KYLIE MINOGUE DOESN’T MAKE TRENDS SO MUCH AS RIDE THEM. Like fellow cultural icon Madonna (forever the female pop ideal), the pint-sized Australian pop behemoth — at least outside of North America — has forged her own path. She transitioned seamlessly from TV actress to teen pop star to international phenom, fending off commercial flops, cancer and the paparazzi (thanks to a rash of celebrity paramours) along the way. As Minogue releases her 14th studio album, Golden, we look back on the megastar’s long career of hits and misses.
1968 to 1985
Kylie Ann Minogue is born in May 1968 in Melbourne, Australia; sister Dannii follows in 1971. Both Kylie and Dannii take singing and dancing lessons; Dannii is the budding star. At seven, Dannii enrols in the Johnny Young Talent School, and in 1982, joins the school’s very popular TV show Young Talent Time. Kylie sorts through her sister’s fan mail after school, often forging her signature on photos. After an audition Dannii is too young for, ten-year-old Kylie is cast as Carla in The Sullivans, a WWII-era soap opera. (Dannii will later take over the part.)
1986 to 1988
Minogue gets her big break in 1986 when she’s cast in the soap opera Neighbours as Charlene Robinson. In Britain, the show attracts a record numbers of viewers, and her career really takes flight. Jason Donovan, who she begins dating in 1986, plays Kylie’s onscreen husband.
Melbourne-based Mushroom Records signs Minogue to a recording contract after seeing her perform at a Fitzroy Football Club benefit concert along with other Neighbours cast members; she performs a duet of “I Got You Babe” and “The Loco-Motion.” The latter, retitled “Locomotion,” becomes her debut single — the highest-selling single of the decade in Australia.
Minogue’s success is met with derision from many critics, some co-stars and even employees of her own record label. “There were people at the time saying, ‘This is the end of Mushroom — how can you be doing this?’” former Mushroom head Michael Gudinski will tell The Sunday Morning Herald in 2012. “It didn’t faze me.”
For its followup, Minogue travels to England to meet with ’80s synth-pop superproducers Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman (known professionally as Stock Aitken Waterman, or SAW) best known for their assembly-line style production on career-defining hits for Bananarama, Rick Astley and Dead or Alive. Minogue spends ten days in a London hotel room waiting for the producers to call; they’ve forgotten she’s in town. They finally hook up on her last day and write and record “I Should Be So Lucky” in 40 minutes. The song goes to number one in both Australia and the UK, and charts on the Hot 100 in the U.S.
In July 1987, Minogue meets INXS frontman Michael Hutchence at the Countdown Awards. Urban legend has it that Hutchence, eight years her senior, declares his desire to have sex with the 19-year-old singer, who is accompanied by Donovan. “I’m not going to say exactly what the line was, because I like that it was just between him and I. But it was something like that,” she’ll tell 60 Minutes Australia in 2014. “I was probably taken aback, but quite intrigued.”
In June 1988, Minogue films her final scenes for Neighbours; her debut, Kylie, is released in July. It hits number two in Australia, number one in the UK, and spawns six singles. It only reaches #53 on U.S. charts.
1989 to 1990
In April 1989, “Hand on Your Heart,” the first single from her sophomore album, is released. It’s another SAW production and another chart-topper in the UK. Enjoy Yourself, recorded while Minogue is still promoting her debut, treads similar musical ground, featuring plenty of bubblegum synthpop in the vein of Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. It fails to chart in the U.S. when it’s released the following year by Geffen, a commercial failure that ensures none of her subsequent records get a North American release until 2001.
Minogue and Hutchence become an item and the subject of gossip; a phone call to Donovan ends that relationship.
In April, she releases “Better the Devil You Know,” another SAW production. Its sound, lyrics and accompanying music video present a more mature, assured and less chaste Minogue. In November, Rhythm of Love is released, featuring a more dance-oriented sound. SAW are its primary producers, but seeking more creative control, Minogue brings in outside writers and producers, including Madonna collaborator Stephen Bray. Both the album and its singles do well commercially, but don’t match Minogue’s previous heights.
1991 to 1992
In fall 1991, Let’s Get to It is released; despite flexing her newfound creative freedom, it’s a relative failure commercially. A tour, ostensibly to promote the new album, starts in May. In February 1992, amidst rumours of infidelity, Hutchence dumps Minogue for Danish supermodel Helena Christensen.
