Kylie Minogue’s latest album Kiss Me Once has just been released to affectionate – if not quite ecstatic – praise, and having listened to it a few times, I’ve already classed it as a guilty pleasure. A really, really guilty pleasure.
Because it’s like sugar; addictive and sweet, yet no good for me. I firmly believe there is a place in the world for carefree pop music – you can’t spend your life endlessly listening to Morrissey, after all – but when even the most shamelessly commercial pop music starts to feel cynical and calculated, you have to ask what’s going on. Why do I feel so patronised?
Kiss Me Once is the latest example of a worrying trend in which mature women in pop aren’t allowed to be just that – mature. Coming hot on the heels of Madonna’s lacklustre MDNA and Cher’s disappointing Closer To The Truth, Kiss Me Once tell us once and for all that older women in pop aren’t allowed to grow up and develop their artistic style; while all these albums have a scattering of great, catchy pop tunes, they overwhelmingly seem cynically produced to appeal to gay men and tweens – two demographics I didn’t think had much crossover appeal.
It’s not as if these women have always produced mindless mass-appeal pop either. Madonna co-wrote Like A Prayer and Frozen; now she sings to her lover ‘I’ll give you the password to my phone’ – quite the admission of love and trust, if you’re 13. Cher, who once longed to Turn Back Time, now implores ‘all the women in the club, stand up’, while Kylie, who breathily invited us to ‘Confide In Me’, now invites us to ‘Sexercise’.
I’m not saying that older women can’t be fun, playful and sexy, and there are those that would argue these artists are making a bold assertion of their vitality: ‘look at me, I’m not over the hill yet’. But I don’t believe that any of these women find it particularly empowering trying to keep up with the Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez crowd. The fact is, the inanity of these lyrics and the bland, over-produced music that they are set to seems to make a bold statement about what, if anything, mature women have to contribute in the pop landscape. It’s do or die: act like a 15 year old, or disappear forever.
Many of the filler songs that pack these records feel as if they were written for Miley or Selena initially. (Note: Cher actually covered Miley Cyrus’ ‘Lie To Me’ on her last album. Cher does Miley? Universe implosion imminent.) Does anyone truly believe that if Madonna wanted to write an album where she tried something a bit different or wrote lyrics about her experiences from a more mature perspective, the result would be a dud?
MDNA may have reached number one on music charts in most countries, but it still ranks as the lowest-selling album of Madonna’s career. And for the record, she was 40 when she co-wrote the Ray of Light album, some of the best work of her career. Did anyone worry about her ‘advanced age’ then? No, because they were too busy listening to an interesting, complex and mature record.
I guess we should have seen this coming with Madonna – after the misstep of her American Life album, she made a clear decision to get the gays back on side by sampling Abba’s ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ on the electro-disco track ‘Hung Up’. It seems that at that point Madge – or her management – decided they would stop trying to push boundaries and instead go with lowest common denominator tween-pop-lite approach.
Is this simply unabashed capitalism or deeply entrenched ageism? I say the truth lies somewhere in between, and while I look forward to the day we get a new Ray of Light or Impossible Princess, I guess I’ll have to content myself with an amazing and varied body of work by three amazing women.