When a pop singer decides to experiment with country music, a lot people usually grimace and try to justify that it’ll be bad without even listening to it because it’s “country music” (to this day people claim that Lady Gaga’s Joanne is a country album because she’s wearing a cowboy hat on the cover? Did you listen to the album or just look at the cover, kids?) But when someone like Kylie Minogue announces a new album that is heavily influenced by country—move over Dolly Parton, there’s a new cowgirl in town.
When I first heard “Dancing,” the lead single from Kylie’s fourteenth studio album Golden that dropped in January, I was taken aback: not only by the obvious country influences, a quality seen nowhere else in Minogue’s previous work, but by the simple yet catchy quality of her voice on the track. Kylie has prided herself on being a nu-disco artist for most of her career and has proven herself worthy of that genre, but on “Dancing,” she somehow combined elements of Dolly Parton jukebox country pop with that catchy disco Kylie quality we’ve loved for 30 years. Needless to say—I was hooked and counted the days from there until Golden would be released. The second single, “Stop Me From Falling,” was even better and only increased the anticipation burning within.
Is Golden an album where every track is excellent and a certified bop? I’m going to say no, but that doesn’t mean the album as a whole isn’t impressive. When Kylie said she had found new inspiration recording music in Nashville and her new album would experiment with country, she wasn’t kidding. The majority of Golden is Minogue’s foray into country, experimenting with the true country sounds that you would hear in Nashville. Some came across a bit dull during the first listen—“Sincerely Yours,” “A Lifetime to Repair,” and “Shelby ’68,” maybe—but perhaps I just found them dull because I’m not an avid country listener. These tracks and more are pure country tunes, and Minogue shows her ability to try her hand at a different genre more than 30 years into her career as a recording artist, which in itself I find impressive. But don’t be fooled—Golden is still tied together with the electro-disco-dance-pop that you would expect from a Kylie album; after a few duller tracks in the middle, we’re treated to some catchy as all hell electro-country-dance tunes that make you thankful we have an artist like her in our lives. “Raining Glitter” is one of the most Kylie of all Kylie Minogue songs I’ve ever heard, reminiscent of her nu-disco sound from 2010’s Aphrodite, not to mention the authentically Kylie tracks that she blends effortlessly with country pop in the bonus tracks included on the deluxe edition: “Lost Without You,” “Every Little Part of Me,” and “Rollin’.”
But one moment on a particular track strikes me the most. As anybody who knows anything about Kylie Minogue can recall, she has spent most of her career being compared to Madonna (I’ve even referred to her as the Australian Madonna before). Pete Waterman, her producer during her early years, recalled that she outselling Madonna in the early ‘90s, but what struck him as remarkable that Kylie still wanted to be like Madonna. Kathy McCabe for The Telegraph noted that Minogue and Madonna follow similar styles in music and fashion but ultimately observed: “Simply, Madonna is the dark force; Kylie is the light force.” But perhaps the most famous of the Madonna vs. Kylie comparisons came from Rufus Wainwright, who in 2006 referred to Minogue as the “anti-Madonna.” In Observer Music Monthly, he said: “Madonna subverts everything for her own gain. I went to see her London show and it was all so dour and humourless. She surpasses even Joan Crawford in terms of megalomania. Which in itself makes her a kind of dark, gay icon […] I love Kylie, she’s the anti-Madonna. Self-knowledge is a truly beautiful thing and Kylie knows herself inside out. She is what she is and there is no attempt to make quasi-intellectual statements to substantiate it. She is the gay shorthand for joy.” These comments even speak truer today, when Madonna continues to be well-loved for pushing boundaries but also catches shit from feminists for not allowing herself to age; she still has to prove to everyone that she doesn’t have anything to prove anymore. While she does continually speak out against ageism in pop music, instead of identifying with other female pop stars in the over 40 set, like Jennifer Lopez, Shania Twain or even Cher, Madonna chooses to perhaps continue “trying too hard” by identifying herself alongside younger pop stars like Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj.
On the Golden bonus track “Rollin’,” Kylie sings, “Oh I tried / to keep up with the times / I’m too busy thinking / stop the ship from sinking / but oh, I tried / so maybe I’ll just sing at the top of my lungs / it’s not the things you wasted but it’s what you’ve done / hear all the right answers, you’ve been wrong / so keep on ro-oh-oh-oh-llin’.” These lyrics immediately reminded me of Rufus Wainwright famously calling Minogue the “anti-Madonna” in that she has now thrown caution to the wind and is singing at the top of her lungs, to perhaps end the Madonna vs. Kylie comparisons once and for all. Of course, this isn’t to say that Kylie is better than Madonna or vice versa; Kylie hasn’t been credited with changing pop music forever and have the pressure of ageism in pop music while continuing to want to push boundaries. At this stage in her career, Kylie has exempted herself from the necessity to push boundaries or proving herself worthy in the industry: after all, Golden is her fourteenth album. She’s flipped on her cowgirl hat and boots for a little something new, all while still delivering great Kylie-esque bops that we will continue to dance to for the foreseeable future.
Jeffrey’s favorite tracks from Golden: “Dancing,” “Stop Me From Falling,” “Live A Little,” “Lost Without You,” “Every Little Part of Me,” and “Rollin’”