Your disco still needs you

Image by Guy James Whitworth.

Sydney artist and author Guy James Whitworth issues a cautionary tale on judging ageing pop divas.

I’ve always had a casual, open relationship with Kylie Ann Minogue. 

In my twenties in London, and thirties in Sydney, Kylie was everywhere. She was an omnipresent pocket-sized deity in the world of pop. In London, my local gay pub the Two Brewers would basically play back to back Kylie hits. On trashy holidays in Spain, every other song on the radio seemed to be Step Back in Time. Slow was pretty much my make-out song from 2003 to 2009. And so on.

I do wholeheartedly love her, but in my relationship with her, I kinda take her for granted. I’m just gonna say it: like a few of my fellow gays (of a similar age group to me) I’m just not all that excited by the idea of her new album, Disco. Why is that? I mean, one of my favourite Kylie songs is Your Disco Needs You!

Let’s go right back to the start of our courtship to consider why my Kylie love affair could be waning.   

Picture the scene: London 1988. I was working in a cool-as-fuck designer fashion store called Red or Dead and I ducked into the stockroom at the back of the shop to have a sneaky bite of my lunchtime sandwich. I have a clear memory of Trevor, the supermodel/manager of the store sticking his head around the door, saying: “Hey, there’s a girl here called Kylie getting some bits. She’s in Neighbours and has a single coming out. Wanna come meet her?”

Now, let me tell you, there is barely a living minute I have not regretted my response.

“Hmmm, nah,” I said. “I’m sure she’ll amount to nothing.” And I kept picking at my sandwich.  

Yes. I. Am. An. Idiot. I was young, but at least I (almost) learnt my lesson.  

Next month on 6 November, 2020, global pop star Kylie releases her fifteenth studio album. So I think it is fair to say I was wrong, and she definitely amounted to something. A big legendary Grammy, MTV, ARIA and Brit Award-winning something, to say the least.   

Kylie Minogue’s latest single Magic, from her forthcoming album, Disco. Video: Kylie Minogue/YouTube.

When I moved to Sydney in the late nineties, I remember once being asked if I’d ever met Kylie, and that stockroom in Red or Dead flashed through my mind. I chose to simply smile and say no, no, oddly I never had.  

Maybe, like many, I have just taken Kylie for granted for much of her four-decade long career. Hers can certainly be an underestimated brilliance, sometimes outshone by other female singers of the same age/era who have played the fame game more outrageously.   

I’ve always been the biggest Grace Jones fan; she has always spoken my language. Pointedly, her last album, Hurricane, was probably the best of her career. Madonna (who you can’t disagree, has been more provocative and edgy than Kylie) is still going strong, although definitely needs a good talking to about fillers. Roisin Murphy, who has an incredible new dance album out, always gets my toes-a-tappin’. Tina Turner, currently in the charts with Kygo, was at her poptastic best in her forties and fifties. Best not to get me started on the timelessly spectacular Cher.  

At the end of the day, like chart positions, age is just a number. 

Okay, second embarrassing story of the piece …

Please picture another scene: still London, this time roughly five years later, around the early 1990s. I was still young, cute, stylish and still as dumb as a bag of hair. Quite by accident one night, I found myself at Boy George’s thirty-something birthday party (I know, get me, I used to be such an ‘it’ gay!) at a trendy underground club in Covent Garden.   

I was partying with a group of fabulous peeps who all decided to go ‘powder their noses’. Not really my scene. Completely without consent, thrust upon me was a frumpy middle-aged American woman who was a friend of a friend of a friend. (She and I were possibly the only people there not interested in nineties nose powders that night.) Colour me grumpy, this was not what I came to this party for, although bless her, she kept trying to shout over the music to strike up a conversation. But I was way too busy cruising cool celebrities.  

I’d never met this woman before, and even though I liked her outfit, she certainly was not future-new-best-friend material and I wandered off to dance, half-heartedly trying to lose her in the crowd on the way. She and I danced together to a few tracks before the lights came on and Boy George stepped on stage to blow out his candles.   

You know when hideous accidents happen and everything seems to slow down? Well, that is exactly what happened to me as I turned around to see my friends join us, and some of them whisk away my ‘not-new-bestie-friend’. Seeing her clearly for the first time as she turned to smile goodbye, I realised the ‘frumpy American’ I had little interest in was none other than my absolute life-long idol, Debbie Harry.   

Do. I. Never. Fucking. Learn? As I said, dumb as a bag of hair!  

The reason I recount this cringeworthy story, where, let’s be honest – I come across as a shallow, ageist, sexist fool – is, sometimes, despite my best efforts to not be those things, I can be exactly those things. We all can.

As magnificent, shiny and vacuous pop-loving queers, we have it in us to be enticed by fabulousness and that, in turn, can also leave us quick to judge and dismiss. I am not proud of it and I definitely learned a very big lesson from my Debbie Harry fuck-up.     

Basically, don’t be me.  

Let’s not judge people on how cool they are, solely on their youth, edginess and hotness. Or how uncool they might seem when compared to (often younger) counterparts. (Did someone just shout Dua Lipa?)

Your disco still needs you, indeed! It needs you to be open-minded, switched on and willing to give awesome albums a chance even if they are released by pop stars we (or our parents) danced to decades ago. Pass me some nineties nose powder (OK, maybe not) and bring on the Disco! Remember people, as Kylie herself once sang – it’s never too late!  

Kylie Minogue’s fifteenth studio album Disco is released on 6 November, 2020 through Liberation Records.

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