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Nine Songs
Dannii Minogue

With her joyful new dating show and a 20th anniversary reissue of Neon Nights out later this month, pop royalty Dannii Minogue is enjoying another moment in the sun. She talks to Alan Pedder about her favourite songs.

02 June 2023, 08:00 | Words by Alan Pedder

Pride Month has only just begun, but Dannii Minogue has made sure it hits the ground running with her inspired new role as host of queer dating show I Kissed A Boy, which started a few weeks back on BBC Three.

Minogue is a natural fit for the reality TV artform. Since 2007, she’s had stints on Australia’s Got Talent and various iterations of The X Factor, Next Top Model and The Masked Singer, as well as the Take That-inspired one-and-done series Let It Shine. But there’s something about her presence on I Kissed A Boy that feels reassuringly right. Perfect, even. Glowing beneath the Italian sun and fully embracing her ‘Momma Minogue’ mode, she’s the steady guiding hand for a rotating cast of twentysomething singles looking for some fun.

It's not surprising, really. Minogue got her start in television aged 7, become a teen idol in Australian soap Home & Away at 17, and has presented everything over the years from The Big Breakfast and Top of the Pops to The X Factor and The Masked Singer. She’s also been a gay icon for almost as long as her older sister Kylie, headlining London Pride way back in ’97 and later becoming a global ambassador for HIV prevention. Along the way there have been five studio albums, nine UK Top Ten singles, a memoir, a son, and becoming perhaps the first (only?) person ever to play the roles of both Rizzo and Lady Macbeth.

As a late Gen X'er raised on the Minogue sisters' irrepressible pop, their artistic renewal in the early 2000s felt only right and proper. First Kylie with Light Years and Fever, then Dannii with the slightly edgier course correction of Neon Nights. Where her previous albums had perhaps gazed a little too longingly towards the hard-to-crack US, Neon Nights found her cherry picking from contemporary European club scenes with often euphoric results. The seductive disco-funk of “Put The Needle On It” and the airy, dance-pop stomp of “I Begin To Wonder” (which ironically gave her a US airplay hit) still sound pretty fresh today, two decades on. The new anniversary edition, Neon Nights 20, updates previous reissues with an even more extensive collection of remixes and new liner notes from Peter Robinson of Popjustice, with a definitive 7CD boxset (over 100 tracks!) for the diehards.

In London to promote I Kissed A Boy, Minogue took half hour out of her crammed schedule to sit down with me and talk about the songs that have been pivotal in her eventful life. At least that was the plan. In reality, she seems a lot less interested in talking about that than she is about everything from Sweden’s Eurovision supremacy – “I’m loving Loreen’s performance, it’s so feminine and sensual and powerful,” she says, making a claw with her hand – to my favourite songs, which no one wants to read. She doesn’t even mention the TV show or the theme song she’s recorded, “We Could Be The One”. The words ‘neon nights’ don’t cross her lips once. There's only full-flow, in-the-moment Minogue, sitting on a sofa in a cocktail dress, picking songs from a Spotify playlist like a friend just passed her the aux. We’re winging it completely, but damn if it isn’t a whole lot of fun.

“Into the Groove” by Madonna

DANNII MINOGUE: Madonna was a huge influence on me when I was growing up. She has so many brilliant songs, I could choose any of them really. I’m going to say “Into the Groove”, because it’s just such an iconic track and I once did a mashup of one of my songs with it. It has such a cool style.

I love hearing all the stories about her early career. How she would be running around places with copies of her tape, giving them to anyone who would listen. Those were the days! I love that she would make sure she got into the club one way or another, and that’s how a lot of artists started back then. Not so much these days, at least in the pop world. I think it still happens a lot with rap and hip hop artists.

BEST FIT: Do you have a favourite Madonna era or album?

For me, it’s the Like a Virgin album. But I also absolutely love “Holiday” from her first album too.

Kylie and I listened to a lot of Madonna growing up. We had three bedrooms in a row with music just blasting out, and we’d all be competing with each other. I think I was mostly playing Madonna. If I had to pick one artist that Kylie played the most, it would be Prince, while our brother was more into rock stuff like AC/DC.

“Free Yourself” by Jessie Ware

DANNII MINOGUE: I would like to throw in a song from Jessie Ware’s new album. I just love the vintage feel of the whole record. The production is so lush. It’s sexy, it’s strong. She just embodies so much of what the idea of a diva was back in the day.

I’m choosing “Free Yourself” because it just makes me want to head straight to a disco and dance. And those keys at the beginning! They give me such a Dolly Parton vibe.

I actually met Jessie the other week and she just seems like someone you could just have so much fun with. Someone you could dance around the kitchen with at home. I really hope she just keeps making albums forever. She was saying that it’s only now that she’s starting to feel confident. Like she’s only just arrived. Can you believe that?

