Report: academics will be analysing and assessing the life and times of Kylie Minogue in Maynooth next weekend
From playing the Legends slot at Glastonbury, where her performance attracted the biggest audience in the history of the BBC’s festival coverage, to inspiring Taoiseach Leo Varadkar's fan letter, Kylie Minogue’s iconic status in 2019 is assured. In a career spanning over 30 years, she has voiced some of pop’s greatest earworms. La, la, la…
"Spinning Around" at Glastonbury 2019
The idea for an academic conference on Kylie preceded the Glastonbury announcement or Varadkar's letter. But the media furore about the letter revealed as much about perceptions of the Australian entertainer as it did frustration with government. Despite 80 million record sales worldwide and an enduring career in which she constantly reinvents herself, Minogue is sometimes dismissed as frivolous. Cultural snobbery towards Kylie extends to her fans – designated "lovers" by Minogue herself – and to the notion of scholars taking her work seriously.
While popular music has finally gained acceptance as an area for intellectual inquiry, rockist ideologies still prevail. Earnest male rock musicians, songwriters and studio producers are valued as more "worthy" than performers who revel in theatrics, femininity and music that centres on the voice and (dancing) body.
From RTÉ Archives, an appearance by Kylie on Jo-Maxi in 1991
Kylie is a fascinating topic. The longevity of her career invites consideration, especially in a music industry that prizes youth. Important too is her status as a gay icon, her identity as cancer survivor, and her capacity for artistic reinvention. Think Kylie and one thinks of all those songs and videos – it’s in this space that Minogue has allowed herself to be fashioned into "Kylie", the forename-only designation that blends into a brand.
Music journalist Paul Morley wrote a few years ago about how one of her most famous earworms "Can't Get You Out of My Head" both imagines and declares the future of pop music. Kylie lays claim to pop: this is her body language, she is saying. And it is an audio-visual language that not only has a recognisable sound and look – a Kylie aesthetic, which is a distinctly Australian form of camp – but an attitude to life and the world that is as valid as any other.
"Can't Get You Out of My Head"
Beyond the choreography of Kylie the pop star, and Minogue’s careful crafting of her public image, the conference considers the songs and videos themselves as forms of storytelling. Kylie’s catalogue often engages listeners on sensual and emotional levels. "How do you describe a feeling?" whispers Minogue at the start of "In My Arms", a French electro pop themed track from her 10th studio album "X". The so-called post-cancer album was criticised as insufficiently personal by some reviewers. But this overlooks the album’s ‘poptimism’: the songs convey a joie de vivre that in many ways epitomises Minogue’s artistic appeal and apparent personal resilience.
The conference approaches Kylie from different perspectives – media studies, musicology, and queer studies, to name a few. Topics range from Stock, Aitken and Waterman's 1980s musical construction of Kylie as the girl next door to the emergence of her "golden girl" persona coinciding with her 50th birthday in 2018.
"In My Arms"
Speakers address Kylie’s legacy in relation to other Aussie female performers such as Olivia Newton John, her emergence as a gay icon against the backdrop of Thatcher’s Britain and her contribution to breast cancer awareness. Scholars highlight Kylie’s distinctive but often underrated visual and vocal aesthetics. The conference may well the first of its kind, but it seems unlikely to be the last we’ll hear about Kylie, the pop boomerang.
Dr Stephen O’Neill is Head of the Department of English at Maynooth University. He is a former Irish Research Council awardee. Dr Laura Watson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Music at Maynooth University. She is a former Irish Research Council awardee
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