Kylie Minogue is an interesting study in contradiction. Despite having sold over 70 million albums worldwide, she’s remained a niche artist in the United States, never achieving the kind of coronation that Madonna or Janet Jackson enjoy. Outside of America, though, Minogue is a massive pop star. She—like Olivia Newton-John—is a national treasure in her native Australia. Likewise, she blazed a trail of hit singles in the UK that earned a ubiquity rivaling that of even Madonna herself.
She was christened “a legend” in 2017 when she performed in the coveted Legends Slot at the Glastonbury Festival. Up until 2001, however, she managed only three Top 40 hits in the States (her HI-NRG cover of Little Eva’s “The Loco-Motion” from 1987’s self-titled debut went to number three). That changed in the autumn of 2001 when she released “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, the lead single from her eighth studio album, Fever. It landed in the Top 10—peaking at number seven—thereby re-introducing Minogue to American audiences outside of her devoted gay followers (who’d been supporting her since the mid-1980s).
Though Minogue was a triumphant pop diva in the UK when “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” reached number one on the UK charts, the single and album came after her 2000’s Light Years (a sparkily retro disco album that proved to be a comeback for the singer). Previously, she’d found herself in a commercial limbo for several years, starting with her move away from the cookie-cutter bubblegum pop of the ’80s and into the deeper house and club culture in the early ’90s. This shift in her sound meant that Minogue was making some of her best music, but popular radio wasn’t as enthusiastic (and neither were buyers). Light Years married Minogue’s musical maturation with her sparkly pop past; with Fever, she consolidated her renewed success while finally finding a broader audience in America, too.
What Fever did was show mainstream American listeners something that the rest of the world already knew: Kylie Minogue is a fantastic pop diva. She is the epitome of camp. A ridiculously over-the-top and extravagant singer, Minogue approached her music with a heavy wink and tongue-in-cheek. Unlike Madonna or Janet Jackson, she didn’t take herself too seriously (well, aside from a brief spell in the ’90s that resulted in middling success), and she leaned hard into her queer aesthetic.
The other thing is that Fever and its singles offered listeners a much-needed salve during one of the most challenging moments in contemporary history. In particular, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” was released on 8 September 2001, three days before 9/11. Pop culture responded to the tragedy in three significant ways: diving deeper into patriotism, going back to nostalgia, and offering mindless escapist fun. “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” definitely exemplifies the third option. It’s a pop trifle that’s lighter-than-air and packs an extremely hooky earworm (the “La la la la” chant that wriggled its way into the brains of everyone who listened to pop radio at that time).
This Wasn’t Just Kylie Minogue’s Comeback
Rob Davis and Cathy Dennis wrote the song. It’s important to note that Dennis was a successful 1980s pop star in her own right, scoring a string of dance hits that included “C’mon and Get My Love” and her signature tune, “Touch Me (All Night Long)”. Unlike many dance-pop divas, Dennis wasn’t merely pretty window dressing, chirping someone else’s words over a prefab track. Instead, she had a hand in writing and producing her hits, showing an intelligent canniness behind the seemingly light pop sound.
With Minogue’s track, Dennis also proved that she got pop music and could pinpoint what makes a good pop single. That success gave her a renewed career as a songwriter that led to credits with Katy Perry (2008’s “I Kissed a Girl”) and Britney Spears (2004’s “Toxic”), among others.
Kylie Minogue Returns to the Pop Charts
Originally a star on the long-running Australian soap Neighbours, Minogue joined forces with Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman (a trio of songwriters and producers credited as Stock Aitken Waterman). They became auteurs of sorts, creating an immediately recognizable style of plastic pop. Together, they and Minogue released her debut album, 1988’s Kylie, which spun off a series of UK Top Five hits (such as the number one smash “I Should Be So Lucky” and her sole US Top Ten gem, “The Loco-Motion“). Working with the trio, Minogue released three more records, scoring eleven more Top Ten hits.
That is until she decided to work on maturing her sound. The first step she took was jettisoning Stock Aitken Waterman for her fifth album, 1994’s Kylie Minogue, which included input from electronic dance outfit Brothers in Rhythm, the Pet Shop Boys, house DJ Pete Heller, and M People. While the sound was far more exciting and innovative than her commercial work with Stock Aitken Waterman, it slowed down her previously unstoppable chart success. Seemingly unconcerned with her dimming commercial fortunes, she returned in 1997 with Impossible Princess, a collection that further delved into club culture, with Minogue exploring electronica, trip-hop, and alternative dance. As with Kylie Minogue, sales of Impossible Princess were softer, eventually leading to it becoming her first set without any singles in the UK Top 10.
Afterward, Minogue found herself shopping for a label. In 1999, she signed with Parlophone and put out a new single, “Spinning Around”, in the summer of 2000. Co-written by Paula Abdul, it saw Minogue climb to no. 1 on the UK pop charts for the first time in a decade. More importantly, it saw a shift in Minogue’s image (from 1980s teeny-bopper and 1990s wannabe indie-pop star to glittery dance-pop diva). It’s the guise that fit her best, and “Spinning Around”—like its parent album, Light Years, as a whole—became a turning point for Minogue. From here on out, she embraced the inherently queer and campy side to her music.
Fever built on that success, reaching number one on the UK album charts. What’s more, it also soared all the way to number three on the US Billboard 200, eventually selling over a million copies in the US alone. (It would go on to sell over six million copies globally and become her biggest success.) Minogue also won a Grammy for her hit single, “Come into My World” (which sported a technically innovative video by inventive French director Michel Gondry).
The album is a delirious, kitschy record that embraced the silliness and cheesiness of Europop and Eurodisco. Working with a stable of British dance-pop producers and songwriters, Minogue ensured that Fever became a shiny record that felt crafted for gay clubs. Fever spun off rainbow-hued dance-pop confections like a sonic mirror ball, and each tune was more flamboyant than the next.
Opening with the breezy “More More More”, Fever casts Minogue as a goddess of the genre. Her pretty, if thin, voice is slathered with studio gloss, allowing it to float over her fashionable dance tunes. She’s a millennial France Joli, and like any fabulous dance record, Fever eschews the tendency for gloppy, saccharine pop ballads (which really wouldn’t suit Minogue’s pint-sized voice anyway). Instead, it feels like the soundtrack to a fabulous Saturday night. There aren’t any tracks that go beyond urging listeners to assemble on the dance floor. After all, Minogue isn’t interested in changing the world with piercing lyrics. On the contrary, she’s intent on changing the world by inviting everyone to a fun party.
Fever came at a challenging time in history, as the aftermath of 9/11 steered pop culture into a more endearingly sincere and genuine landscape. (Thus, snark and irony were suddenly seen as unseemly and unkind.) Minogue came to the rescue by offering enough irresistible ear candy to make people forget about their troubles. Of course, she would do this again almost 20 years later, when 2020’s Disco was released during the COVID-19 pandemic. As with the genre in general, Fever was light, so naysayers could easily dismiss it as disposable pop music. Yet, dance music has always been a source of succor for its listeners (especially for queer audiences who used it to find that sweet spot of euphoric escape on the dance floor).
Although it wasn’t designed for escapism, Fever certainly became a shining beacon of it.