1993 to 1994
With her contract with Waterman’s label PWL up, the label releases Greatest Hits. Kylie signs with Deconstruction, takes a more active role in picking collaborators, and spends much of 1993 working on new material with both Saint Etienne and the Rapino Brothers, but the resulting tracks feel too much like her old material. UK DJs Steve Anderson and Dave Seaman from Brothers in Rhythm end up producing much of the album. Released in September 1994, Kylie Minogue is her first record without the SAW team, and features a variety of sounds and styles,
including house, techno and new jack swing.
In August, Minogue joins Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds on stage in Cork, Ireland, performing a new song. In October, Cave releases “Where the Wild Roses Grow,” a duet with Minogue. Cave claims he’s had a “quiet obsession” with Minogue for years and wrote the song specifically with her in mind. “I wrote several songs for her, none of which I felt was appropriate to give her,” he’ll tell Jeff Jenkins and Ian Meldrum for their 2007 book Molly Meldrum Presents 50 Years of Rock in Australia. “It was only when I wrote this song, which is a dialogue between a killer and his victim, that I thought finally I’d written the right song for Kylie to sing.” Though it only gets a limited release in North America, it goes top 20 in the UK and top five in the two artists’ native Australia. It’s Cave’s highest charting song ever, even selling Gold in Germany.
1996 to 1997
With encouragement from Cave and current boyfriend/video director Stephane Sednaoui, Minogue takes even more control of her next album. Compounding her newfound freedom was the absence of Deconstruction’s A&R person Pete Hadfield, due to illness. Inspired by Björk, the Prodigy, Garbage and Eels, she wants a more electronic sound.
Impossible Princess is released in October 1997. The record moves between techno, drum & bass, trip-hop and even Britpop. By Minogue’s high bar of success, the record fares poorly in the UK and Europe. Its release is delayed in order to reprint album sleeves after the death of Princess Diana. Retitled
Kylie Minogue, it reclaims its original title when it’s remastered in 2003, at which time it also receives critical reappraisal.
In November, Hutchence is found dead in his hotel room in Sydney from an apparent suicide.
1998 to 1999
After the poor commercial performance of Impossible Princess, Deconstruction drops her. Parlophone signs Minogue in April 1999. “There was something there that hadn’t been achieved by her last label, and I didn’t think it really had anything to do with her,” Miles Leonard, the EMI/Parlophone UK A&R who signed her, will say in a 2002 interview with hitquarters.com. “The media still loved her, because she was always a star. It was about turning that perception around.”
Work begins on her seventh album, with the clear intention of making an unabashed pop record. Among her collaborators are Richard Stannard and Julian Gallagher, part of the British songwriting team Biffco.
“Spinning Around” is released in June and becomes Minogue’s first UK number one in a decade. The song is written by Paula Abdul, intended to be part of a comeback album that never materialized. A video, directed by Dawn Shadforth, is set in a disco, with Minogue dancing in a pair of gold hot pants. “The most famous hot pants in the annals of music,” as 60 Minutes Australia will put it in 2014, cost less than a dollar and turn Minogue into an overnight sex symbol. They are now part of the Melbourne Arts Centre’s archives.
Light Years arrives in September, boasting a host of kitschy dance-pop, house, Eurodisco and French touch sounds. Subsequent singles “On a Night Like This” and “Kids,” a duet with Robbie Williams, both hit #2 in the UK. Allmusic later calls the Robbie Williams-Guy Chambers penned “Your Disco Needs You” “probably one of the best dance songs of the ’90s.”
Looking to cash in on the attention, Deconstruction shrewdly assembles Hits+ featuring tracks from her previous two records, along with B-sides, acoustic versions and her Nick Cave duet.
“The most famous hot pants in music cost less than a dollar and turn her into a sex symbol. They are now in the Melbourne Arts Centre’s archives.”
Following the completion of the “On a Night Like This” tour, Minogue begins work on a quick followup, diving even deeper into club elements. Fever arrives in the fall and debuts at number one in Australia and the UK.
Minogue models for Agent Provocateur lingerie; the “Proof,” ad, in which she rides a red velvet mechanical bull, soundtracked by the Hives “Main Offender,” gets banned from TV for being too racy and is only shown in movie theatres.
In February, Capitol releases Fever in the U.S., the first Minogue record to be released there in 13 years. It eventually goes platinum. The pulsing dance groove of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” connects with American audiences, reaching #7 on the Hot 100. Its video wins Best Dance Video at the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards.
