Kylie Minogue On ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ And Her Pivot Back To ‘DISCO’
"I didn't have a record company in America and then a DJ played it, and next thing I've got a label sending a private jet to get the crew and go and do promotion."
“It’s crazy,” Kylie Minogue laughs down the line from her UK home. “It’s going to be a contentious list, I know that much.”
She’s referencing our recently published ranking of the greatest Australian songs of all time, which placed her 2001 disco pop classic ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ at #1. “One of the most perfect and carefully textured pop hits this country has ever produced,” Joseph Earp wrote of the song in the countdown. “A kitsch, pink-plated train gone careening off the side of a cliff.”
But Kylie Minogue is humbly unconvinced — pleased, but still sceptical. “I’m just looking at a bit of a list here,” she says. “‘Need You Tonight’, come on!”
She does acquiesce a little. When asked why she thinks the song has endured, she’s deadpan: “Well, it’s good, for a start.”
“I just had that feeling or that sensation of, ‘What am I listening to? This is absolutely incredible’,” she says, recalling the moment a demo of the song was first played to her in the Parlophone Records office in London. “Then [I had] a slight sense of panic, I said, ‘Are you sure? Have we definitely got this song? I need this song.’ I just knew it, I knew I needed it. They assured me that we had the song.”
The track was written by British songwriters Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis, and they’d spent a while shopping it around to artist before Minogue snapped it up. Initially they’d thrown it in the direction of Sophie Ellis-Bextor and S Club 7 — but neither act wanted it.
“It was a very natural and fluid process,” Dennis said in an interview in 2011. “The whole thing — and it does annoy me, as it will annoy others — was written in about three and a half hours. We know how hard we work sometimes to write songs and then spend months picking them to pieces, but this was the easiest process, the chemicals were all happy and working together.”
It clicked for Kylie too. She got into the rhythm of how Dennis sang the vocals in the demo, trying to emulate the breathlessness of the original. She wanted it to be dark, to have a bit of menace — “It’s not ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow'” — so she tried to stretch her vocals further, trying to make it legato.
“Sometimes I’ll get a demo where I really try to mimic what the vocalist has done, because it just sounds so good,” she says. “Other times I’ll have to wean myself off that vocal, because it’s not something that I can really do. But Cathy and I have a similar register, I was able to get that tone. She’s a real stickler with these things as well and we just did it how it was delivered, and that was that. No room for really putting ad-libs, it was more about restraint, I’d say.”
‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ is so clearly pinned to a specific time in music — the menace and threat of Y2K hangs over it still, there’s the release and euphoria of the new millennium;- the wide-eyed optimism tinged with fear. There’s a darkness to it that Minogue carries with her voice, equally enticing and fearsome. It also, as Minogue points out, does exactly what it say it’s going to do: it doesn’t get out of your head. The free-flowing song structure, that sticky ‘la la la’ hook, the relentless chugging bassline — it fires itself straight into your amygdala.
When asked whether it’s one of her favourite song she’s ever released, Minogue doesn’t miss a beat. Yes, is the answer, absolutely.
“Gosh, now that nearly 20 years have passed, it just seems like…it just did so much for me,” she says. “I mean, America is not my market, I’ve had little bursts of so-called success. But with that one, I didn’t have a record company in America and then a DJ played it, and next thing I’ve got a label sending a private jet to get the crew and go and do promotion. So it was just its own juggernaut. It really was like surfing that wave and the wave was really strong, so I just had to keep my balance.”
To say it was successful is a woeful understatement — as of 2018, the track had sold over five million copies worldwide, it peaked at #1 in dozens of countries, it went platinum multiple times over in numerous markets, it has been repackaged and re-released and remix a dizzying amount.
The album that came after it, Fever, is one of Minogue’s sharpest, a mesmerising feast of Europop, disco, and techno. On release though, it was met with cynicism from critics — The Guardian reviewer Alexis Petridis labelled it a “soulless product”. “The odds on Kylie Minogue’s career long outliving 2001’s critically lauded rock bands must be as minuscule as the lady herself,” he sneered, in a particularly ludicrous sentence.
When asked how she views the slow change in perception of pop music — from frivolous and empty to worthy of of serious consideration, and the inherent misogyny attached to the dismissal of the genre, she meanders a little.
“I’ve never felt like I shouldn’t do anything that I set my mind to or anything differently because I’m a woman.”
“I just set out to do my thing,” she says after a pause. “I’m asked a lot now about how it’s been, how I’ve found it to be a woman in this industry. I have never been a man in this industry, so I can’t give a true comparison, but I just kept going. You mentioned a review — there’d be a stack, I don’t even know how hard [a review must be] to dim your enthusiasm or dim your light. I’ve remained determined. I’ve never felt like I shouldn’t do anything that I set my mind to or anything differently because I’m a woman.
“I can now look back and go, ‘Well, God, there’s a few photo shoots I probably shouldn’t have done, I kind of wish I had never done, or said some things or done some things’. But that was a sign of the times. I think now it seems that the girls or women in the industry today…I think it’s a much, pardon the pun, a much more fertile environment for them where they can be strong.”
Pivot To Disco
Minogue is a master of reinvention. On her last album Golden she took us to Nashville, colliding her signature disco-pop with country. But on her new album, she’s sticking with one thing, DISCO.
The shift was inspired by the iconic club Studio 54 — on her Golden tour, she inserted a Studio 54 medley into her set, where she’d performed beefed up dance versions of ‘The Loco-Motion’ and cuts like ‘On A Night Like This’ and ‘Spinning Around’.
“It’s just such a dreamy place to imagine being,” she says, a smile in her voice. “Of course there’s the darkness associated with that and in how disco came about, — the struggles for acceptance and equality and a lot of the things that are still happening now. I really just felt an affinity with that era. Of course, I was only 10 when I discovered disco — I never went to Studio 54, but it’s just symbolic of so many things. I knew I wanted to inhabit our imaginary version of Studio 54 again.”
She toyed with the idea of calling the album ‘Magic’, concerned that DISCO would be a little too obvious. In the end, she elected to just call it for what it is: 12 tracks of buffed up and gleaming disco. It’s relentlessly fun, a salve for this year of heartache and isolation. It’s also not just a case of Kylie blowing off the cobwebs of some old disco records — DISCO feels alive, pulsing, fresh and contemporary.
“People in my generation or older, we’ve got our version of what disco means, but it seems that the younger generation do too,” she muses. “It’s a symbol and everyone’s interpretation is slightly different, but ultimately it’s a safe space, it’s the place where you can express yourself and it’s quite dreamy. So, especially right now, it feels like a nice place to at least have the option to go to. Which we don’t, but we can dream about it.”
Kylie Minogue’s DISCO is out now through Liberator Music.
Jules LeFevre is the editor of Music Junkee. She is on Twitter.