Back when I was a shy 10-year-old falling in love with pop, there was someone 10 years older than me that I bloody adored. She was bright, she was bouncy, she was smiley, she was funny. “Did you know that I'm having a fling… and I've broken up his marriage, which is odd because I've never actually met the man,” she railed brightly to Tom Hibbert at Smash Hits. “And also I hear I didn't actually sing on 'I Should Be So Lucky' because it was actually Rick Astley speeded up.” That was our Kylie: 20 years young, knowing from Day One.
Now I am nearly 40, somehow, and Kylie’s nearly 50. Imagining both concepts 30 years ago would have blown my tiny mind. The idea of a female pop star ageing was pretty unusual back then. Older women only usually appeared in pop if they were having a comeback, like when Dusty Springfield, 48, duetted with the Pet Shop Boys on What Have I Done To Deserve This (kicking off a short, late, new career) or when the The KLF got Tammy Wynette, 49, in as a guest vocalist for 1991’s Justified And Ancient. But to be fair, pop was still in the early flushes of adulthood back then. Now, it’s proudly got its bus pass and a long, vivid story to tell on the journey – so, it’s only right that similarly aged people should be telling tales that speak to its listeners’ lives. This is the world into which Kylie steps.
Her new album is, brilliantly, called Golden – gold being the colour of half-century anniversaries, of course. The lead single is its opening track, Dancing, a song that begins with a country-dappled guitar, before moving on to a chorus chock-full of classic Kylie carefreeness. But its chorus line – “When I go out, I want to go out dancing” – has a much richer, deeper meaning. It refers to the simplest and poppiest of urges, of course: of the pulling-on of a pair of glittery shoes and of being beaming and bright under the glitterball. But wanting to “go out” at her age, to do something euphoric, also displays a knowing nod to mortality – something Kylie brings home in her video by dancing, rather brilliantly, with the Grim Reaper.
This black humour has a boldly melancholic edge to it too, of course, given how close Kylie herself came to death in the mid-noughties – and the lyrics are similarly unapologetic: “Can’t stand still. Won’t slow down… when the final curtain falls, we could say we did it all.” As goadings of the judgemental tabloid brigade go, this song’s a joy. Ageing, am I? Kylie shrugs. Well, whatever. At the end, I’ll still be doing what I do.
Ageing, am I? Kylie shrugs. Well, whatever. At the end, I’ll still be doing what I do
I’ve been hearing comparable bright sentiments in artists of a similar age, too. Take the 55-year-old Tracey Thorn on her fantastic new pop album, Record, which shimmers through tales of old boyfriends, being on the pill and having babies. It ends with the brilliant Dancefloor and a protagonist who would “like to be… on a dancefloor with some drinks inside of me / someone whispering it’s quarter after three”, listening to songs like Chic’s Good Times, David Bowie’s Golden Years and Shannon’s Let The Music Play. These late 70s and early 80s pop hits are the only things that suggest her age, but this woman doesn’t want to hear their beats from an armchair. And even though the rest of Kylie’s album features nicely engineered country stylings that are an obvious nod to a kind of musical maturity, punchier disco and dance sounds are its main focus, as are tales of love, emotion and heartbreak that Kylie could have sung at any age.
My surprise at Kylie turning 50 is more about my own surprise at turning 40, I realise. It’s a feeling that says more about my expectations of what women’s lives were meant to be like when I was a young girl, when many of our mothers and grandmothers lived less liberated, more traditional lives. It’s a feeling that gains a new edge when I remember Kylie’s candid interviews in recent years about her feelings on getting older, after she admitted to using Botox and other treatments. In 2012, she told Elle “there are lots of times I look in the mirror and I see that gravity has taken hold” – but this didn’t stop her making big pop records, presenting mainstream programmes like BBC talent show The Voice, or starring in interesting, independent films. And why should she stop, anyway? Pop’s her life. It’s also been ours, too.
I’m reminded of a BBC Radio 4 programme I made a few years ago called When I Grow Up, about my surprise that I had reached my late thirties, but still didn’t feel magically adult. I spoke to my own mother for the programme, who said something that has always stayed me: “I thought I’d just wake up one morning and I’d be grown up – and that hasn’t happened somehow. It’s only the face in the mirror that’s different. Inside, I’m just the same.” We get older, sure, but women should never lose the glitter and defiance of life. Come with me, and let’s keep dancing.