Monday, October 15, 2007
A Little Love For Dannii
With Kylie's 2008 album on the horizon, and endless bloggage dedicated to the leaking songs and videos, it seems time to balance things out with a little lovin' for her sibling, Dannii.
I interviewed Dannii in 2003, when her "Neon Nights" was hitting USA stores. Yeah, kinda sorta on the heels of Kylie's USA "comeback," Fever. She was perfectly charming, albeit a little over-friendly-flaky ("Oh yeah, when you come to London call me and we'll go to G.A.Y. together!"). At the time my boyfriend Matt and I were obsessed with Kylie lookalikes, and there was a pretty good one in the video for Simply Red's "Fake," (at 2 minutes in) so I had to whip out the laptop for Dannii's opinion on how accurate she was. (pretty good lookalike! but kind of poignant, because not a lot of, if any, Dannii lookalikes out there...)
In any case, here's the full version of that Dannii interview. And let's not forget her - she's got some nice pop stuff too!
PS - Those Britney observations were pretty prophetic of Dannii...
by Lawrence Ferber
What exactly IS Dannii Minogue beginning to wonder?
“Is Britney OK at the moment? She seems really not happy,” ponders the multitalented Australian export, concern swathing her face. “I wish she would just be like, you know, I need a few years to be wild. I’ve done the Mickey Mouse thing and I’m escaping, but she seems to not be happy.”
Actually, a more pressing point of wonderment would be “when the hell are people in the USA gonna know I exist?” Well, let the wondering, desist!
Neon Nights (Ultra Records) is Minogue’s - yep, Kylie’s little sister - first USA release to be properly marketed, and it’s a sexy, poppy, dancey, 80’s retro and feverish (couldn’t resist!) affair breaking through fast and fierce. It’s probably the first you’ve heard from and of Dannii, yet like big sis Kylie, she’s been an busy international star since childhood.
“Unfortunately, you guys have got me after I’ve been on the road for a year and a half, so I’m a little bit tired,” the petite brown haired, blue-eyed UK-based Minogue admits with a very intact Australian accent, retiring on a couch in her Tribeca Grand suite. The rest of her interviews canceled for the day due to weariness from a relentless schedule of promotion and rehearsal, we have an unrushed, casual conversation, touching on her beginnings, her sibling (of course!), Neon Nights’ just announced Aria (Australia’s Grammy) nomination for best pop album, and first fame in a country bizarrely unaware of her long, diverse career. “I guess [being here] encapsulates a lot of different emotions because everyone’s saying ‘America, America, yeah!’ And you’re kind of like ‘yeah!’ but...”
Minogue’s in New York for the Billboard Dance Summit, at which she performed a rousing set of Neon Nights’ already-chart-hits-overseas including “I Begin to Wonder,” “Put The Needle On It,” “Who Do You Love Now,” (a 2001 smash done with Dutch trancemasters Riva) and “Don’t Wanna Lose This Feeling,” a song recently fused with Madonna’s “Into The Groove” by French pop/production wonderkids Neimo. The tunes are bubbly and catchy as hell, and Minogue’s an energetic, and accessible, presence, with perhaps a touch more urban edge than big blonde sis.
“I’m a lot more spicy!” Minogue giggles, admitting she’s irked when people insinuate that she’s a Kylie clone. A day prior, a woman at a radio station flipped out, babbling on and on about how much she resembled Kylie. “I know we look similar, but I don’t see that. I see that we’re so totally different and I laughed and said to her, people who know the whole family - there’s a brother, Brendan, in between - there’s more similarity between me and him. I can sometimes step back and be objective and say yeah, they’re both in the same pot, but I guess the thing is we just try to do things our own way which ends up being similar. Same parents! It happens!”
Born Danielle Jane Minogue in October of 1971, she entered showbiz as a child actress on Australian TV shows “Skyways,” “The Sullivans” (alongside Kylie), and Mickey Mouse Club-esque “Young Talent Time.” Her first recordings appeared on “YTT” albums (she covered Europe’s “The Final Countdown” on one!), and by age twelve Minogue had her own fan club: for years, Kylie was referred to as “Dannii’s sister.” Come 1988, Minogue tried her hand at fashion design - her eponymous line sold out in ten days. More recordings and a plum role as Emma Jackson on Aussie soap “Home And Away” followed. Come 1990, she went gold: that year’s Love and Kisses album sold 60,000+, and within a year she racked four Top 15 singles on the UK charts. Minogue packed her bags and headed to London, her home and base of operations since.
