Please don't comment that it's bad to compare the two. Bad is the new good.
I've long been a Kylie Minogue critic, but before I was that, I was a Kylie Minogue fan—I loved "I Should Be So Lucky" and in the same way I have to rank Madonna's first album among her best, just in general never quite got over the bubbly fun that was 1988's Kylie. I loved her early '90s house phase, when I was young and "going out dancing" (whatever that means anymore), but eventually became so turned off by what seemed to be blatant Madonna knock-offs (Kylie became a human impostor fragrance to me) that I never allowed myself to get into her clubby masterpieces of the past decade.
I've already said any conversation about Kylie must begin with an acknowledgment that she's visited the Madonna well too many times—even pop-cultural cat burglar Madonna knows better than to return to the same house night after night—but in seeing her first-ever North American tour last night at Manhattan's Hammerstein Ballroom, I've come away with some other preconditions to any Kylie discussion: Yes, there's nothing style-wise or form-wise that Madonna didn't do first and better, but there are major differences between the two, both in attitude and, more importantly, musically.
It must be okay to like both, right? After all, Kylie gamely did the rap from "Vogue."
So diva-on-diva grudge matches aside, how was the show?
I got there at 7:30. No need to be there early since she's not my favorite, right? But the doors, which were supposed to open at 7:00, didn't until more like 7:40, so I found myself in a ridiculous, doubled-up line. My Kylie companion, Anthony, showed up just as I got to the front door and we found good seats in the mezzanine that managed not to be directly behind some nearby hulking steroid queens dancing giddily if out of sync with the music.
Before the show, Madonna's "Celebration" played. Nobody booed. Then Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York." Clever, this Kylie.
I don't watch concerts on DVD (not even Madonna's...most of my copies of her tours are sealed), so I wouldn't know, but I'd been told that Kylie's North American show has been put together using all the best bits from her previous tours as a way to help America catch up with the fact that "I Should Be So Lucky" wasn't her most recent hit. The gambit works, resulting in a (nearly) non-stop entertainment-fest with very little to criticize.
The opener was "Light Years," a 2001 song fans have noted makes use of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" in a way that Madonna's 2005 song "Future Lovers" does; tit for tat, a newly much more curvaceous Kylie recycled her entrance from the ceiling on a glittering skull from her X-era tour, the effect being uncannily reminiscent of Madonna's Confessions Tour entrance. The mutual theft was so layered it became clear I would never succeed in keeping score, so I (almost) stopped trying.
The lighting was absolutely spectacular...dazzling. I'm sure so much was lost by cramming THE Kylie Minogue into the Hammerstein Ballroom, and yet something may have been gained in seeing such an eye-popping array of lights and projections in such a confined space.
Kylie's got a squeaky little voice (I told Hilary Duff she looked and sounded like Kylie back before she started her singing career and I was right), but not a bad voice by any stretch—she would have gotten all the leads in her high school musicals if she hadn't been busy being a popstar. She does sing, usually on key and with surprising power if without many shades. There was vocal backing, but nothing egregious. She's along the lines of Madonna, not of Britney Spears.
"Speakerphone" from her X album was next, and its presentation helped hammer home a highly sci-fi vibe in this first section that I really liked. People have said Kylie "can't dance," but I don't think it's all that apparent and was completely camouflaged with all the robotic staging. The Jean-Paul Gaultier outfits seemed to be more GaGa than Madonna, but at any rate were memorably futuristic, weird and yet supercute all at the same time. Also, Kylie seems unafraid to have a real body with an ass. Respect!
"You know I love you," she offered during "Come Into My World," a hit from 2001's Fever that helped raise temperatures in the roomful of adoring men. (There were some women but...let's be honest. Before the show, a male/female couple asked who it was for and the woman said, "It's all dudes! She must be hot." Yes, but...)
By now, it was apparent to me that the main stylistic difference between Madonna and Kylie is that Madonna is an artiste (affected "e" intention)—she is interested in subtext, in provocation, in pushing herself, in making even her fluffiest pop hits resonate with something, anything—and Kylie is an entertainer, unaffected and miraculously still in touch with the "golly gee" of it all, able to sing and dance and have fun and not take herself seriously. There is something to be said for both. I prefer the former, but if Kylie is the non-thinking man's Madonna, she's also the thinking man's non-Madonna.
