I’m about as qualified to explicate the essential appeal of Kylie Minogue as I am to discourse on the merits of reforming the House of Lords. From the vantage of my provincial superpower, where she belongs to “world music” as surely as Youssou N’Dour or the Manic Street Preachers, my best guess is the elfin Aussie throve in the ’00s by inhabiting a specific disco ideal: enveloping herself in music as sheer sensation, expressing desire as blank obsessive repetition, embodying femininity as a pose abstracted from female life.
A largely gay ideal, that is. Kylie was the “anti-Madonna,” as Rufus Wainwright put it, who, rather than “subvert[ing] everything for her own gain” (oh those demanding womens!) simply “is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.” Which is to say, she represents not just an absolute absence of pretension, but an absolute lack of resistance to projected male fantasy.
Not only represents–damn well rejoices in, and good for her. A tiny, pretty woman with a tiny, pretty voice, augmenting either aspect of her prettiness technologically without ever compromising her tiny-ness, Kylie’s gift is to stay the hell out of her own way. The slightest willfulness that a “better” singer couldn’t resist–a show of soul, a feint toward subjectivity, a stylistic flourish–would have flattened this Cathy Dennis and Rob Davis confection. Kylie understands that the essential element of whipped cream isn’t sugar or milk but air. So she zeroes in on the title hook, which casts desire as ravenous earworm, one’s lust object as a tune that keeps repeating–like “an iPod stuck on replay,” as a wise man would later note.
In a perceptive Pitchfork review of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” Tim Finney noted, “If its sleek, synthetic surfaces feel hollow, it’s because fantasy is hollow, a shell for impossible expectation,” and that limns the limitations of Kylie neatly. The teenpop era was the ideal moment for Kylie’s resurgence, and not just because her career began as an overseas echo of Debbie and Tiffany back in simpler times. Her timeless vivacity, have long since abandoned any designs on maturity, offered a magical counterpoint to those troublesome young women who would force us to watch and hear them grow up in public.