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How Kylie Minogue Became An LGBTQ+ Icon
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How Kylie Minogue Became An LGBTQ+ Icon

From ‘Neighbours’ soap star to WorldPride headliner, this is the story of how Kylie Minogue became an LGBTQ+ icon.

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At 2023’s WorldPride appearance in Sydney, the “Princess Of Pop” played to a community that has crowned her its own. But how did Kylie Minogue, the former Neighbours soap star turned iconic pop hitmaker, become one of the world’s most beloved LGBTQ+ icons?

Listen to the best of Kylie Minogue here.

How did Kylie Minogue become a LGBTQ+ Icon?

It was never part of the plan. Some acts plant their identity politics centre-stage from the start, but Kylie’s entry into the music business came from television fame, and few imagined she would be recording far into the 90s, let alone into the 2020s. There was little time for a long-range strategy. Kylie’s status as a LGBTQ+ icon came about naturally, and she came to understand and cherish it only gradually. That’s in part what makes it so special: this is an authentic attraction.

Kylie’s first recording of Locomotion (later re-recorded as The Loco-Motion) became Australia’s best-selling single of 1987, setting in train a musical passage to the London studios of Stock Aitken Waterman. I Should Be So Lucky, her first international hit with The Hit Factory, owed something to her part as Charlene in the Australian soap Neighbours, popular in both in the UK and her homeland, but its success soon spread to markets that knew nothing of her TV stardom. The track’s melancholic Hi-NRG production, and its universal lyrics speaking of a romantic longing that might never be sated, connected organically with a generation of young gay men struggling with their place in a wider society that was scared and then goaded into antagonism by the AIDS crisis. I Should Be So Lucky had something to say, but you wouldn’t hear it by concentrating on the lyrics of the song alone.

What was Kylie’s first LGBTQ+ anthem?

PWL’s creative genius lay in the balanced steer between the teen pop that lined the record racks in the UK high-street chain Woolworths and the vibrant personality of the gay club scene. Stock Aitken Waterman’s work with Kylie oscillated between both draws, but in the four glorious singles from lifted 1990’s Rhythm Of Love album, dance culture was taking the definitive lead. Better The Devil You Know, the record’s lead single, is Kylie at her most anthemic, and the “home crowd” adored it. This was the LGBTQ+ community’s star growing up with them, finally with something to say about sex (as opposed to the innocence of teenage romance). To this day, London’s legendary G-A-Y nightclub considers the song its ultimate anthem. One of the best LGBTQ+ Pride songs in history, for years it was always the track that would be played each night at the stroke of midnight.

Embraced by the LGBTQ+ community: “I’d never heard of a Kylie Night”

Around this glorious run of Step Back In Time, What Do I Have To Do? and Shocked, Kylie first became aware of the appeal she had on the gay scene. She told Billboard: “I was in Sydney and there’s a famous bar on Oxford Street called the Albury and, at the time, it was the gay bar in the gay area in Sydney. I was in the car, my manager was in the car with me, along with a couple other people, and someone said: ‘There’s Kylie Night at the Albury tonight.’ And I was like, ‘What?!’ I’d never heard of a Kylie Night, but I said, ‘We should go! We should go!’ There weren’t that many versions of me then, I’m talking 1989 or ’90. Now there’s tons of them – choose a look. But I’m the least Kylie person when I’m at any of those nights. I looked like they should not have let me in!”

Of course, like all classic teenage romances, the affair with PWL had to end and, in 1994, Kylie began a new relationship with dance label Deconstruction and issued a couple of albums that deepened her exploration of club sounds and indie experimentation, beginning with 1997’s Impossible Princess. Kylie was building some critical respect, and her support of the LGBTQ+ community became clearer and more visible: here was an audience that still revelled in her creative ambition and, in some ways, encouraged her to go further.

A return to prominence: provocative fashion and smart, edgy pop

In the year 2000, Kylie re-embrace her universal appeal and made a return to all-out pop. And the big hits came back with a vengeance, peaking with the highest-selling single of her career, 2001’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, which shifted more than five million copies worldwide and took her back into the US Top 10 for the first time since 1988. At the turn of the century, Kylie evolved into a performance artist, blending provocative fashion with smart, edgy pop. A styling partnership with William Baker lead to more personae than could comfortably be covered in a dozen Kylie Nights, including the infamous hotpants from the Spinning Around promo video, the “fantasy lido” bathing suits of Slow and the electropop chic of the KylieFever2002 Tour.

