“I feel like anything could happen,” Kylie Minogue croons in the opening moments of her 15th studio album, Disco. It’s an excellent prelude to “Magic,” the first single, and a hopeful start to an album that can best be described as joyous. The chorus then asks, over and over again, “do you believe in magic?” Listening to this album, I do—but I’m grieving for the loss of it deeply.
Disco was released last Friday morning, and by night, I’m still struggling to sleep. I take a sleeping pill, and a face appears in my dreams. As they come into view, they’re telling me something. I’m trying to hear them, and I can make out, clear as day, the verse to “Miss a Thing.” They’re whispering. “I want to lose control.”
Then it’s Sunday. I haven’t turned off Disco yet. I’m studying the bridge to “Say Something,” another single. Minogue croons “‘Cause love is love, it never ends /
Can we all be as one again?” There’s a touch on my shoulder, and a finger that travels down the curve of my back. I jump and turn, but nobody is there.
Monday and Tuesday roll together. I’m trying to work, but I can’t escape the chorus of “Last Chance.” It reads like a warning, an omen of doom. “Last chance!” It loops again. “Last chance!” It loops again. “Last chance!” I rip my headphones off and go for a drive. It follows me down Los Feliz Boulevard. “This is the last chance for the first dance.”
By Wednesday, I have accepted the incorporeal club space that Kylie Minogue has called down on my life and apartment. There’s work to do, but I can’t help myself. I’m spinning in the living room to “I Love It” in the quiet hours of the morning before the sun has yet to peek out from the cloud cover. “I love it, I love it, I love it.” I see the face again in my dreams that night. “It’s coming to find you wherever you’re at, something so strong you can’t hold it back.”
Disco, Minogue’s 15th studio album, is a creation born of the pandemic—a complex, yet hopeful, meditation on the loss of public space. Listening to it this last week, I miss the magic of a stranger more than ever, the touch of people I’ve never met before. I yearn for the liminal space in a club bathroom or the clanking of a subway on the way home with someone too beautiful to be believed. There is a mutual exchange of physicality and emotion in the club, even the one that dance maven Minogue calls down from the heavens for a blissful 16 tracks, absent of anyone but me and her and the music. These are feelings I haven’t experienced in longer than I—or anyone, really—ever expected.
It is nearly impossible to acknowledge a piece of work like Disco without also recognizing the circumstances into which it was born: an uncontrolled pandemic and global unrest, chiefly. The world is not as indoors as it was when lockdowns first rolled out, especially here in the states, but for the most part, clubs are still shut down, as are most other music venues. It’s coincided with a rise in what culture critics have and internet stans have dubbed “pop disco,” a mostly wayward descriptor absent of context. But the girlies have soldiered on regardless, with Dua Lipa’s aptly named Future Nostalgia at the helm of the new vanguard of Studio 54-bent pop artists.
Disco arrives 32 years after Minogue’s debut, Kylie. Most famous in the states for her spate of excellent singles on 2001's Fever, a disco-minded album that popularized the aughts brief resurgence of’70s nostalgia, Minogue has experimented with the fundamental building blocks of the genre for far longer than her younger contemporaries. But Disco, more than any of her other 14 albums, stands as a testament to the deep love she has not just for the genres pop and disco, but also the people she hopes will dance to them alongside her.
Gay people, or fags, as I refer to myself specifically, have a different relationship to Kylie Minogue. Beyond Fever, her discography has become a hallmark of the gay club, even in its mass dilution in the 21st century as these spaces (justifiably) opened up to others. Later works like X’s “Wow” and Aphrodite’s “All the Lovers” are almost always on loops in the sorts of clubs that have televisions with music videos playing in perpetuity. “Get Outta My Way” is a dancefloor staple, as are the more predictable tracks from Fever itself: “In Your Eyes,” “Can’t Get You Outta My Head,” “Love At First Sight. (Light Years “Spinning Around” also deserves a mention here.)
Minogue understands that she rules over these club floors, and takes care in her position as dance commander to a legion of sweaty homosexuals. She plays on the glam-bot aesthetics to a degree I’d argue is uncharted by other pop stars of her ilk (namely, Madonna). Her videos are stuffed with lithe, buff dancers. Her dresses glitter and her hair is perfectly blown out. In the videos for Disco’s singles, especially “Magic,” she quite literally positions herself as a queen on her throne, directing the dance floor in a glistening chain mail, flanked by golden panthers, while the dancers perform an intricate ritual of celebration before her. For a trans woman like me, I’d even argue that Minogue is the living embodiment of the “femme queen” ideal. She certainly evokes that feeling in not just me but most other dolls I know who have been shaped in some way by her performance of womanhood in the club.
