There seemed to be two shows trying to wriggle their individual ways out of the body of The Kylie Show, screened on ITV on Saturday. One was a startlingly electric blue shot of retro-futurism – the frozen statue comes to life in front of a 1972 audience, smiling and telling them that she can’t get them out of her head, and was it 1972 or 2047? “Tears On My Pillow” redone for 1944, as her remembrance of someone who sits in the audience, dances with her but is really a ghost. The black on stark white of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the end, extending Doris Lessing’s glaciers into the brightest of limbos – or maybe she just remembered the Pet Shop Boys’ Wembley Arena show from 1991 – with girl dancers pretending to be arm-bearing wooden soldiers (or Stanley Baxter redirected by Philip Glass?). A different face, a new colour, for every song, daring you to aim a pin within 300 miles of her eyeshot.
But this coexisted with, or was regularly intercepted by, the buttery spirit of the Donny And Marie Show; terrible, unfunny comedy skits being the only doors through which the Jasons and Danniis of another world were allowed to pass, in an attempt to convince us that Kylie really is a stroppy cow who bets on the horses, treats her dresser like pond life – or perhaps it’s a double bluff. However, would it matter if it were? This stagey wobbling inevitably fed its way back into the show’s musical matrix, making this viewer questioning even the better parts; the new album tracks sounded promisingly sprightly and suitably affecting, but is this merely, as Peter Robinson has suggested, a counter-irony to match Britney’s bet that we didn’t see her one coming?
As Robinson says, while Kylie is under no obligation to speak or sing about her cancer or her love life, her seemingly solid refusal to address the issues in her new songs places an emotional barrier between artist and listener which is hard to vault. Rather, X suggests the mere continuation of the business of a showbiz trouper; keep on dancing and smiling regardless, don’t break the spell, address the fourth wall only if it is a mirror.
Which brings us to “I Believe In You.” Originally released in 2004, and still the best record to involve the Scissor Sisters (though New Order’s Waiting For The Sirens’ Call is closer behind than you think), Kylie sings with sweet sumptuousness about all the things in which she doesn’t believe – and that too is a double bluff, since she is really singing about what she does believe (ranging from “I don’t believe the faults I have/Are only mine to blame” to “I don’t believe that when you die/Your presence isn’t felt”) before turning herself into a Dollar choir to state angelically “But I-I-I believe in you.” It may still be the closest she has come to addressing herself openly.
But it can also be read as an extended, if slightly apologetic, ode to self; it was performed on The Kylie Show as a weightless, beatless ballad with its singer abandoned in a hall of mirrors. The camera ranges and the editor cuts or fades to such a degree that we eventually lose track of who the real Kylie is in the midst of this
; she doesn’t appear especially elated by her belief or her faith (and it came directly after a song whose chorus repeatedly urged “Love me, love me”). Monochrome turns to queasily lime green colour, and the final “you” is addressed by Kylie to camera or to one of the many mirrors, or perhaps it’s one of the mirrors talking to her. The overwhelming impression is of someone who will do anything to keep actual, messy people from reaching her or herself from having to explain anything useful. Have we been watching a hologram for an hour? Where does the live singing stop and the miming start (the two were blended so seamlessly that extreme aural sensitivity was required to spot the joins)? Does entertainment merely teach us to smile, or do we shiver at such spectres, fearing that the mask, when finally ripped off, will reveal – Joan Collins? What sort of an end, or a beginning, is that? Or will she eventually ski right off that eyebrow? forest of Kylies