2003 to 2004
Minogue’s parents donate 600 items from her costume collection to the Melbourne Arts Centre. The centre’s Research Manager Janine Barrand creates Kylie: The Exhibition, featuring clothes and costumes from across her career. It tours the country.
For the next album, Minogue and her collaborators take inspiration from ’80s electronic music, particularly Prince, new romantic/ new wave and electroclash; Body Language is released in November. On November 15, a fansonly concert called “Money Can’t Buy” is held at the Hammersmith Apollo in London. The show costs a million pounds to produce and features outfits designed by Chanel, Balenciaga and Helmut Lang; it will be released as the Body Language Live DVD in 2004.
Minogue wins her first and only Grammy Award when “Come Into My World” nabs Best Dance Recording.
2005 to 2006
In March, she heads out on the “Showgirl: Greatest Hits” tour to promote hits collection Ultimate Kylie. On May 17, 2005 she is diagnosed with breast cancer; she cancels the Australian and Asian legs of the tour and four days later undergoes a partial mastectomy and begins eight months of chemotherapy. Media coverage is overwhelmingly sympathetic and the singer is praised for making her battle relatively public. While undergoing treatment, Minogue begins writing lyrics for her next album and returns to the studio in May 2006. In November, she is given the all clear from her doctors and resumes the “Showgirl” tour.
2007 to 2009
She finishes her latest comeback album in August. Many big name stars are asked to submit songs for consideration — Pet Shop Boys, Boy George, Goldfrapp and Hot Chip, among many others, reportedly all write songs that are either never used or remain unreleased. Her tenth album, X, is released in November; it sells platinum in the UK and Australia and peaks at #139 on the Billboard 200 in the States, but clocks in at number four on the Electronic Albums chart, signifying the unique space she occupies in the minds of American fans.
In 2009, Minogue embarks on her first-ever North American tour. “On a purely financial, boring logistical note, it’s not something that bean counters would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea!’” she’ll recall to Rolling Stone in 2018. She plays just six dates, including one in Toronto; Kylie Live in New York, recorded at the Hammerstein Ballroom in October, commemorates the tour.
2010 to 2011
Aphrodite is released in July 2010. It’s a return to the dance-pop/disco roots of Fever, updated for the new decade. Writing credits include Calvin Harris, Jake Shears, Richard X, Swedish House Mafia’s Sebastian Ingrosso and Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley. The record debuts at #1 in the UK and sells platinum. In November, the live CD/DVD Aphrodite Les Folies: Live in London, as well as the A Kylie Christmas EP, are released. That same month, she duets with Taio Cruz on his single “Higher.”
In February 2011, Minogue becomes the first artist to hold two of the top three spots on the Billboard Dance/Club Play songs chart, with “Better Than Today” from Aphrodite topping the chart, and her Taio Cruz collab coming in at #3.
2012 to 2016
Celebrating 25 years in the industry, EMI releases an updated hits record featuring no new or unreleased material called The Best of Kylie Minogue in 2012. A single box set called K25 Time Capsule arrives in October. That same month, The Abbey Road Sessions offers 16 orchestral reworks from across her catalogue.
Kiss Me Once, her 12th studio record, is released in March 2014; executive produced by Sia and featuring a collaboration with Pharrell, the singles struggle to crack the Top 40.
Minogue plays herself in 20,000 Days on Earth, Nick Cave’s 2014 docudrama about his career; in a short scene, she discusses both their collaboration on “Where the Wild Roses Grow” as well as her legacy. “I worry about being forgotten,” she admits, “and about being lonely.”
2017 to 2018
In 2017, Minogue settles a trademark dispute with American reality TV star Kylie Jenner over the name “Kylie,” which Jenner tried to trademark in 2015. Minogue’s people file an opposing motion, describing their client as an “internationally renowned performing artist, humanitarian and breast cancer survivor” while dismissing Jenner as a “secondary reality television personality.”
In March 2018, Minogue releases her 14th studio album Golden, partially recorded in Nashville with Taylor Swift’s producer Nathan Chapman. “The city’s so cool, it’s so historic,” she tells Rolling Stone. “I felt like I was at the altar of the song, and you get to watch all of these people perform.” The sessions produce three songs, and the country influence is apparent on lead single “Dancing.” Not only does the song return Minogue to the UK singles chart for the first time since 2015, it makes waves on charts and in territories where the singer has never had an impact, opening yet more fronts on her ever-evolving career.