May 1968 was a curiously big month for small forces. To illustrate: The May Offensive fought by Vietnam’s peasant-workers drained more life from an indomitable US military than in any other month of that war; 11 million French workers and countless students paralysed a major state and its partner economy; fifty years ago, a Paris stadium was at capacity as everyday people said “non” to old powers.
40,000 gathered at the Stade Charléty to declare death to Soviet sympathies and life to a New Left. On that same date, Wantirna South produced another pocket punch. It was on May 28, 1968 that Ron and Carol named the people’s popstar: Kylie.
The Popular Hotpants Front, whose pint-size beginnings we celebrate this week, would not detonate until 1988. Actually, this start was a bit of a fizzer. You may be sufficiently young or sufficiently lacking in memory to think of the first Minogue single as a delightful relic of a naive era. If this is the case, sort your shit. There is nothing decent about Locomotion. Only its video, shot at Melbourne’s superbly unremarkable Essendon airport, redeems it.
No. There is not one scrap of decency in that song. You can’t even call it unintentional camp in an age that already seen The Pet Shop Boys deliver fine, intentional camp by radio. It’s just some intentional shit by 1988, the year that gave us NWA, the first sound emitted outside Iceland from Bjork, gifts from Eric B and Rakim, Brian Wilson, Jungle Brothers, and, that marvel of which we are undeserving, Public Enemy’s Bring the Noise. There can be no rationale for Locomotion in this year.
There must not be forgiveness in any age for the sound of a profit monster’s teeth grinding down hard on a pack of NutraSweet tablets and a kiloton of speed. Locomotion is not even one of the better things the Stock Aitken Waterman horror factory upchucked that calendar year. The trio’s theme for the English football team has more blood than this corpse of a song, one exhumed from pop history, then reheated in a non-stick coffin with unpardonable, instant rhythms.
This is not to wrap our birthday girl in that past. Instead, it is to praise an artist who would soon become aware of her internment by others. Not even a decade separated the TV wedding of Charlene to Scott from the true Minogue debut at a grand London literary event in 1996. Before reciting the lyrics to I Should Be So Lucky as verse, the surprise guest apologised that this “poem” was not a work she had written herself. In sweat-pants and without her bright face on, Kylie released herself from girlhood’s hard labour.
This comic declaration of escape was followed soon with her greatest work, Impossible Princess. Minutes later we heard club collaboration German Bold Italic, which may blow a little blank today, but—you’re going to have to trust me—was very 1998. Or, very 1998 if one’s 1998 was spent largely in queer clubs where sexually ambiguous drugs and/or persons were often ingested by one. For her thirtieth birthday, Kylie coincided with a part of her era by choosing to move to its margins.
Contempo-Edge-Kylie began to vanish in an Olympic Games performance—or, perhaps it just seemed that way to me. Her nod to Sydney as our nation’s gayest town was nice, but her failure to dissent beyond drag—already accepted by a post-Priscilla population—was, to me, disappointing. I’d hoped that an artist who’d come to identify the past theft of herself would identify the ongoing theft and dispossession of others while singing to the world on Aboriginal land in the year 2000. Then again, I hope for a 1968-type prelude to mass revolution every-other-week, so I may be no reliable guide to anything.
I am no great guide to the recorded Minogue after this point. Like many persons, I could not get Can’t Get You Out of My Head out of audible range for months. Beyond this, Min is a musical mystery; although, pop connoisseurs and critics do say that there have been albums, such as X, to rival Impossible Princess.
Having dallied with Minogue’s newest, Golden, I am confident that connoisseurs of country music would prefer to hear the hits of Kenny Chesney sung by The Chipmunks than bear this “ironic” tractor pull. Sure, Justin Timberlake got away with his country-EDM wedding, but he did have the help of Pharrell Williams. And that of a Tennessee childhood, like Dolly Parton, to whose compositions Kylie recently compared her own.
The single released by Kylie yesterday is not truly a song, but the place for a suite of products to connect.
The Parton name has been etched for decades in the Country Music Hall of Fame, along with those of songwriters Hank, Willie, Johnny, Loretta, Tammy and Tammy’s no-good gifted bum of a husband, George Jones. Even if the fortnight Minogue spent locating her lonesome soul in Nashville included no trip to this museum, surely, this famously modest star would know not to liken herself to the composer of more than 3,000 songs
Surely, she’d know not to abandon pop, of which she has been a talented custodian. Minogue has long produced pop music, pop sentiment or pop images of extraordinary quality, and every so often, offered all elements of this package in one moment.
The song Jolene, like the sound of 1980s Public Enemy, is a stand-alone accident of genius. The single released by Kylie yesterday is not truly a song, but the place for a suite of products to connect.
That Kylie is in command of her artistic future at fifty is happy news. That this command approximates that of a record company executive circa 1988 is not so great. And, yes, I know the “she chooses her choice!” feminist view, because it’s been aired a bajillion times since Madonna released Material Girl in 1984, and undergraduates throughout the West wrote essays on the empowerment of self-commodification. Give it a rest.
The exchange of a commodity is not freeing, but fucking compulsory. One does not “choose” to sell any commodity, including that of one’s own labour power or, if pop’s pocket princess, a package of the self.
For those incredulous few up the back yet to study the topic of sexism, no, you idiots. I’m not saying this because I am filled with feminine envy, but with shallow admiration of the feminine form. Kylie is outlandishly hot, even in the Golden video, clearly conceived by a nitwit who thinks their nightmarish post-Trump poverty-mocking vision of a “white trash” woman makes them David Fucking Lynch. And she is still super-hot as yesterday’s bluegrass nude. (I give it five minutes before someone on social media describes this as an act of Appalachian appropriation.) Kylie is as hot as balls, and I, her agemate, appreciate this and do not scorn it. I find shallow hope in it. I just went to the bathroom, looked at my bits and congratulated them for remaining almost as tight as Kylie’s.
I would prefer not to disclose this Evil Queen conceit, but if it buys any impatience at all with this whole “empowered women are so empowering when empowered to empower themselves”, we’re even.
It’s over. This packaged pop empowerment is over. Not just for Kylie, but for us all. I know that I do not need Kylie to sustain the sin of midlife self-esteem. You know this, surely, too. We Western women have been purchasing other women as inspiration for decades, now. It’s not just my moral instruction that we stop, but my economic prediction that very soon we will.
All this faith in “reinvention” of the female image as a reinvention of the female self. All this unstinting wonder we women expect these commodified women to provide. I cannot consume “empowerment”. I cannot hope to find it in a package or receive it through my exhausted female gaze. The woman in command of her own commodification is not free to have an accident of genius, and the woman who continues to buy her is not free to enjoy a moment outside such exchange.
Happy birthday, Kylie, of course, May your hotness persist and may your confusion of Dolly Parton the artist with Dolly Parton the inspiring figure clear. May you soon see the sale of yourself as a suite of products as internment. Read your marketing research aloud one day at the Albert Hall.
It’s 1968 again. We will refuse all forms of power as we sit in a stadium inspired by nothing but ourselves.