“The funniest thing I look back on was just getting on that plane from Australia with one suitcase, packed for a three week promo trip and thinking nothing of it,” she reminisces. “‘I’ll visit London, then I’ll go home.’ Twelve years later I’m still living there. When you look back, life sometimes pushes you in a direction even though you feel like you’re pushing it.”
1993’s Get Into You album netted a Top 10 hit, “This is It,” but Minogue took a break from musical chores to present on BBC’s “Fan TC,” Big Breakfast’s Eggs on Legs road tour, and a Disney TV special. She also dedicated time to her two-year marriage to Aussie actor Julian McMahon (Charmed), which ended in a burning, painful split. In their breakup’s wake, stirring up some controversy (and massive money, she’s admitted), Minogue did a pictorial for Oz’s Playboy Magazine (which sold out within days of release). She also kept busy with a topless calendar (which moved 50,000+ units), more TV work on shows like Scoop, MTV’s Hanging Out and Electric Circus, and a UK clothing line. 1997 saw the release of disco-pop confection, Girl, revered by many fans as her best album yet, marking a pivotal change in sound. A stage gig as Rizzo in the Grease Arena Spectacular took her back to Oz for a spell, but she returned to Europe for her first tour, Unleashed ‘98.
An international superstar from Europe to Japan to Oz by this time, Minogue was asked to perform at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. “I was on the stage with forty lesbian dancers and it was beautiful because they were all dressed kind of naked, just with leaves covering,” she recalls. “All these lesbians were coming up and kissing me, going ‘my God, for the first time we’ve had the stage, it’s not all been about the boys in Sydney.’ The following year I did the song for the Mardi Gras’ CD, ‘Everlasting Night,’ and the video was me having a kiss with a girl and that made the six o’clock news. The fact there were drag queens kissing in it they didn’t even mention, but I was kissing a girl so that was a big deal!”
Minogue got more deeply involved with vaginas (the word, at least) when she took an acclaimed role in The Vagina Monologues. Asked if she would mind a little more intimate vaginal action, Minogue begins to wonder. “Would I? I don’t know, I’ve never had any feelings for being with another woman. I’ve definitely seen some cute girls, I definitely appreciate girls and can look at girls and go wow, amazing. But not yet.”
That said, the homo boys and drag queens are an unquestionably essential component of Minogue’s life. “I’m having a birthday party, and a friend said ‘I was thinking we should have a tarot card reader’ and I said ‘no, I need some drag queens! I don’t care what else we have, I have to have drag queens for my party otherwise it is NOT a Minogue party!’”
Minogue in fact spends much of her professional and down time with two longtime gay friends, Terry Ronald and Ian Masterson: they co-write and produce on her albums (you can view a photograph of the trio together, drunk on martinis, in the “Dannii Snaps” section of “I Begin To Wonder”’s single).
One of the trio’s Neon Night’s songs, the ballad “It Won’t Work Out,” takes on an especially poignant resonance for Minogue, as co-writer/producer Ronald was diagnosed with cancer during its recording. “He went into hospital to start chemo, and the record company wanted me to go back in and write a third verse for the song,” she recalls. “I got to the studio with the other guy, Ian but it’s always the three of us together all the time, that’s how we come, so it was so weird [for only two of us] to be sitting there. We didn’t know if he was gonna survive the chemo and writing the third verse, it was so hard! A line in the third verse says ‘I’m losing my best friend’ and at that time I really didn’t know if he was gonna live. The good news is he survived it, got rid of the cancer, and we’re having our birthday together. So whenever I sing that song live, for me it’s so powerful just to go through that whole thing of not knowing.”
Come 2001, dropped from her record label, Minogue was enlisted by Riva to sing “Who Do You Love Now,” a single that took her to #3 on the UK charts and permanent crossover into the dance world - no mean feat, Minogue insists, due to the territorial, cliquish nature of today’s London’s DJs (“they don’t want the pop people passing over into the dance world.”). A recording offer from London Records followed, and after pondering the prospect of reviving her musical career full time, Minogue chomped the bit and began writing songs.
