KYLIE MINOGUE: pop’s golden girl on menopause, love and loneliness
With her 14th studio album just released, Kylie Minogue talks to Chrissy Iley about healing her broken heart with her new country-inspired music, turning 50 and going through menopause... twice!
When I first learnt that Kylie’s new album Golden was a country fusion, I was a little reticent... but it is mesmerising. Sumptuous pop riffs and the discovery that Kylie has the perfect country voice. It’s an extraordinary blend of classic Kylie pop, yet soul-baring country-style lyrics. It’s personal. It’s deep. Her most raw thoughts set to music ever, yet somehow with their catchy, sunny melodies those thoughts are made beautiful. And that has always been Kylie’s style. To see good rather than bad. To create ease rather than stress. I’ve known Kylie for some time now and I’m glad to say we have an emotional shorthand. Kylie is and always was extraordinary and special, yet down-to-earth real.
We meet in The Ritz in London. She has The Royal Suite which is several rooms vast. Lots of brocade, candelabra, chandelier and swirly gold frames on 19th-century oil paintings. Kylie herself is wearing gold snakeskin stiletto boots, an off-white floaty chiffon skirt that has golden embroidery and alabaster chiffon-y top, hair longer and more golden than ever.
She pours me tea and agrees that the making of Golden has been a cathartic experience. “I’m actually sad not to be going into the studio because creating is very rewarding. It’s a weird time to have to let it go.
“In the beginning it was very much like a ‘Dear Diary’ sort of thing. I don’t think the songs were very good. Now I’ve moved on, the songs have, too. But I was glad to reach a point where I thought I’ve got to be honest with myself more than anything. I wrote about relationships and love and the usual culprits. I was writing about heartbreak. I sing, ‘I’m broken hearted’.
“Actually, I think I was a bit more broken than just heartbroken because for a long time I was in a relationship that we both knew was ending. I think it came out in the press a different way [it came out that Joshua Sasse, the 30-year-old actor to whom she was engaged, had an on-set romance with a co-star] but towards the end of any relationship it takes its toll on you. I knew I wasn’t strong in myself so going into the studio and getting all that stuff out of my system was a way of dealing with it. My A&R [artists and repertoire] guy Jamie Nelson had the idea that we would give it a country feel so it was a reinvention.”
Kylie always seems to manage reinvention seamlessly. “I didn’t know what he meant at the time when he was talking about a little country edge but then we found it. I realise you can get away with putting more of a story in the song and you can be humorous with those stories.”
The most beautiful thing about the really sad songs is that they manage to be hauntingly sad and at the same time cleverly upbeat – a bit like the woman herself. You would never see Kylie as sad, but this album is about getting over a relationship with the man she was supposed to marry. They met in September 2015 on the set of the TV musical comedy Galavant, when Kylie made a guest appearance, and six months later they were engaged. By the end of 2016, things had started to fall apart. Joshua is a British actor 20 years her junior and the son of poet Dominic Sasse, who was killed in a plane crash when Joshua was five.
They were pictured together often and looked happy and thrilled with each other, but the love went wrong and it became the basis of the album. “We started in the UK and then we went to Nashville. There’s such a different feeling about the place. It’s not like London, LA, Melbourne, Sydney. Even the shopping is different, although I didn’t have much time for that.
“It’s that people seem so emotionally connected there. I don’t want to take things away from any other thing
I’ve done but this was different.
I went to The Bluebird Cafe [music club]. I loved being in a room and seeing an audience of all ages listening. It was just beautiful with actual Stetsons and cowboy boots. I felt I could fall in love a million times. That’s the feeling there. That’s the energy, and when you go to the performance rooms there, you see the songwriters talk about the song, how it came about. Not necessarily the best performers but you were there listening to it. I would love to perform at The Bluebird Cafe. Can you imagine how nervous I would be? But I’m going to try and do it. I’m already thinking of the stories I’m going to tell.”
This is the new Kylie. Previous Kylie would rather listen to stories than tell them. She would rather deflect the conversation away from herself. “I’d love to go back to Nashville. I feel I just scraped the surface. It had a profound effect on me and I want to get to the next level. Everybody seems emotionally connected – as I said – so maybe it happens by osmosis. It really helped me believe in the song at the moment. It made me feel if you’re not going to give it everything, you may as well not be there.
“Although there was definitely a moment where I said, this is cool, but when we get back to my real world how is it going to translate? I worried that it would seem disingenuous to have gone all country. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the genre but at the same time it’s so fun to sing.”