“Rhythm Nation” by Janet Jackson

DANNII MINOGUE: Let’s go back in time. I said earlier that I was listening to a lot of Madonna, but I was also listening to a lot of Janet Jackson too. Recently I finally got around to unpacking a lot of stuff from boxes at home and found a copy of the Rhythm Nation album that I’d bought ages ago, still in its shrinkwrap. I had a moment where I was like, ‘Should I really open this?’ But it was time. It had to come out of the wrapper.

I’m choosing the title track here but the whole album is epic. She’s epic. I love her strength, her dancing, her lyrics. Actually my most embarrassing moment ever in terms of meeting someone famous was meeting Janet in Sweden and totally making a fool of myself. I was out there doing some work, promoting something, and my record company told me that she was in town. Then they were like, ‘Oh, yeah, she’s having a party tonight. Do you want to go?’

I could tell it was getting serious when we went to the party and we had to go through all these different sections to reach her. There was a velvet rope, then another, and another, and another. We went through all these sections until we eventually got to this one room where she was, and I was able to go in and say hi. Except all I could do was just blurt out, ‘Oh, I love you!’ and she said nothing, because what could she say to that?

So yeah, I embarrassed myself and had to leave. There was too much of a big build up to meeting her. Too many years of me watching all her video clips and trying to learn the dance routines. I just couldn’t handle meeting her in person.

BEST FIT: It happens. Even when you’re used to meeting people you admire, there’s always one who you totally freak out about and kick yourself afterwards.

Ooh. Who have you embarrassed yourself in front of then?

Björk. She was sitting right behind me at a really small show and I basically did exactly what you did with Janet.

I think it’s so natural to freak out when you love someone’s music and you admire them so much. I mean, you’ve probably listened to their songs more times than they have. Almost certainly. Even if they’ve performed them a million times, you’ve still listened to it more and you know it so well.

It makes me feel better to know that this is your job and you still get starstruck.

“Dancing Queen” by ABBA

DANNII MINOGUE: Have you gone to see ABBA Voyage yet?

BEST FIT: I haven’t. I know, I’m a terrible person.

Oh my god. You need to lock in tickets and go. It’s really amazing. I went to a matinee show recently and it had all the energy of a nighttime show. I was in a seated area, but I want to go again and just be on the edge of the standing area where people are dancing at the front. I want to be up there dancing along to “Dancing Queen”. Again, it’s one of those songs that you either think is the cheesiest thing you’ve ever heard and you never want to hear it again, or you love it to death like I do.

When I was a kid, ABBA were – and still are – huge in Australia. Kylie and I would always be singing their songs into hairbrushes. There was a music guru called Molly Meldrum who had been overseas and came back to Australia telling everyone about ABBA. He’d be saying things like, ‘Do yourself a favour and go and get this record!’ and he really helped to break them in Australia, which then became a huge market for them. Have you seen a film called Muriel’s Wedding?

Yes! That film was huge here too.

I mean, it is so obvious to me that we would have a film like that, because we just love our ABBA. I’m sure that there are a lot of Aussies coming to London to see ABBA Voyage, and you should too. It will take your breath away.

I’m a nerd and a geek so I’m always interested to see how big live shows are done from a technical perspective. I watched all of the footage of how they put ABBA Voyage together before I got there, and thank god, because otherwise my brain would not have let me just enjoy the show. I would have been standing there pulling on people’s sleeves asking, ‘How did they do that? How did that work?’

Have you been to the ABBA Museum in Stockholm?

I haven’t! It’s funny because when I was recording in Stockholm years ago, I went to a studio one day to record some vocals and it turned out to be ABBA’s studio. There was a huge grand piano in the middle of the room, and there were platinum discs in boxes on the floor and leaning against the walls. I was beside myself. I thought, ‘Anyone could just grab one of those and take it, what are they doing?’

I remember saying to people, ‘Why isn’t there an ABBA museum?’ And now there is! A friend of mine has been and she said it is beyond, so it’s on my to-do list.

“I Honestly Love You” by Olivia Newton John

DANNII MINOGUE: Olivia Newton John was another very influential person for me when I was growing up. Grease was the film that made me want to perform. I didn’t really know what performing was at the time, but I saw Olivia singing and dancing and I was like, ‘I want to do that. Whatever that is.’

I got to meet her many years later and tell her. I’m sure she’s been told that a lot, but I couldn’t not tell her when she was standing right in front of me! I had to let it out. I got to meet her quite a few times after that as well, and I’ve become very good friends with her niece. We actually had the memorial for Olivia quite recently in Australia, though it’s been quite a while since she passed.