Warmly thanking the audience before screaming with glee to finally be playing New York after 21 years, she campily joked about catching a chill before donning a huge, fluffy coat no doubt meant to harken back to Marlene Dietrich's famous, feathered friend. "In Your Eyes" from Fever wasn't one I was overly familiar with, and yet Kylie's songs have a comforting yet never monotonous sameness that reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys, so it felt like hearing any number of her other best works.
One of my favorite aspects of the show was a cheesy medley of some of her '90s hits, including "Shocked," "What Do I Have to Do?", "Step Back in Time" and "Spinning Around." I can't honestly think of any other major stars whose '90s pop period is as essential as Kylie's (Madonna's '90s output does not sound '90s, nor do the songs even sound like each other), so it was surprisingly nostalgic to see her reviving the Running Man and even snippets from Blackbox's "Ride On Time. (The follow-up new song "Better Than Today" was much worse than yesterday, alas.) Whereas Madonna is not personally or professionally given to nostalgia, Kylie has no similar hang-up. She is all about pleasing her crowd and herself, which also translated into a rather nakedly aggressive bid for gay smiles via a gym-shower sequence.
I felt the show went downhill for a while past this juncture. After rather arresting (and Steven Klein-esque) footage of Kylie in a white lace go-go burka (my description), her "American Life"-esque look for X's "Like a Drug," the hits-package song "Boombox" and her biggest hit ever "Can't Get You Out of My Head" just didn't seem to match the material, and her performances—while fine—didn't seem as committed as on other songs.
After this, I was downright bored with her balladeering. Her voice is fine, it's just not a voice I want to hear ushering slower songs. "Slow," "2 Hearts" (not exactly slow), "Red Blooded Woman" and "Where the Wild Roses Grow" all blended together for me. She was definitely trying to fit too many songs into her show in the same way her show was itself too big for the Hammerstein.
"Sex" and "Heartbeat Rock" provided a segue to "Wow," an enormously entertaining song from X that was a definite tribute to her early '90s sound, but ballad "White Diamond" left me cold and the clips from the video were the only hint that she's no spring chicken after all (as with Madonna, when the hair is pulled back, the facelift is THERE).
One of her best slower songs, "Confide in Me," was beautifully executed (has anyone ever said this song owes a lot to "It's a Fine Day"?) and went perfectly with "I Believe in You." "Burning Up" was less welcome (to me...I barely heard it?), but her aforementioned tribute to Madonna via the "Vogue" rap was cute and the costumes were gorgeous, definitely something Madonna would wear. Also, I would note that "Vogue" was lip-synched as Madonna always used to do it (on Sticky & Sweet, she finally really sang it).
As much as I detest "The Loco-Motion," her jazzy version of it was clever. It reminded me of the many ways in which Madonna has tried to change "Like a Virgin" into something she can stand singing. I have to say "Kids" is a great song I managed to mostly miss when it came out, and its bombastic, rock-operatic feel could have been an ideal ending if encores were not required. "In My Arms" was the last song prior to the encores, and it again was a newer tune that owes much to her house phase.
Uncertain which songs to do as encores (amazing it was that she had so many left to choose from and still did not perform every single hit from her catalogue!), Kylie excused herself to have a chat with her band, returning to gift me—I mean—us with what might be my favorite of all her songs, 1990's "Better the Devil You Know." She even did a cutesy ass-shake in the middle. There's just something about this girl that is warm and engaging. As teen stars of today would say, she's not afraid to just be a dork.
"The One" and "Love at First Sight" were hugely popular finales and well suited to placement side by side.
All in all, I have to say likable (or lickable, if you go for that sorta thing) Kylie's Franken-show was extremely entertaining and while her material and its presentation are not challenging, this is not to say she doesn't work hard while at the same time making it look easy.
Okay, Kylie fans—I finally get it.