When you’ve got as many mega-hits as Kylie Minogue, it must be tempting to just stop trying. Because surely, at this point in her career, she has achieved everything she wanted to. She’s scored heaps upon heaps of chart smashes over a career spanning four decades, toured the world multiple times, become a bona fide gay icon, performed at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and been honoured by the Queen for her services to music. Her era-spanning success even led her to become royalty herself, being dubbed The Princess Of Pop by the music press. If that isn’t the benchmark of a successful pop star, then really, what is.
Now over thirty years into her career, it’s not surprising that Minogue’s mainstream appeal has begun to wane. In itself, this is nothing to be ashamed of. There are practically no pop stars still scoring chart-toppers so late into their careers, with even the likes of Madonna struggling to cling on to the lower reaches of the top 40. Sadly, this is just the natural order of things, the older stars stepping aside to make way for new talent. But though there’s little an older musician can do to combat this gradual slip, the way they handle it can go some way to shaping their legacy.
As we’ve previously discussed, there’s no perfect way for a pop star to age. Each has to tread their own – largely uncharted – path through the muddy swamp of decreasing radio play and uninterested teenagers on their own terms. Minogue’s method is one that is increasingly relying on nostalgia, a risky tactic that puts her place on pop’s second-best throne in danger.
Appearing on Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway at the weekend, Minogue performed a medley of her best-loved hits. Accompanying her were Ant and Dec themselves, dressed in a range of Minogue’s iconic outfits, from the futuristic white cloak to the infamous charity shop hot pants. The aim of the performance was clear: Remind the ITV-watching masses that Kylie Minogue is a big deal, a woman who redefined the pop scene and is definitely, absolutely worth seeing live when she goes on tour later this year. Buying her new single wouldn’t go a miss, either.
What was striking about the performance was its reliance on old tracks. Half the songs were from the early years of her career, ‘I Should Be So Lucky’ and ‘The Locomotion’ craftily snuck in to give Ant and Dec’s ageing audience a blast of nostalgia that might, ideally, translate into ticket sales. Aside from a snippet of her new single ‘Dancing’, a fun country-ish bop that’s so far failed to scrape even the lower echelons of the top 40 (and Minogue’s first lead single not to hit the top 20), the most recent song was ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ from 2001.
There’s something sad about Minogue having to rely on a 17-year-old track to drum up interest in her new material, and her insistence on leaning on the same handful of tracks does a disservice to a back catalogue rich in songs far better than ‘Spinning Around’. By spotlighting the same few hits again and again, she risks burying the likes of ‘Slow’, ‘Confide In Me’, ‘In Your Eyes’ and ‘The One’, along with a treasure trove of others. While this might help flog a few tickets today, in the long-run, it discredits her fruitful discography jam-packed with innovative pop. As she drags out the same old hits like a tired pantomime horse, she begins to sound like a dusty jukebox with nothing new to offer.
HRH Kylie Minogue must be saved from nostalgia. She is too pure, too precious, too heavenly to follow the path of Britney Spears, another icon who now relies almost solely on decade-old hits to get by. The relative unsuccess of Minogue’s last album, the hit-and-miss Kiss Me Once, likely caused some panic in the Kylie camp, its failure to produce a convincing hit single indicating the end of her chart reign. But this doesn’t have to be a bad thing. She’s had enough number ones that she doesn’t need to rely on the top 40 any more. She can be free to make whatever kind of music she likes, safe in the knowledge the subsequent album will go platinum no matter what it sounds like.
On ‘Dancing’, a side step into new territory, Minogue proves she’s not out of ideas. Her upcoming album could be one of her best to date – but it risks being overshadowed by songs that came decades before. And though a fun trip down memory lane, there was something about her Ant and Dec medley that felt like a resignation, a surrender to nostalgia act status. But Minogue is no nostalgia act. Throughout her reign she’s been a boundary-pusher, a wild card and an underdog. Now in the fourth decade of her career, there’s no reason this should end. If she can find the courage to give the old chart-toppers a rest and set her sights on the future, we might just find ourselves in a new golden era of Kylie Minogue. And isn’t that what we all want?