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Kylie Minogue on her new album 'Tension'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Kylie Minogue looks to the zodiac for understanding and inspiration.

KYLIE MINOGUE: Part and parcel of being a Gemini is don't box us in. I like to feel like I can still shapeshift through things, so the studio's a brilliant place to be able to do that.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PADAM PADAM")

MINOGUE: (Singing) Padam.

SIMON: And after feeling all cooped up during the pandemic, Kylie Minogue says she was eager to get back into a studio.

MINOGUE: I wanted a refresh, like we all did. I get the bug, and I love making a record. There's just possibility. I feel quite peaceful when there's possibility.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PADAM PADAM")

MINOGUE: (Singing) Padam, padam, I hear it and I know - padam, padam, - I know you wanna take me home - Padam - and get to know me close - padam, padam - when your heart goes padam, padam.

SIMON: "Tension" is Kylie Minogue 16th album. Like its predecessors, they're glittery disco songs that pulse with lust and shimmy with confidence and twirl with musicianship. The track "Padam Padam" opens the album.

MINOGUE: It's the heartbeat.

SIMON: Padam, padam. Padam, padam.

MINOGUE: You've got a "Padam" T-shirt on. You're very "Padam" red.

SIMON: Thank you. Kylie Minogue likes my T-shirt. Sorry I had to tell everybody. What was on your mind and in your heart - padam, padam - when you were putting together "Tension"?

MINOGUE: Oh, all sorts. "Tension" was recorded over a year and a half. A lot of life can happen in a year and a half. There's definitely songs that are stuff that I was going through at the time and then others that are purely fantastical. We're creating a story that is not what I'm going through or not relevant to me, but definitely something I can relate to.

SIMON: There's really very astonishing range on this album, too. For example, if I might use the phrase '90s nostalgia - doesn't seem that long ago to some of us, but any event - '90s nostalgia in your song "Hands."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANDS")

MINOGUE: (Rapping) Big drop on the bassline, tick-tock on the waistline. Don't rush, baby. Take time. Yeah, yeah.

I didn't write "Hands." That came to me as a demo. That is one that took me - parts of it - quite a while to access the delivery.

SIMON: Yeah.

MINOGUE: I don't think I've done many songs that would sound like that. It's got that '90s breezy, you know, window-down car. In fact, when my A&R spoke to me about that song before he sent it to me, he said, I know you're not a rapper, but this could be fun to try. It could work really well. It could be awful. But of course, I was like, I'll give it a try, and it was quite refreshing to do something once I managed to get it right. And now I love it as a singalong.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HANDS")

MINOGUE: (Singing) You're taking me to places I've never been. It's like I'm up in heaven. I'm in a dream. No, I never knew your love would set me free.

SIMON: You know, your vocalizations are just terrific...

MINOGUE: Thank you.

SIMON: ...The way you sort of, you know, hug words and let them go and pick them up again with your voice. It's just great.

MINOGUE: It's interesting you say that because part of making this album has been a voyage of discovery in exactly that realm. Sometimes it's driven me crazy, but I - the satisfaction of reaching what I think is the right point of the vocal - I love doing that.

SIMON: There's a quote attributed to you in which you say there's no shortcut to learning your craft.

MINOGUE: That's just one of my favorite quotes. I don't know where I came across it, but it is certainly a truth.

SIMON: Tell us what that process has been like with you, learning your craft.

MINOGUE: I absolutely loved music as a youngster. And I started out in TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "NEIGHBOURS")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Charlene. What on earth do you think you're doing?

MINOGUE: (As Charlene Robinson) I was trying to get in, and he jumped me.

I made a little bit of pocket money, which I put into singing lessons. I made a demo cassette when I was 17. My first single came out when I was 18.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE LOCO-MOTION")

MINOGUE: (Singing) So come on, come on, do the loco-motion with me.

That was "Loco-Motion," and it was a runaway success. So I was kind of thrust into this new world of the music industry with zero experience.

SIMON: Yeah.

MINOGUE: I had kind of presentation and performance experience, as in cameras and the world of media and all of that, but not as in stage presentation or vocally how to get through a show. So I basically learnt everything on the job.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: But that means you can get better as you go along, right?

MINOGUE: Yeah. I think every little bit of experience that one gathers is definitely going to inform your ability and your art to build on that, to really, you know, pick myself up when things were hard to get through those lows and really believe in myself, even when I wasn't sure, just kind of find that resilience and keep going.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a lyric in your song "Story" that caught our attention.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STORY")

MINOGUE: (Singing) I didn't walk on the wild side or fall in the night sky. I didn't let the world know, I, I - I was fightin' a big fight, fightin' a dark light, ragin' hard on the inside.

SIMON: Obviously, what that suggests is here you are on the outside dazzling millions of people with joy, but there was something harder and, it sounds, forbidding and lonely going on on the inside sometimes.

MINOGUE: Yep. We all have our struggles, and I had mine at that time. And once I came through that enough to look at kind of more, I was really struck by how much people - people close to you - knowingly or unknowingly, inform who you are. There's many things we can't achieve without love and support of those around us. So it's kind of like an acknowledgement of that and a thank you.

SIMON: May I ask how your health is?

MINOGUE: My health is quite fine. Thank you.

SIMON: All right. 'Cause you you had a cancer scare, cancer experience?

MINOGUE: Well, a scare sounds like it kind of scared you and went away. It's part of who I am. And I know I am a compassionate person. But when you combine your compassion and empathy for people with experience, it becomes a different thing.

SIMON: And is that something you can share with the rest of the world with your music, do you think?

MINOGUE: I hope so, yeah. I think I did back - the first album, I made after my diagnosis, and when I had recovered enough, I had, like, a half a centimeter a hair. I mean, it's very - you feel very exposed...

SIMON: Yeah.

MINOGUE: ...And very fragile. People have told me and shared it with me that they looked to me at that time for something they were going through or something a loved one was going through. And in my case, the cancer did not take away my essence. It made it difficult. But our little pilot light of who we are remains.

(SOUNDBITE OF KYLIE MINOGUE SONG, "TENSION")

SIMON: Please indulge one more question. If you could tell the young person you were as a teenager what you've learned now at this point in your life, what do you think that would be?

MINOGUE: An easy answer is, keep a diary because, I mean, I have my memories of what I experienced and what I felt through those times. But to have it written down would be interesting. I would say it'll all be OK, even in the depths. You will rise. You know, try to be kind to yourself. I think we can be our own worst critics. That's one thing I would like to tell my younger self. And probably, eat your greens.

SIMON: Eat your - (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TENSION")

MINOGUE: (Singing) All night, touch me right there. Touch me right there. Touch me right there. Baby, what you missin'? Almost there. Touch me right there.

SIMON: It's been wonderful. Kylie Minogue, thanks so much.

MINOGUE: Thank you so much for your time. That was a really great chat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TENSION")

MINOGUE: (Singing) Don't be shy, boy. I don't bite. You know where. Touch me right. Oh, my God. Touch me right there. Almost there. Touch me right there. Don't be shy, boy. I don't bite. You know where. Touch me right. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.