IN CASE you didn’t know it, we are in K25. No, this is not a new version of Y2K. Rather, it’s a glitter-sprinkled anniversary, as Kylie Minogue celebrates 25 years in the music business.
Yes, 25 years since the Australian princess of pop made her debut with The Loco-Motion, during which time the Grammy winner has released 11 albums and sold more than 65 million records. As such, Team Kylie has decreed this musical milestone deserves a year of re-releases and surprise shows.
So it seems rather strange that I’m meeting Kylie for what probably was regarded by her “people” as a minor footnote in K25.
Holy Motors is not her film. It’s directed by Leos Carax, whose most famous film, Les Amants du Pont-Neuf, is now two decades old. The real star is Denis Lavant, who plays the mysterious Monsieur Oscar, who glides about Paris in a white limo, adopting different guises for a series of bizarre “appointments”.
For Kylie, who plays Eva Grace – another of these limo-dwelling shape-shifters – it is a small role. But when K25 comes to a close, it will be this audacious work she’ll be most remembered for.
Certainly more than her single, the electro anthem Timebomb. Holy Motors seems destined to be one of the most talked-about films this year after it made its bow at the Cannes Film Festival.
Now 44, Kylie looks in rude health – a relief after her battle with breast cancer a few years ago. She might have lived in London for the past 20 years, but she remains an Aussie girl at heart.
Take her honest reaction to Holy Motors: “There were parts that were outrageously beautiful, sublime moments. But there were also moments where I’m as confused as the person next to me,” she says.
“I don’t know if it’s ever going to make sense to me, but it gets you thinking and it gets you stimulated. Then you burst out laughing.”
In contrast to some of the more outlandish moments, Kylie’s sequence is sedate. Channelling Jean Seberg, she sings Who Were We?, penned by the Divine Comedy’s Neil Hannon, to Monsieur Oscar.
A forlorn melody, far removed from the up-tempo tracks that dominate her output, she was asked by Carax, unusually, to sing it live on the set.
As she arrives for the interview, she stops to pose for photographs just as willingly as she sits through her press duties.
“I’m pretty much a realist,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been like a sports person, who says: ‘That was my goal.’ I tend to trundle along a bit more. And then in the moment, I’ll make a lot of effort.”
For the most part, she keeps it simple, bringing with her her personal assistant Leanne and often her manager, Terry Blamey.
She even screws her nose up at that essential celebrity trapping, the stretch-limo.
“I find them embarrassing! I love this glamorous life sometimes, and if I didn’t have any of that, I would probably be dressing up a bit more each day or going out on the weekend and making a real effort.
“But I get to live out those fantasies on stage, in videos, or photoshoots. But if I can go somewhere you can wear Wellingtons, and just be a total and utter bush person, I need that.”
It’s a curious thought: the girl who slipped on those gold hotpants in the video for Spinning Around, starting a global obsession with her rear, tramping through the Outback.
But then image, and the ability to morph, is something at which Kylie is a past master, her career spinning her from pop to indie to dance. Factor in her on-off acting career and what you realise is that her longevity comes due to her incessant thirst for reinvention.
Citing Barbra Streisand as her inspiration, she puts it down simply to a need to perform, in whatever medium she can.
As a youngster in Melbourne, she can remember bounding on stage for a talent contest, playing Run Rabbit Run on the piano. She won second prize. Though she was the eldest of three it was younger sister Dannii who was famous before she was.
Dannii had a slot on the Aussie children’s talent show Young Talent Time. But when she auditioned alongside Dannii for a role in Australian soap The Sullivans, she beat her sister to the part.
Leaving Dannii in the dust, she moved on to Neighbours in 1986 and widespread fame. But then soap star was never the limit of her ambitions. By 1990, after a string of pop bubblegum hits including I Should Be So Lucky, she had quit the show, dumped co-star Jason Donovan and started dating INXS frontman Michael Hutchence.
“The best way I can describe how my life changed with Michael is that up to that point it was like I had worn blinkers and the blinkers were suddenly taken off.”
You only have to look at the image make-over she undertook for her 1990 album Rhythm of Love to see the effect two years dating Hutchence had on her; Bardot-like hair, fishnet tights and heavy mascara replaced her trademark perm and bauble earrings. But even if the sex-kitten act came easy, exploring other facets proved more challenging.
“So much of what I do and have been focusing on in music is putting different things on and being shiny and 180° focused,” she says. “But no one’s happy all the time.”
Deconstructing her pop persona has become essential for Kylie, not just for prolonging her longevity, but also maintaining her sanity.
“It’s been a big challenge for me to be seen not as ‘Kylie’ because that’s who I’ve become. It’s hard for me, but I think it’s harder for the audience, which means I’ve got to work twice as hard to be believable.”
She admits that Holy Motors has allowed her to explore “other sides to me”. That Monsieur Oscar goes from one character to the next, showing “how we present ourselves in the world in different moments” must have appealed to her. It certainly is her most significant film contribution.
That she mounted the mother of all comebacks in 2000 showed just how aware she was of the need to reinvent. From performing at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics to releasing the album Light Years, such was the clamour around her, it was little surprise that she dubbed her next album Fever. With that 2001 album featuring Can’t Get You Out of My Head, it was as if the green fairy she played in Moulin Rouge! that year had granted her every wish.
Of course, life does have a way of undercutting fantasy. It was in the midst of her 2005 Showgirl tour that she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
In the wake of her 16-month recovery, the exposure her illness was given led to an influx of women getting screened – something doctors dubbed “The Kylie Effect”.
With her business empire expanding, I wonder whether she still gets a buzz from touring.
“Absolutely. You get to opt out of life a little because you’re living in the tour bubble. You have to go on the road and have that animal, raw connection.”
And that she’s never lost. - The Independent on Sunday