Like her other albums, Disco is a horny run of 16 tracks, a stance that is often quite hard to capture without appearing gimmicky—most of the aughts, I would argue, played on this feeling in the gimmicky sort of way. Disco isn’t just lust, in its most base sense. The images and emotions and attitudes it conjures up are that of sweat, and bodies grinding in the dark. It’s the feeling of being pressed up against the wall of the bathroom, while you and a stranger do your best to be quiet before someone else discovers you. It’s ducking into a dark alley after hours. It’s the death drive that fuels people to dance until their limbs are weak each weekend before they aren’t able to anymore.
Ironically, very few people are able to, anymore, with any level of safety.
As her 15th studio album, it would be easy to write off Disco as pure retrospective. Besides the obvious callbacks to disco tracks of yesteryear, like “I Feel Love” or “Last Dance” or “Voulez-Vous,” there are frequent allusions to many of her previous songs I listed above. For a pop artist who has also released music for 32 straight years, Minogue would have been well within her right to plop the album down, with enough familiarity for her life-long fans, and kept going about her business. But unlike other artists often accused of “washing up,” or “turning it in,” Minogue has carefully arranged a heart-wrenching guide through the grief that I, and many others, experience over the loss of public life.
Minogue feels the same as I do, listening to the album back for what is probably the 100th time. She is a recording artist, certainly, but she is most known among fans as a performance artist. Her tours are legendary, global sensations—like the jaw-dropping “Showgirl” tour—and her videography continues to be an unparalleled body of work in both showmanship and creative direction. For 32 years, she has laid her soul bare as a people person, and a woman whose soul is intrinsically wound up in the club her music pumps through. Fever, her last pure “disco” album, showcased this quite the same way Disco does now, with tracks about longing, the touch of others, and obsession.
What I’m struck most by on Disco, more than the wondrous production and quality, is the memories it has surfaced for me. I suspect I’m not the only one. Listening to “Where Does the DJ Go,” I’m taken back to Pink Saturday, in the Castro in 2014, before the iconic San Francisco Pride party was canceled following a spate of national hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community. I was out in the street late, separated from my friends. My platform heels were too big, and the mini-dress I’d stuffed myself into kept riding up, and my hair grazed the small of my back. A man, sweaty and shirtless, who I’d never met before, was leading me into a club, despite me being far too young to be there. We danced, and then hooked up in the bathroom. I was 19, and the way our bodies felt, anonymous, and in the dark, was unlike anything I had thought was possible between two people. It’s a sensation that came to define my early adult life in public, trawling out to the club each weekend, desperate to hold and be held by someone entirely new, and singular, in a moment shared just by us. Minogue captures quite well on “Dance Floor Darling,” my favorite track on the album.
You and me, let’s dance till morning /
And wake up feeling no regrets /
Gonna make sure that your body won’t forget /
‘Cause the night ain’t even over yet /
Gonna take you where the music never ends /
My dance floor darling.
I am also reminded, through Disco, that I am wonderfully not as “alone” as I could be, in this moment of history. Those feelings I once sought in the club are now shared with my husband, for whom I am more grateful than words can express. But even he understands my need to be in the club, because it isn’t an issue of monogamy, or wishing for something other than our marriage. Minogue weaves the true nature of this exchange of bodily pleasure between comrades into the album’s penultimate track, “Unstoppable.”
Sweet music, lovers dance in the dark /
Friends, family, I got you in my arms /
Can’t stop this power here in your heart /
Can you feel it?
The grief and yearning I feel for others, in the week since Disco released, isn’t anything of the lusty, sexual variety. It is a profound reckoning with the loss of a kinship between strangers under the shelter of a dance floor. For years, I trekked endlessly to clubs across the city, because the camaraderie I built with the anonymous people around me was powerful, and moving. It shaped my writing, and my understanding of the community I built around me. My friendships flourished, and the relationship between my husband and I deepened and grew stronger.
There is no end in sight to the pandemic, with most states in America describing the current state of affairs as “uncontrolled.” Clubs I called home have closed, as more seem poised to follow. There isn’t an assurance that when the world moves forward into the new era, those spaces will even look, or operate the same. I thought that, during the summer, I had reckoned with this loss, and moved past it. Disco has proven me wrong, in the best way.
Strangers in the club, for now, remain a far-off fantasy. But for the briefest of moments, I am content to let Kylie Minogue sweep me off to somewhere else. I suggest that everyone else do the same.