LONDON (Billboard) - It was a hot, sweaty Friday night in June when Kylie Minogue arrived at New York’s Splash club, the first step on a yearlong journey designed to re-establish her as one of the world’s biggest pop-dance superstars.
She’d planned to just introduce her new single, euphoric floor-filler “All the Lovers.” Then, she decided to unveil a special megamix of tracks from her 11th studio album, “Aphrodite,” due Tuesday (July 6) in the United States on Astralwerks and a day earlier in the United Kingdom on Parlophone.
But ultimately, being Kylie, when she found herself onstage surrounded by a seething, cheering mass of adoring humanity, she just couldn’t help herself.
“I‘m elevated, I have a microphone, so of course I‘m going to sing along,” she said with a smile a few days later, still buzzing about the impromptu performance -- a far cry from her usual state-of-the-art arena shows. Sipping tea from a Kylie Minogue cup in manager Terry Blamey’s West London office, she added, “Nothing can replace playing live -- not just for me, but for the audience. It’s what resonates in that country.”
That the country involved was the United States -- as opposed to the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany or Japan -- is significant. Minogue, 42, has long enjoyed a U.S. fan base in gay clubs like Splash, but while the rest of the world has been involved in a decades-long love affair with the diminutive Aussie, the U.S. pop mainstream has settled for a couple of one-night stands.
The first time, in 1988, she was a bubble-haired 20-year-old, all cheeky smiles and gauche dance moves, singing a production-line pop version of Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “The Loco-Motion.” Elsewhere in the world, that was enough to catapult her to enduring superstardom. In the United States, not so much.
By the time Minogue managed her second top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” 14 years later, she’d been transformed into a sleek, sexed-up electro-pop diva. Not that it did her much good. While she did move 1.1 million U.S. copies of the album “Fever,” according to Nielsen SoundScan, it merely marked the start of another eight years in the U.S. pop wilderness.
But now, Minogue’s stateside again with “Aphrodite,” an album that arrives just as mainstream America discovers a love of precisely the sort of upbeat pop-dance tunes with which Minogue made her name. It will be released on the same label that broke David Guetta -- another Europe-based superstar who had never quite crossed over in the States. This time Minogue is prepared to give the world’s No. 1 music market her undivided attention.
That process began in October with her first U.S. tour. Without a current album to promote, she nonetheless played to 37,172 people at nine shows in six U.S. and Canadian cities, for a reported gross of $3.1 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
“I was just getting really tired of my answers for why I’d never toured there,” she said. “Something just clicked and I thought, ‘If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.'”
Astralwerks senior vice president and general manager Glenn Mendlinger is convinced her time has finally come.
“I‘m very optimistic,” Mendlinger said. “She’s maintained a base of 40,000-60,000 people in the U.S. that know her and buy her music on a regular basis. Now we need to pull other fans back into the mix.”
Astralwerks’ U.S. launch campaign will follow the Guetta model rather than an international superstar template. That means initially targeting Minogue’s fan base in the clubs and the gay community to build buzz, before attempting to cross over to rhythmic and pop radio later in the summer.
“If you study the science of rhythmic radio, tempos are getting faster and faster,” said Nick Gatfield, EMI’s president of new music for North America, the United Kingdom and Ireland. “Top 40 and rhythmic radio have come ‘round to her sound, which gives us the strongest opportunities for her in America since ‘Fever.'”
Paradoxically, “Aphrodite” was supposed to be the record that moved Minogue away from her natural dance-floor habitat.
When sessions for the album began in April 2009, Minogue was paired with U.K. singer-songwriter Nerina Pallot. Among the first fruits of her labor was “Better Than Today.” Excited by the live instrumentation feel and all too aware that Minogue’s previous album, 2007’s “X,” had suffered from a serious case of too many chefs, Parlophone decided that a natural, more grown-up approach was the way to go.
But subsequent sessions were less productive, and Pallot’s songs rapidly were supplemented with tracks from a wide range of songwriters and producers, to the point where Minogue became “very confused.”
“I remember saying, ‘Where’s the dance tracks?'” she said. “I felt like I was going down the same road, doing the rounds of all the pop dynamos but lacking any cohesive quality.”
Enter Minogue’s “fairy godmother,” Jake Shears. Shears was making the Scissor Sisters’ “Night Work” album with Stuart Price, whose work on the Killers’ “Human” had been a touchstone for the early “Aphrodite” sessions.
“In the most caring, loving, GBF (gay best friend) kind of way,” Minogue said with a laugh, “Jake basically pestered me to work with Stuart.”
Parlophone president Miles Leonard enlisted Price as executive producer in December 2009, and together they set about retooling the record. “Better Than Today” and the Pallot-penned title track remain, albeit in funked-up incarnations. Among the album’s diverse offerings are tracks with collaborators Nervo (“Put Your Hands Up (If You Feel Love)”), Keane’s Tim Rice-Oxley (“Everything Is Beautiful”) and Swedish House Mafia (“Cupid Boy”)
“All the Lovers” is off to a fast start, hitting No. 1 on the U.K. radio airplay chart after four weeks. The song has the aura of Minogue songs like “Spinning Around” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” anthems that come along every few years, re-engage her fan base and bring in the next generation.
“I feel like it’s spreading joy,” she said, beaming. “Which is the best thing I could ever have wished for.”
She jokes about her veteran status -- “I‘m going to be put out to pasture soon” -- and was once said to have been all five of the Spice Girls at some point in her career. But Minogue could be forgiven for looking at some of her current rivals for electro-pop queen-bee status and thinking, “Been there, done that, got the uncomfortable-looking latex corset.”
Certainly, as Miley Cyrus tries to make the transition from wholesome TV persona to grown-up dance-floor diva, she could do worse than study how Minogue graduated from her tomboy role on Australian soap opera “Neighbours” to “Better the Devil You Know” sexpot. As Christina Aguilera seeks out indie cred through collaborations with Le Tigre and Peaches, Minogue could point to her mid-‘90s dalliances with Nick Cave and the Manic Street Preachers. Even Lady Gaga’s co-option of cutting-edge dance-floor trends into pop statements seems to have something in common with Minogue’s “Fever” period.
But perhaps the main difference is, Minogue has always seemed at ease with herself. Even as she recovered from breast cancer diagnosed in 2005, she seemed to move effortlessly through the minefield of modern celebrity, never giving much away. Except when she’s onstage.
”Fame is a very weird thing, and it can be confusing at times,“ she said. ”The reason performing live is so addictive is that that’s where (fame) makes sense. People are there to see you, you’re there to show yourself, you’re all there to share an experience and be in a frenzy.
“Onstage, you don’t have to deal with the real world -- you deal with the world you’ve created. To have that great energy, nothing else can beat it. So you could call me an addict.”