This is not to say Golden is pure country. It’s Kylie-fied country and it is after all called Golden, a homage perhaps to her golden hot pants heritage and everything else glittery that encapsulates Kylie.
“I didn’t know this album would be called Golden. I felt I was sifting and chipping away for long enough and I was like, I need a nugget, give me a nugget. So that was the album. Not so much a style, but the style of my healing.”
As we talk about this healing she’s not specific about what she’s healing from, but she looks at me with an implicit understanding. She knows that I know she’s talking about
Joshua Sasse. Was she really going to get married to him? “Well I had the ring on the finger, didn’t I?” Had they planned a wedding? “No, we’d not gone that far.” Did she know which country it was going to be in? “No, no, no. It was a hasty move. It was the moment. It was a beautiful moment and I loved it and there was obviously a honeymoon period, just without that exact wording. And then, you know, as time goes on…”
What happened? Did they fall out of love with each other? There is a long pause and a quizzical expression. “I think we did, yes. It’s complicated. And to try to put it in a nutshell would not only be too difficult but unfair.”
Was it true that he went off to do a movie and fell in love with a co-star? “These things are known to happen but I wouldn’t want to comment on it. For me, and this is going to sound selfish, but this album is about me. It’s about my relationship, where I am in my life and some songs talk about that point. In A Lifetime to Repair I say, ‘thought I’d settle down, a happy ever after princess...’ But actually, I never thought I was the marrying kind. I know for a lot of people it’s an important goal. But for me it never was. I guess the thought was – that’s what people do. Maybe I’ll give it a try. But either it isn’t for me or it was the wrong person.
“I was swept up in the moment and not afraid to admit that. To go back to the lyrics of A Lifetime to Repair
I say, ‘I’m not giving up on it’ and I’ll probably do foolish things again in the future. Otherwise I might as well stay at home and get lots of cats.”
There’s a long pause. “I’ve got lots of cats,” I say. “Have you?” she shrieks
“I never thought I was the marrying kind... I was swept up in the moment.”
incredulously and we both burst into laughter. “But you don’t just stay home. I mean no offence to multiple cat loving people who stay home, but I think my greatest fear is loneliness, even though sometimes I crave to be alone. Maybe more so as I get older. I just want some quiet.
“I think the end of being in the relationship was the hardest part. The decision making. Afterwards people were going, ‘I hope you’re okay after this break-up,’ and I thought, you know, I am okay. Once it was done it was a relief to both of us, because it’s hard. You hang on to what is good and it’s hard to let go.”
She nods, knowing it’s a situation that most people have been in. Do I stay or do I go? It’s also come at a particular time of life. Kylie turns 50 at the end of May. “Golden, not old, not young, but golden. I know it sounds a little fantastical but it’s true. You can’t make yourself younger.
You are who you are and it makes sense to me in a realistic and slightly existential manner.”
By this she means, I think, she is not going to be daunted at the prospect of reaching 50, and that milestone doesn’t mean she won’t have fun or excitement or love in her life.
“I’m always asked how do I feel about being my age in this industry, and I think by asking me that you’re perpetuating the cycle, the myth that you can’t be older. By the same token, they also asked me how it feels to be 18 and in this industry when I was starting out. I don’t know because I had nothing to compare it to.”
On Golden there’s a sense of the passage of time, an urgent need to live in the moment, which is perhaps a result of her cancer diagnosis and survival. Is that how cancer changed her? Needing to live in the moment? “No. I think it’s just where I am right now. I don’t think I would have sung those things 10 or 15 years ago.
I want everything I’m singing to be authentic. Every story to come from a real feeling.”
That is an interesting circle. In Kylie’s beginning she was dismissed as a manufactured pop star and now she’s describing herself as a woman who craves truth, authenticity. She is allowing herself to be open. All the songs have a truth in them.
“For instance, Radio On, I didn’t take a specific drive, put the radio on and cry, but we’ve all been there and I just feel strengthened that I’m at a point in my life where I can look at things realistically.”
Does she feel anxious about getting older? “I’d be lying if I said I never think about it. Sure. High heels and walking down the stairs, my knees make sure I know about it. They’re going, how much longer are we going to be doing this? The heels come off as soon as I get home. But I do feel better within myself. A lot of people I know are turning 50 or have turned 50 recently and one thing that seems to ring true for all of us is to think, this is me. Not a number, but this is me. I’m turning another corner of who I am. And a lot of things start to make sense. Things that you can’t have known when you were younger.”
