later.
The shifting itself is the freedom, where a wig or makeover offers the same liberation as the music itself, where pop euphoria offers an escape.
For the most part, though, Minogue has remained pretty laissez-faire and unassuming with her ‘personas’: they don’t announce themselves as performance art, more a makeover with each album. Indie, Pop, Disco, Sexy, Cute, Dance, Electropop. Whatever she is, it remains reachable, even when it’s pop perfection.
As Ben Neutze wrote for The Guardian recently, “The appeal of Kylie has always been in what she represents: the meeting point of the ordinary and extraordinary. That’s not to say she’s an aspirational figure — although that’s true for many — but a transcendent one: the girl from suburban Melbourne who lives in a world where everything sparkles, and invites you inside.”
Still, there are many Kylies to be inspired by — and Kylie is inspired with her many selves. While the ‘Did It Again’ video is the most famous, Minogue clones herself in several music videos, from ‘Confide In Me’ to ‘Chocolate’, ‘Come Into My World’ to ‘Say Something’.
Taking them together, the motif unlocks that meeting place of ‘ordinary and extraordinary’ — the je ne sais quoi of Kylie, no matter her makeover.
Come Into Her World
Before ‘Did It Again’, Minogue offered a glimpse of Impossible Princess with 1994’s ‘Confide In Me’, a sensual, cinematic track that should, in a just world, be a Bond theme.
In the music video, directed by Paul Boyd, Minogue plays six different versions of herself, filming an ad for a phone line, inviting men (or whoever) to call and reveal their secrets. They dance against bright, colourful sets that seem, thanks to the somewhat sinister violins, more like cells, equally captors and captive.
The meta-commentary on the pop machine is barely subtext. But there’s more here than that, as the track hones in on Minogue’s singular talent, an intoxicating ability to do a lot with a little. Minogue’s breathy vocals are never ‘overstated’ (if anything, she’s an unassuming vocalist) and neither are her videos — the concepts tend to be straight-forward even when up-scaled, as in the orgiastic ‘Slow’ and ‘All The Lovers’.
Since ‘Confide In Me’, that gentle sensuality is largely centred. Minogue trades in the promise of intimacy, rather than sex (there are, of course, exceptions), which is why even something like ‘All The Lovers’, essentially a million-person orgy, lands more utopian than hedonistic.
The many Minogues of ‘Chocolate’, ‘All I See’ or even recent single ‘Say Something’ are mostly chorus dancers. In ‘Confide In Me’ and ‘Did It Again’, they’re a promise to be everything a viewer needs from Minogue as a pop star: warmth, no matter the role. But it’s the video for ‘Come Into My World’, from 2001’s Fever, that’s her most acclaimed cloning.
Directed by Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine…, Be Kind Rewind), ‘Come Into My World”s video sees four Minogues wander through a Parisian street.
We start with one, in a tracking shot that sees her pick up her dry cleaning and pass through a square, on a loop, passing ‘quotidian’ scenes: a woman throwing a man’s belongings out a first story window, motorcyclists getting into arguments, parking inspector, painters. She loops, and another Kylie passes her as she leaves the dry cleaners, each picking up a package the other dropped — a small act of kindness in an increasingly chaotic scene, as the street multiplies.
Gondry, as a director, is known for his visual tricks and non-digital effects: he uses body-doubles to fill the street, and splices them together. The world is completely engrossing, this picturesque Parisian square bustling with so much life, multiplying outwards, the video endlessly rewatchable, as you try and spot every tiny detail of each scene.
This quotidian is overwhelming, but Minogue (all four of her) holds centre and lip-syncs the song, inviting us into the magic of the moment.
The scene is so engrossing because it’s so impossible. Not so much for the effects, but for Minogue herself: the image of herself as an everyday woman, completing chores. We’re being invited into a world of a Kylie that can’t really exist, or, if she does, is only fleeting, in moments stolen from fame.
To invite a partner to come into your world isn’t erotic: it’s domestic, an everyday love where you arrive home and tell them about things you saw on the street. To borrow Neutze’s line, it’s the ‘meeting of the ordinary and extraordinary’ — a wonder that barely announces itself, but an intimacy felt all over, banal and beautiful. That’s Kylie: all of it, at once, in every iteration of her being.
Jared Richards is a staff writer at Music Junkee, and freelancer who has written for The Guardian, Red Bull Music, The Big Issue and more. He’s on Twitter.
All this week, Music Junkee is exploring the music of Kylie Minogue. See more Kylie stories over here.