Neon Nights was produced and co-written by several different teams, including Sweden’s Murlyn, Paris’ Neimo, and Terry Ronald and Ian Masterson. She doesn’t see much similarity to Kylie’s fever in Neon Nights, barring the fact “it’s a pop dance thing and a party vibe,” and is most adamant about the fact neither sister’s success has enabled the other’s. After all, the sisters have taken turns overshadowing each other in the fame game. “I think it’s been ironic timing [with Neon Nights coming after Kylie’s big Fever success], but whatever success I’ve had is because I’ve sung it, I’ve written it and gone out and done it. It’s not because of Kylie. It just doesn’t work like that. In fact, I think it’s harder! ANY female artist in the UK, after the success of Fever, was under a lot of pressure because every record company said ‘we want one of those!’ But the special thing about [Fever] is Kylie - what she did to it, puts into it and gets out of it. The song ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ was turned down by many, many people before Kylie chose it, and it’s her special magic that made it that huge. With anyone else singing it it just wouldn’t have been like that. It’s the same as whatever I do with Neon Nights is what I’ve put into it and get out of it. No one else can do that for you, no one.”
Of Neon Nights’ sexy dancey sound and lyrics, Minogue admits that turning thirty was a major motivator. Whereas her friends panicked, asking if she wanted to “run and hide,“ “I said no way, I’m having a huge party, I feel fantastic. I wanted it to be a little bit retro, because that was a fun time for me, the early 80s. I wanted it to feel sexy because that’s how I was feeling! It’s a little time capsule to forever keep that.”
“Put The Needle On It” epitomizes Minogue’s intentions, with whispery, slinky vocals, a sultry baseline, quirky popping sounds and its clearly euphemistic chorus. Well, clearly to English speakers. “Whenever I go to Germany they’re like, ‘what does it mean?’ It’s so cute! What do you mean what does it mean? So I’m like look, it’s not really about putting a needle on a record! Think about it! A lot of Europeans love it, but are very confused.”
“Vibe On” is somewhat confusing for those not in on its origins. It’s something of an inside joke borne from a scene in the Howard Stern film, Private Parts. Stern has a woman straddle a speaker between her legs, boost the sub-bass, and he speaks through the speaker so she feels the good vibrations. “Tomorrow I get to go on the Howard Stern show,” Minogue reports excitedly, “and play it for him which is really weird because all around the world my parents have had to see me go on late night chat shows and the host would turn around and say ‘so what is this song about your vibrator?’.”
Knowing Stern, he may well slip her a vibrator as well... but Minogue doesn’t need one. “No, I’ll stick with men,” she laughs. “I exchange them instead of exchanging batteries! Single and dating, a lot of fun.”
Speaking of dating, romances have since included Formula One racer Jacques Villeneuve and former Bros. member (and Pink manager) Craig Logan. Currently, there’s at least one guy Dannii’s giddy about getting a vibe on with: Justin Timberlake. In fact, the overseas press was abuzz with rumors that the Minogue sisters tag-teamed the ex-N’Syncer following the Brit Music Awards. Kylie got her tush groped while performing a duet of Blondie’s “Rapture” with Timberlake (whom later remarked, "On a scale of one to 10, Kylie's bum is 58."), whom later left in a car with Dannii. Said evidence aside, Dannii attests their relations with Timberlake remain platonic, and the sisters have rarely cared to pursue the same bloke.
”We like really different guys,” she insists. “Kylie likes bad boys, scruffy around the edges. I like clean-cut guys. The only two... no, three guys we’ve ever both gone ‘he’s cute’ about were Justin, David Beckham, and Freddie Ljungberg. Have you seen Freddie’s new pictures from the Calvin Klein underwear campaign? He’s taking over from Travis! I should have brought you...” Minogue begins rifling through a pile of international papers on the coffee table for evidence, then widens her eyes dishily and sits back on the couch. “There’s a big rumor Freddie is gay,” she nods, having shaken off all traces of the weariness betrayed when I first arrived.
Clearly, there’s plenty more to wonder about...
See www.danniimusic.com for info, music and videos!