When women approach 50 they fear the unknown, menopause, but Kylie had that in her 30s as a result of her treatment for breast cancer. “Oh yes, I know about those things already,” she nods with a grimace. In fact, she told me everything about it at the time when I questioned why she was carrying a fan around with her. She told me I would soon be carrying that fan and she was right.
“You are flummoxed, you are hot and you forget what you’re saying.” So at least she doesn’t have to worry about that, as she’s already had it. “I don’t have it now but I know what to expect.” What? You’re going to get it again? “Probably I will, yes, because the first one was medically induced. So, when the time comes, at least I know what it will be like.” That’s really unfair, I tell her. “I know! They didn’t remove my ovaries or anything like that. They just suppressed my oestrogen and once you stop the medication, once you’re past a certain period, it comes back. So, I’ll be back in the fridge. A friend of mine a bit older than me used to go to the fridge, open it and stand in front of it. I’m under no illusion as to what’s in store.”
Of course, cancer affected her life in so many ways, but does she feel that there was one overriding thing that changed her? “Whaaat? That question is so hard. I don’t think I’m cut out for interviews. I mean this is my life, but the interview bit... whoa. Okay, this is what happened... I wish I had a sound bite but the truth is a lot of things happened. You’re in that moment trying to get through... I felt a lot of guilt with my family because they felt helpless. They weren’t, because their strength was important to me. It was tough to see them hurting so much and putting on a brave face. I don’t know how much they cried or how much they hurt out of my sight because they just couldn’t show that to me then.”
Did she feel she couldn’t show her pain? “Oh, there were times, more than a couple of times that I really did. Now I’m just going to say clichéd things but perhaps that’s all right. You take a look at the bigger picture, what’s important to you, who is important to you, what you want to do differently, although I didn’t want to do anything differently. I just wanted to get better and get on with it. But I did realise that I like what I do, love what I do even, and sometimes the good points come from beautiful moments of connection. I’ve got pretty good fans. They’re kind. I had a cabby the other day – I had an appointment but I really wanted to get a good coffee and there’s a place just near my house. I thought do I have time to go there or maybe I can get the cab driver to divert for the coffee. It’s only three blocks away but the weather was sideways so I asked him. He said, ‘Hey, of course. I want to thank you. You sent my daughter a picture. I remembered I’d been in that cab before and he’d said it would be such a thrill for his daughter to have something, so I took his name and address and I said don’t promise her in case it goes missing or something. But he said, ‘We got it, we framed it and wrapped it up and she opened it on her birthday and burst into tears.’ It was a beautiful moment. So that’s why I say if you’re not going to give it everything, you may as well not be here.”
Menopause, break-ups, taking off heels, cancer. Miserable subjects, yet we were laughing. Laughter, friends, music, family – that’s how she dealt with everything.
I ask, is she dating now? “No,” she says, semi-firmly.
Does she want to? “Some days I think yes and other days I think I just don’t want a boyfriend right now. It sounds a cliché but I’m not looking for cats either.”
We have more tea. I notice there’s not a line on her face. Her complexion is gorgeous. Would she ever have work done? “One of my absolute idols is Jane Fonda and the way she has handled it is admirable. I remember her saying something like it’s 80 per cent genetics, 10 per cent taking care of yourself and 10 per cent a good surgeon, so if and when the time comes, I’ll be taking a leaf out of Jane Fonda’s book. I’m not pro or against anything. I’m a bit lazy, to be honest. Just today I was looking in a magnifying mirror putting on mascara and I said to the guy doing my make-up, I think I need to do something, which of course I won’t get round to doing, and in a flurry it may happen. I think you can do minimal stuff when you’re golden.
“But I do love to cleanse my face. I have to get everything off. And I love a good sunblock. I’m hilarious. I love to be by the beach but I reapply all the time, under the tree with a hat, fully covered, swatting mosquitoes. But I love the vibes of the sea and
I get myself a bit of vitamin D. In Australia you really can’t manage staying out of the sun that much.”
Of course, this album will come with a tour, a world tour, and she will be back down under for that.
Kylie has channelled her heartbreak into Golden, her new album.
CLOCKWISE, FROM ABOVE: Kylie with then fiancé Joshua Sasse at the 2016 ARIA awards; attending the Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie premiere in 2016; Kylie in London in 2005 while battling breast cancer.