Hopelessly Devoted to You” is obviously amazing, but my favourite song of hers is “I Honestly Love You”. For me, that song is up there with the greatest songs and vocal performances ever.

BEST FIT: I think a lot of people do forget what an incredible singer she was. I feel like people underestimate her talent.

At the memorial, there were a lot of musical artists paying tribute who had performed with Olivia on stage or recorded a duet with her, and every single one of them said the same thing. That they had never been so scared of being in a studio or rehearsal with anyone because she was absolutely a perfectionist. And she was prepared.

She was not always perfect, and she would certainly tell you if you were not perfect either. But of course she was such a gentle, sweet and kind person, so it was a shock to these huge artists that she could be so terrifying. Did you ever meet her?

I did not, sadly. I had a lot of respect for her, though. An incredible woman who did so much amazing work.

Yeah. It felt like she knew that was what she was here to do. To put music into the world and to lift up other people.

“I Smile” by Kirk Franklin

DANNII MINOGUE: [scrolls to song on playlist and plays it through to the chorus] Do you recognise this one?

BEST FIT: Er, no. Who is it?

Who is it?! Mariah would slap you! [cackles] It’s Kirk Franklin [shows me the album cover on Spotify]

Wow, I… would not expect that song from that album cover.

Yeah, I don't know what he's doing there. But man, he brings it on stage.

He’s the guy that Mariah Carey goes to when she needs all those amazing soul harmonies in her songs. I mean, Mariah knows harmonies, right? I don’t even know how I found this song. Well, he’s in her Christmas TV special, so maybe that’s how I discovered him. She’s standing there in this amazing gold outfit and not really moving much, and then this guy comes on stage and he’s up there preaching, hyping and lifting the mood. No trace of fear. I remember thinking, wow, this guy has just got it.

If I’m ever having a bad day, this is the song I put on to cheer myself up. It’s quirky, and there’s a magic that he brings that is so cool.

“Love is in the Air” by John Paul Young

This is one of those songs where you either think it’s really tacky and uncool, or you love it. I am absolutely in the camp of loving it.

I don’t know when I first heard it, but it was probably on the radio. It’s one of those songs you often hear at parties. The kind of song that becomes a part of the fabric of any environment where there’s a celebration, or it’s just a joyful time. It always puts me in a good mood.

[looks sheepish] I have to admit that I’m not familiar with much of his other music. This is the song I go to.

“I Feel Love” by Sam Smith

DANNII MINOGUE: Of course I love the original by Donna Summer, but I think Sam Smith’s version is great because it’s brought that whole Studio 54 vibe and history to a whole new audience.

I absolutely love reading stuff about that time. I’ve read everything I can about the music, the outfits and all the craziness that went on. Like Bianca Jagger arriving on a white horse. Just amazing. I’ve never been there but a friend of mine in New York was in her clubbing phase at that time and has told me so many stories about it.

I love Sam’s voice. It's so unique and immediately identifiable. I remember hearing them singing for the first time and just thinking, ‘Yes!’ There’s a beautiful sensuality about their voice that I think Donna Summer had as well.

“Here Comes the Night” by Agnes

DANNII MINOGUE: I was trying to explain to my friends in London that we in Melbourne spent the longest time in a lockdown situation in the world. A big chunk of two years. So going to World Pride in Sydney from Melbourne recently was our first time being around a huge crowd of people. Like being in London now, it was a real assault on the senses, even though it was full of love and good vibes. It was just everywhere you looked.

It was pretty special, because it was both World Pride and Mardi Gras together, so you had all these artists flying in. One of those was Agnes, who came out to Australia and did a show. I wasn’t there, because I was just in and out of Sydney in a day [for a surprise guest appearance on Kylie's "All the Lovers"], but I watched her whole set on YouTube and she’s incredible.

I love the whole album, Magic Still Exists. But if I was forced to choose one song, it would be ‘Here Comes the Night’. It’s a little Rocky theme tune. It’s a little ABBA. I feel like I can hear all of her influences. You can hear a bit of Donna Summer in there, a bit of Prince. I’m not saying they are all in this one track, but I hear them across the album.

When I tell friends about this album, I always tell them that they need to listen to it in order. It’s essential! I really got what Adele was saying to Spotify recently, like ‘Don’t mess up my album, that’s rude. We spent a lot of time on this, and it should be listened to in the order we intended.’ For me, Magic Still Exists is one of those albums. I just love it.

I’m hoping one day to see a full show from Agnes, because it was just a short set that she played at Pride. Hopefully she loved her visit and she’ll come back, because you know when people come all the way out to Australia and perform, we appreciate it so much. It’s like okay, we’re your fans forever, whether you like it or not!

The I Kissed A Boy theme song "We Could Be the One" is out now. Neon Nights 20 is released 16 June via London Records.

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