Fourteen years ago, Kylie Minogue had to pull out of her slot headlining Glastonbury’s Pyramid Stage (yep – that’s 14 years ago for anyone complaining this year’s line-up is too mainstream). That was the year Minogue was diagnosed with breast cancer and, as she tearfully told the crowd, she ended up watching the coverage in bed from Australia.
All this time later, and just over doubly as far into her 31-year career, Minogue returns to play the Sunday Legends slot and rights that injustice in the most dazzling fashion, with three costume changes, a fake wedding, a raft of pop hits, a rainbow of confetti, a rare sighting of Nick Cave in the sunlight and a guest appearance by Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who’d do a Glasto guest appearance in a long drop toilet if invited.
There was a time when full-on pop shows of this type were considered anathema to a music festival: too glossy, too polished, too telly-like, but the vast majority of Glastonbury’s audience is watching at home on the telly, and Kylie’s show is subtly subversive, owing much to the Pet Shop Boys school of pop surrealism.
So, after an opening ‘On A Night Like This’, as she dashes off for the first costume change, a dancer dressed in an exaggerated tuxedo – looking much like the avant-garde cabaret singer and David Bowie affiliate Klaus Nomi – robo-waltzes on stage. Over the course of the next two songs (the lovely, Latin-y ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’ and the pop fluff of ‘Hand On Your Heart’), Kylie teaches the automaton how to loosen up and dance. Pleasingly odd.
She also has an endearing habit of providing a running commentary on her own lyrics. After the “rain comes down” line in ‘Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi’, she shouts “not today though!”. During ‘Kids’ (a single with Robbie Williams, absent today but who cares) she replies to the line “the kids are alright” with “I know the kids are alright, the kids are amazing!”.
Kylie is, perhaps, under-celebrated for how she’s managed to reinvent herself over the years. A pop star cashing in on her role as a loveable tomboy in a TV soap isn’t meant to be able to stretch it into a three-decades-and-counting career. But her set doesn’t brush anything under the carpet, celebrating those candy-sweet early pop hits from the SAW production line alongside her bolder career choices, such as ‘Slow’, a 2003 hit that took inspiration from minimal techno and was co-written by Speedy Wunderground founder and Fontaines DC producer Dan Carey.
A leftfield move came in 1995 in ‘Where The Wild Roses Grow’, a Nick Cave murder ballad and the reason for his appearance on stage, the pair singing draped in each others arms. Another was the trip-hoppy ‘Confide In Me’, arguably the greatest Bond theme that never was, and which today is performed with Kylie stood with her dancers collapsed around her feet, looking like Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People.
Such is the slickness and level of stage management of Kylie’s show, you wonder if some of her comments about the size of the crowd are scripted. She tells us she’s “never seen so many people in my entire life,” she says she’s “thankful for very good eyesight actually – this is incredible, I’m taking the panoramic shot of everything.” How surprising can the size of the crowd be when it happens every year?
But halfway through the show, tears render her almost incapable of continuing as she talks about the circumstances around the 2005 Glastonbury appearance that was never to be. “It always dawns on me during a show that not only that story but our story, we have 30 years together,” she says, choking back the tears. “Back then, when I was watching Glastonbury, some people playing here covered one of my songs, and that is the gracious nature of people and artists. So I asked one of those people – who happens to be a friend – to come and play with me.” It was, of course, the ubiquitous Chris Martin, who joins her for an (at first) acoustic ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’, the 2001 mega-hit that propelled Kylie into another new decade.
After another interval for a costume change, we’re back in surreal soap opera territory: the dancers are playing out a wedding on stage, complete with the tossing of a bouquet and an obligatory kilted Scotsman. It is, of course, time for ‘Especially For You’, her love ballad with Neighbours co-star and former beau Jason Donovan, but not before an Easter egg for audience members of a certain age when her band play a few bars of Angry Anderson’s ‘Suddenly’, the wedding song from the Neighbours wedding and a hit in its own right off the back of it.
After that, what else but the reception, and a Kylie megamix: ‘Shocked By The Power’, ‘Step Back In Time’, ‘Better The Devil You Know’ and ‘The Loco-Motion’.
In the closing part, it’s an all-out celebration: Pride-coloured rainbow confetti blasts out during ‘All The Lovers’ and the show concludes with ‘Spinning Around’. After, Kylie takes a well-earned lap of victory around the stage, and appears to shed more tears of, you presume, relief and joy. After all that time, Kylie’s Glastonbury debut was worth the wait.