2 oct 2023

Interview with Kylie Minogue: “Melancholy can be a happy place”

As she released her highly successful sixteenth album, Tension, on Friday 22nd of September 2023, Numéro met with the music icon, singer, and actress Kylie Minogue. A superstar who is anything but a diva, despite having a myriad of hits and selling 80 million records.

Interview by Violaine Schütz.

and Erwann Chevalier.

The flamboyant 55-year-old Kylie Minogue may be one of the greatest musical icons of the last three decades, with 80 million records sold, yet the Australian singer never stops reinventing herself. After a country music album and a disco one, she released Tension on Friday 22nd of September 2023, a dance, house, synthpop, and electro opus tinged with the muggy atmosphere of nightclubs. It includes the summer hit Padam Padam, which was so astoundingly successful that it entered a digital dictionary, was quoted by a MP at the British Parliament, and became a TikTok trend, as well as the Pride Months’ anthem.


A few days before the release of her sixteenth album, Numéro met her in a classy hotel. It was the day after we danced with her to the sounds her new tracks at the Silencio, in Paris. Instead of staying close to the DJ who played her brand new, deceptively hedonistic songs – they have that melancholic undertone – Kylie Minogue mingled with over a hundred journalists to sing and party, barefoot… She got rid of her Jimmy Choo shoes on the spur of the moment. Generous, engaging, and authentic, the 55-year-old singer, songwriter and actress is anything but a diva, despite her numerous hits, millions of views, and idol status. That closeness to her fans and the media still contributes to build her legendary character.


Interview with singer Kylie Minogue, who released her album Tension.


Numéro: Just before we met, you were attending your album listening party in Paris and you danced among a crowd of journalists…

Kylie Minogue: I couldn’t see anything, but I hope you had a good time! I think it would be nice to have karaoke at these listening parties, so that people can listen but also know what I’m singing about.


What is your relationship with France?

From the very first time I came to France, I have always been welcomed with open arms, whether I was Paris or other cities. That’s not the case everywhere around the world (laughs). The people I met there contributed a lot to my personal life and career.


Why did you title your album Tension

We first considered Vegas High as a title for the album, which is one of the tracks on the record and alludes to my future residency in Las Vegas, which starts in November 2023. But Tension seemed more intriguing. There was a moment when I said to myself: “I hope it doesn’t sound too depressing. On the news, the word is used in a negative way. But once we made that decision, I was really surprised to see how well it was received by the public. People have been really looking forward to an album called Tension.” As for the cover, we had chosen it before we knew the record was going to be called Tension. The photographer, Haris Nukem, would usually make a sketch of each snapshot before the shooting. What he then captures with his camera looks like the original sketch. He was the one who came up with the idea of the diamond. He said to me: “I don’t know why, but I picture you holding that diamond”. Some things happen out of nowhere. I like the song Tension because it can hold several meanings. The diamond is a subliminal image – that of creating beautiful things under pressure. I think people could feel it thanks to that cover, especially when they know how diamonds are made, which is under duress.

“I don’t like to be called a perfectionist or a control freak, even though I know I tend to be like that,” Kylie Minogue


What was your mindset during the process of recording your album?

I started working on Tension with my long-time producer Richard ‘Biff’ Frederick Stannard, who produced so many amazing songs for the Spice Girls, among others. We started our creative collaboration years ago and our songs are still relevant today. We started this album in a casual way. I wasn’t going to the studio every single day. It was just a couple of sessions from time to time and seeing what happened. Three months later, I felt I was ready for a new project. I got closer to writers and received several demos, like Padam Padam, Green Light, or 10 out of 10. I’m very open to that modus operando – if there’s a good song out there, give it to me! But I also love being in the studio and creating songs from scratch.


Could you tell us more about the recording process?

I do a lot of recording on my own at home, in hotels, on coffee tables where I plug in cables, crawling around and trying not to make any mistakes. It’s the opposite of glamorous, but it’s something I love doing on my own now. It offers me so much. Not just in terms of ownership of my creations, but because it gives me a better understanding of what I’m doing and how I can explore my voice and my relationship with a microphone. Because there’s a big difference between your everyday speaking voice and your singing voice. I tend to record myself straight away, and I have no idea how many hours I’m going to spend on each single track. It’s often a very long process. The number of times I would redo a take could be pretty extreme. I am always under pressure to some extent, either because they need the track quickly or because I want it done quickly. But that’s my process and it is what it is.


Are you a perfectionist? 

Yes, I really am. I don’t like to be called a perfectionist or a control freak, but I know I tend to be like that. I’m very detail-oriented. It’s not just some random songs on which I’ve put my voice. I want to go deep into the tracks.


How would you define this album?

