Australia's beloved pop princess talks about the making of her new album, The Abbey Road Sessions - which features orchestra-assisted reworkings of 16 Kylie classics - and her burgeoning film career
By Simon Price/Celebritext
Cards on the table, right up front: I believe Kylie Minogue is a pop genius.
And before we go any further, it's necessary to clarify exactly what is meant by that. The rockist, hippie notion of "genius" involves the self-made auteur, toiling away at the coalface with their bare fingernails, carving out a monolithic monument to their own ego. In pop - which is where Kylie Minogue utterly excels - the skill set is different.
Pop, by its very nature, is synthetic and collaborative, and therefore pop genius is about having a vision of exactly what you want, and knowing exactly who you need to work with - songwriters, producers, video directors, costume designers, choreographers - in order to create a heightened über-self, a perfect pop persona to send out into the world.
So I tell her this, and I tell her why.
SP: Kylie, I think you are a pop genius.
KM: Um, thanks, firstly! That's very kind. I guess if you look at it that way, with pop there are more pieces of the pie - therefore there's more risk, because there are more elements that need to work together to make it fantastic. Rock seems to be a different beast, although they still need someone to put their video together, someone to design their album cover... There's not that many people who are completely self-manufactured.
SP: Interesting that you should use the word "manufactured", because by any workable definition, you were undeniably a manufactured pop star when you started out under record producers Stock Aitken Waterman. But, over time, you've become this whole other thing - with, I'd imagine, very strong views on what should be done, from top to bottom.
KM: Yeah, mainly because I'm curious. And I think in the early days, I fitted in perfectly because it was not that different to being in a soap [Neighbours], where you get your lines, say your lines, forget the lines and learn the next lines. And you just punch it out - there's no time to waste - do it, do it, do it, do it, on-on-on-on, that's it.
As time went by, I wanted to be more involved and have more say in the person I was presenting. And then, jump-cut to however many years later, which is nothing short of a miracle really. Perhaps people for the most part don't recognise that it's not been the easiest thing to do.
SP: I first interviewed you 15 years ago. We're roughly the same age. We'd have been in the same year at school.
KM: Ha! And here we both are, still doing the same old thing...
SP: But we're not meant to be. You're certainly not. Pop stars aren't supposed to continue beyond the age of 40. But here you are, at 44, with a new album, The Abbey Road Sessions. Having already been through several media nicknames - Cute Kylie, Sex Kylie, Indie Kylie, Dance Kylie - as brilliantly satirised in the "Did It Again" video, it's only a matter of time before some wag comes up with "Old Kylie".
KM: It's only in the last year or two that that's even been a question.
It seems that my age has to be put after my name in just about everything. I don't feel that old, and it doesn't seem like it should make much of a difference, but in the last year I've had to consider it.
I've suddenly found myself in a position where I'm being a little bit schizophrenic - because there's something like The Abbey Road Sessions, and [its lead single, previously unreleased] "Flower", which shows a more mature, classy side, and the opposite in something like [recent Dirty Vegas-produced electro-house single] "Timebomb" - and they're both relevant parts of me. I would hate to feel pressured to step down from being a pop star! Maybe it's over 50 now when you're meant to stop, who knows.
SP: You had an insanely large body of work - 51 singles, 11 albums and 25 years' worth of material - to choose from when it came to recording The Abbey Road Sessions. What was the process of whittling it down to a final 16?
KM: We had a rehearsal period in a studio that was not Abbey Road - somewhere cheaper! - and we already had a few sketches of how to do songs, but that week was just lovely. We just tried things out, and that's how we discovered which songs would work. I wanted it to represent the entirety of my career, so we had to take that into account as well and choose something from each period.
SP: Were there any songs that it killed you to have to leave out?
KM: I would have loved to include something like "Breathe", which was one of the first reasons this album came about, because we were on tour and we did a little acoustic version of "Breathe" in a dressing room and uploaded it for fans, and they went nuts about it. And for me that was such a simple thing to do, but because of its accessibility they really loved it.
SP: Your shows, of late, have featured a lot of alternate versions of your hits, so it's a natural progression.
KM: The last few years we've done more of a sleazy, club version of "The Locomotion", but the version on this album, I think, might be my favourite one. It's almost taken it back further than when I first did it. It's more like a Sixties track, which of course it originally was. And I haven't done "The Locomotion" like that in such a long time.
SP: You managed to lure Nick Cave to Abbey Road to re-record "Where the Wild Roses Grow".
KM: Yes! Yes! Yes! My god, I was on tenterhooks waiting to see if he'd say yes to being on this album, and I was absolutely over the moon.
SP: When you worked with him first time around, what were your impressions of him, beforehand and afterwards?
KM: The first time I met Nick was actually at the studio in Melbourne. We'd spoken on the phone before that, but I hadn't met him. And after working with him and recording this - ultimately a tragic song, but a very tender, beautiful, sexual song - I speed-read a biography on him. I read about The Bad Seeds, and even before that The Birthday Party, and oh my god, the things they got up to, the life that he led! It just seemed in complete contrast to who I met, and who I recorded with, and what we did together.
And even my performances with him, whenever we duetted, it was very tender. Super-tender. And the first time I saw him perform live, it was at the Big Day Out festival in Australia - we had done our part, and I stayed to watch the rest of the show and I was completely blown away. It was like my head came off. I gather you've seen them live?
SP: Many times, yes. I'm a big fan.
KM: So that energy, and his body language, the delivery, and the fury of some of those songs, just made him more amazing and more of a mystery to me.
SP: And yet, in real life, he's the perfect gentleman.
KM: Exactly! So with everything I knew about his history and his reputation, his greatness and his genius, his cerebral nature - you know, he's like a poet - it wasn't a surprise to find he's a true, true gent.
SP: I've seen you say that he helped your reconciliation with your own past.
KM: Yeah, it's very true! When we worked together, I was going through my whole "impossible princess" stage. And Nick said to me he wanted to hear me sing pop music. And the big turnaround was at the Poetry Olympics at London's Royal Albert Hall, reciting "I Should Be So Lucky", which he willed me into doing.
I tried to find numerous excuses not to do it, but I did it, and it really set me on a different course. I just went, "Okay, that's it! I'm facing That Girl." From that moment on, I learnt to embrace my past and embrace pop.
SP: You've been in the papers a lot recently because you filmed a lesbian love scene [in Jack and Diane with Riley Keough, Elvis Presley's granddaughter]. Again, like the Nick Cave duet, it's quite a daring move that might challenge some people's perceptions of you.
KM: Yeah, but in my head it doesn't seem daring. It's like a breath of fresh air to be able to do something different, to go off the tracks a little bit. When I saw the script, I was totally fine with it.
SP: You also featured in Holy Motors, a surrealist fantasy by French director Leos Carax. Is acting becoming a priority for you again?
KM: I would definitely love to give it more space in my brain, which should lead to more space in my life, which should lead to more opportunities. The very small part I have in Jack and Diane, and then the role in Holy Motors, just reignited that desire that's always been hanging around. It was so rewarding to do Holy Motors.