Friday, June 15, 2007

A Serious Discussion: Kylie or Madonna?

This is something of a Sophie's Choice question being asked here since both artists have dedicated fan bases, elaborate stage shows, slick pop production, and are very good looking given that Madonna's almost 50 and Kylie's pushing 40. Regardless of their ages, both artists are something of national treasures.

Madonna was born and bred on American soil. She's tried to disregard those roots by affecting a low-budget British accent, but she is still our girl. Her every move is pursued and followed, so she clearly is still a woman of America. Kylie retains her status as the pop queen of England and Australia.

Kylie is, essentially, the Queen of Australia due to her consistent dance-pop and her sheer cuteness and likability. Both women also suffer from their own critics as people don't see them as real artists due to their somewhat manufactured images. I can't argue here. But, clearly, these artists did not get to this status by just being promoted the right way; they had to have some chops as well, something to make them stand out from the rest of the audience of pop singers. I mean, Debbie Gibson could have been America's hero instead or Kylie could have been washed over by her sister Dannii or Sophie Ellis-Bextor in cultural importance. So, with all of this lead-in, I post two videos before I explain why Kylie is a better artist than Madonna.

To even the playing field, I am posting a song from each artist's most recent album. For Madonna, I am posting Hung Up from her 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor.

For Kylie, I am posting the video for Slow from her 2004 album Body Language.

While, for the record, I do think that Kylie is more attractive, I will argue my point solely on musical and historical grounds.

Kylie Minogue is a better artist for the following reason: she has gained relevance over her career. Think about it. When were Madonna's glory years? Back in the mid to late 1980's when she was still a fresh-faced girl coming out of Michigan. The songs were simple, uncut 80's pop. They were perfect for the radio and were genuinely good songs. Madonna was a fantastic songwriter. Notice the past tense. As her career advanced out of the 80s, through the 90s, and into the 2000s, the quality of Madonna's albums fell to the point where they were, in large part, unlistenable. Hear me out because I don't want that last comment to sully some of the work that she did do in the post-80s part of her career.

Ray of Light
is an amazing album. Bedtime Stories is inventive and very listenable, full of catchy ballads and dancefloor tracks. But, the point at which Madonna starts to lose relevance is with her not bad, but could have been better album Music. Don't Tell Me was a fantastically creative video with a good song to go along with it. It was a bit too adult contemporary for my taste, but the video made up for that fact more than enough. But, by this point in time, the swaggering Madonna, the Madonna that had a sleepover to introduce the release of her Bedtime Stories album, the Madonna that provoked so much of America was gone. She was replaced with some strange responsible woman that, frankly wasn't very much fun. But, when Madonna hit this point in her own life and started the down slide, Kylie was only getting hotter.

While Madonna was ruling the world, Kylie was stuck in a production relationship with Stock, Aiken, and Waterman. While she did have top hits such as a remake of The Locomotion, her songs were getting too predictable, too stale for her own liking. She broke out of the production house to go to Deconstruction where the start switched. Kylie's music was always simple, uncomplicated dance-pop. This was never going to change. It is also the beauty of her music. Anyway, with the switch to Deconstruction, Kylie began to sound more grown up. She became queen of the dance hall. She released one of the best pop songs of the 1990s with Some Kind of Bliss, and this was only signs of what was to come.

Kylie moved again to Parlophone/Capitol where Kylie hit her full stride. She released Light Years, which featured techno-influenced dance-pop with style, soul, and flare. On this album, she had a duet with Robbie Williams, another huge pop star in the rest of the world. But, more importantly than that, she came into her own as an artist. The new Kylie was in full display on the album that made her a household name in America: Fever. Come into My World is a dance tour-de-force. Catchy, simple, addictive, Kylie had come. She was already here, but she planted the flag in the surface of the pop world that said it was hers. This dominance was only shown when she released Body Language in 2004. Another slick dance-pop production, Kylie proved that Fever wasn't a fluke; Kylie showed with her material that she was for real. But, the chronology of this is why Kylie is the better artist.

As noted before, Madonna has passed her prime of relevance. Kylie is has recently entered hers and is owning it. Both of them wrote solid dance-pop. I'd say that Madonna's was better in the beginning, but, as both of them have matured, Madonna has started flailing like a fish on land, constantly revising her image and sound in an attempt to stay relevant with mixed results.

While Kylie has shape shifted as well, those shifts have made her more relevant and more important as a pop artist. Both women are completely important, but, if I was forced to go to an island with a copy of Madonna's The Immaculate Collection or Ultimate Kylie, I would choose Ultimate Kylie every time.