This project is very different from my previous albums… My previous records had a clearly defined theme and sound – country and disco. I approached this new album like a white beach, without any definite theme. Creating Tension has given me a deep sense of freedom. It was great to make an album without a real central theme and it helped me get through difficult times and celebrate the present moment. If I had to choose one word to define it, it would be “surprise”. Every track is different. One moment you think you’re in one place, but next thing you know, you’re in a different location. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been through difficult times in the making of the album, like Covid, and also personal things.

“Melancholy can be a happy place. There are a lot of songs in my repertoire that mix sadness and joy at once,” Kylie Minogue


You said in a press release that this album was a mix of your personal reflections, a feeling of abandonment in the club, as well as peaks of melancholy…

Melancholy can be a happy place. There are a lot of songs in my repertoire that mix sadness and joy at once, like All the Lovers (2010). And we all like to dance with tears in our eyes from time to time. Robyn handles this to perfection on hits like Dancing on my Own (2010) and Call your Girlfriend (2011), as does Gloria Gaynor on the anthem I Will Survive (1978). These are songs that seem tailor-made for dancing but contains lots of different feelings beneath the surface. As for my personal reflections, most of the songs are about my life. Story, for instance, is about the people who help you through difficult times and who, as a result, become part of you.


Hold on to Now is a song that perfectly represents your musical universe, mixing epic electronic sounds with melancholy. What does this track talk about?

The desire for euphoria partly comes from the fact that we’re experiencing the post-covid times, and that the world has been through a lot recently. But it also comes from my personal story, from a relationship in which you neither know where you’re going nor what you’re doing. And I’m not in that relationship anymore. But there was a time of my life when I just tried to understand what had happened. That’s why in this song I sing: “Floating on this feeling together. Yeah, we’ll figure it out somehow. Keep holding on to now.” I wanted to write about the fact that we spend so much time wondering where we’re going that we forget to enjoy the present moment, even though that moment isn’t going to last. This title is about that period of time when I’m looking for answers, and I can’t find them. In the meantime, I say, “Keep holding on to now.” Hold on to Now raises an existential question we’re all asking ourselves – how can we make sense of it all?


Where does the expression “Padam Padam” of your hit come from?

I couldn’t tell you what the songwriters, artist Ina Wroldsen and producer Lostboy, had in mind. But as she’s Norwegian and he’s English, they both had a European sensibility and must have known Edith Piaf, who titled a song in the same way, even though my song has nothing to do with her. The words “Padam Padam” have even made it into the Urban Dictionary – it’s wild! What’s hilarious is that the meaning of the expression goes beyond the sound of the heartbeat evoked by the words. There are lots of different meanings. People can use it to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “I’m fine”, “I’m not fine”, or anything else.

“I feel like I’m naturally versatile. I like to be adaptable and to transform myself,” Kylie Minogue


Were you surprised by the tremendous success of Padam Padam, which appealed as much to the TikTok generation as it did to your own generation?

Yes, very much so. It was crazy to see the numbers increasing each day. It is crazy that 20-year-olds, and even 10-year-olds and 15-year-olds, are picking it up on TikTok and dancing to it. As far as the younger kids are concerned, they don’t grasp the implicit sexual connotations of the song when they sing the lyrics. To be honest, I’ve always been multi-generational, especially since my role in the series Neighbours, which features actors of all ages. Grandparents, parents, children used to watch the family show.


Was it difficult to choose the single coming after Padam Padam, which gathers 17 million views on YouTube?

It hasn’t been any easy task, clearly. With Padam Padam, people were out clubbing. We could have calmed things down with a single that said “come to the lounge area now”, but we chose something as upbeat as Padam Padam. That track was Tension. People seemed to like it too, so I was delighted.


In 2018, you surprised everyone by releasing a country music album entitled Golden

I loved recording Golden, and I don’t think I would be here with Tension if I hadn’t done the albums Golden and Disco first. In fact, on the Golden Tour, there was a section in the show’s script that the audience didn’t necessarily know about. It was more for the team and I, as a narrative arc for the show. First, I was a sort of Donna Summer or Diana Ross, staying Los Angeles or Nashville, who had to go to New York. But a storm came, and the plane couldn’t take off. So, we had to embark a road trip to New York, and we eventually ended up at Studio 54. I really felt at home during that part of the show. I thought to myself: “I love that section, when I’m surrounded by dancers”. That part of the Golden Tour gave way to my disco era and paved the way for the next album.


How do you explain your longevity in the music industry?

If I knew the secret, it would be a lot easier (laughs). I don’t have the answer, but I do know that I always feel inspired by multiple things. I’m always curious, and maybe that’s my destiny too. Musically speaking, I think that I’ve tried to stay relevant and to look at what’s happening around me. So, in the 1990s, I drew my inspiration from the indie scene, and then, from the futuristic pop music of the 2000s. I feel like I’m naturally versatile. I like to be adaptable and to transform myself. Maybe that’s why I’ve been able to navigate through different musical genres.


Tension (2023) by Kylie Minogue, available on September 22nd, 2023.