It was during this run that Kylie recorded the campest song of her career. With more than a nod to disco gods Village People, Your Disco Needs You, written with Guy Chambers and Robbie Williams, was considered just too camp by her British record label and passed over for release as a single in most markets (it sneaked out in Germany and Australia, with minimal promotion). It’s rightly considered a lost opportunity, and still thought of among fans as the greatest No.1 Kylie never had. Here’s perhaps a case of the audience understanding her appeal better than the professionals hired to guide her career.

Maturing with her LGBTQ+ fans: a survivor who has grown up alongside the community

After her cancer battle, Kylie came out fighting for her place in a music scene that was reckoning with the dramatic shift to digital downloads and streaming. The hits kept coming, with 2 Hearts, Wow and In My Arms offering shining examples of her skilful blend of colourful pop and sharp dance production, but the tours were an increasingly important weapon in her professional arsenal, and each new one would outdo the last.

The KylieX2008 Tour and 2011’s Aphrodite: Les Folies Tour, staged in support of the X and Aphrodite albums, respectively, were awash in fashion excess, with designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Dolce & Gabbana helping create some of the exquisite costumes: there was plenty of inspiration here for more Kylie Nights and a legion of drag acts captivated by the star’s theatricality. If the late-80s Stock Aitken Waterman protégé had at times seemed awkward as she learnt her craft in the glare of worldwide stardom, now there was a woman who’d been through the worst of times and had little left to fear in her professional life.

Kylie’s LGBTQ+ inclusivity: “It is just naturally how I feel… I had that from the beginning”

Kylie would never claim to be a political artist, but 2010’s All The Lovers had an important message to share about the positivity of love and self-expression, and it was embraced by her LGBTQ+ fans. With a hedonistic video created by Joseph Kahn, the track, written by electro-pop duo Kish Mauve, immediately took its place among the best Kylie Minogue songs. The accompanying album, Aphrodite, is perhaps the pinnacle of her lengthy studio catalogue.

Across later explorations with country music (Golden, 2018) and – almost inevitably – Christmas (Kylie Christmas, 2015), there’s one theme that Kylie keeps returning to: the dancefloor. 2020’s Disco and its subsequent special editions demonstrated the irresistible allure of the genre and its compatibility with Kylie’s core musical DNA. She went so far as to record with the legendary Gloria Gaynor on Can’t Stop Writing Songs About You, but with singles such as Magic, and the duets with Years & Years (A Second To Midnight) and Jessie Ware (Kiss Of Life), Kylie was crafting tracks as creatively consistent as ever. If not for the COVID-19 pandemic, the supporting tour would have been epic!

Kylie’s LGBTQ+ understanding: “There has never been any judgement”

Disco divas are arguably ten to the dozen, and gay men in particular have an inbuilt vulnerability to a sometimes lightweight appeal. What elevates the best of these women is a combination of knowing performance (Cher), abundant empathy and good humour (OK, Cher, again) and take-no-prisoners attitude (sure… Cher and, of course, Madonna). Kylie, however, offers something truly different: a natural warmth and genuine understanding of the struggles of acceptance and challenge. She has known a battle or two: often with the critics, once most seriously with her health, and, of course, navigating more than three decades in the challenging music business.

She plays this experience alongside a sharp charisma and playful theatricality that has kept the public engaged and intrigued about what will come next. One of Kylie’s many professional skills is her ability to edge her audience along carefully – there’s little of Madonna’s wild experimentation to be found in the “Princess Of Pop”’s CV (Kylie’s 90s releases were more muted acts of defiance compared to the “Queen Of Pop”’s leftfield turn on 1992’s Erotica album, even though the LGBTQ+ community adored that record’s energy and sexual styling).

In an interview with Olly Alexander of Years & Years, for London’s Evening Standard, Kylie positioned her reputation as a gay icon simply: “I didn’t set out to do that [be inclusive], it is just naturally how I feel. There is so much talk about inclusivity, and I felt I always had that from the beginning. I used to say, I loved to be able to look out at my shows, and there are just all walks of life. There has never been any judgment.”

Kylie’s ongoing LGBTQ+ appeal: in it for the long haul

Kylie’s triumphant Glastonbury appearance in 2019 showed her just how much she is loved. Her unique LGBTQ+ appeal lies in the fact this survivor has grown up alongside the community, sharing, celebrating and commiserating with its ups and downs. Innocence became lost, confidence grew and, while the platforms got larger, the risks got bigger, too.

Kylie is no stranger to Pride performances around the world, but 2023’s WorldPride event was something special, deepening the most durable of her relationships: the one with the LGBTQ+ community who saw at her start a warmth and charisma in a young woman that she had yet to fully recognise. No matter, they were in it for the long haul…

Find out where Kylie Minogue ranks among the most influential female musicians of all time.

Original article: 22 February 2023

Updated: 27 February 2023

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