Kylie Minogue and the “right” kind of sexy

I got sucked into a Kylie Minogue vortex this weekend after Jake basically told me, “Um Kylie Minogue is amazing and America has been sleeping on her for decades.” AND IT’S TRUE! I must’ve listened to about 50 of her songs and they are catchy, dance-y pop delights.

Then I started reading the YouTube comments. That’s almost always a terrible idea, but for Kylie Minogue videos, MOST of the commenters are just adoring fans saying, “This song is my favorite! It should’ve been a single! Why has America been sleeping on her for decades?!” It was the rare, lovely kind of comment that makes you feel happy and less alone.

Except for a few.

I started noticing another type of comment: “Kylie is so sexy–but in a CLASSY way. Not like pop stars are NOW. Today’s pop stars are skanky sluts.”

Record scratch!

Now, I will freely admit that the first time I saw Little Mix’s music video for Touch, I felt scandalized and slightly horrified and about 80 years old. “Them there is teens twerkin’ in their underwear!” was essentially my thought. Lots of today’s pop stars freak me out, with their perfect tan bodies and flowing hair and blinding white teeth. I am NOT ok with normalizing an unattainable, very narrow beauty standard (big boobs, tiny waist, huge lips) that only exists with Snapchat filters, Photoshop, and thousands of dollars of plastic surgery. (Get plastic surgery if you want, but acknowledge your privilege–it’s an expense out of reach for lots of people.)

On top of that, it’s even worse with white women trying to be racially ambiguous to sell more records (cough, Ariana Grande and Qveen Herby). “Another white girl LARPing ethnic ambiguity,” as one commenter on Oh No They Didn’t put it. So yeah, today’s pop stars can be upsetting. But after I got over my Grandma moment, I realized there’s more at the root of those YouTube comments, though: racism, sexism, and classism.

1. Race

Kylie Minogue is WHITE. Successful American pop stars in the ’90s were mostly white (thanks, racism): Britney, Mandy Moore, Alanis Morissette, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, Fiona Apple. Singers like Brandy, Monica, and Destiny’s Child were the exceptions, sidelined as “urban.”

Fast forward to today and hip hop and rap are totally mainstream. Beyonce is queen. Lizzo isn’t a niche act; every single stop of her tour sold out. Nicki Minaj (problematic as she is) is hugely successful. Pop and popular music are WAY less white than they used to be, hence Ariana trying to look and talk like a person of color instead of a white Italian woman (there’s even a term for this: blackfishing), and Qveen Herby wearing foundation that’s way too dark. And yet the fact is that lots of people are racist and only want to see white versions of sexiness–and white people putting on racially ambiguous sexiness as a sanitized mask–not women of color expressing their sexuality on their terms (and refusing to be hypersexualized or portrayed as exotic).

Kylie Minogue got her start in an era of pop that’s nostalgic and nonthreatening to lots of white people. They miss the “good ole days” before pop was more racially diverse. You can’t separate the comments praising her supposedly acceptable sexual expression from her whiteness. You just can’t.

2. Women’s sexual agency

Despite recent major setbacks for women (like states going backwards on abortion), feminism has done serious good for some women in the past several decades, such as empowering us to own our sexuality and express it however we want (again, primarily cishet able-bodied white women, unfortunately). Today’s pop stars like CupcakKe can sing about sucking dicks without hiding behind coy euphemisms. Hey, if male performers can brag about their sexual conquests, it’s about damn time women were “allowed” to, too! (Not to mention wear whatever we want.)

But again, sexists (and/or racists) DON’T LIKE THIS. They like it when women stay covered up and sexually repressed–the whole virgin/whore dichotomy. Women are either housewives or sexpots and aren’t allowed to be anything in between (and definitely not both!). Kylie Minogue mostly sings about love, staying in Innocent Young Pop Star territory for her early albums before dropping outliers like “Sexercise” only recently (2014). She’s seen as the Anti-Madonna because she doesn’t try to be shocking, to paraphrase one site. If she was too sexually explicit too often, you bet there would be an outcry. Her sexuality is “acceptable” because she colors inside the lines.

3. Classism

Kylie Minogue is rich, obvs, and her music videos have a high production value (especially after her career really took off). She’s always perfectly well-groomed and wearing flowy robes and sequined unitards, not ripped fishnets and a wallet chain. Part of that is just her aesthetic. She’s selling palatable, luxurious sensuality–escapism, not reality. That’s another reason commenters see her as “acceptably” sexy.

If Kylie Minogue were poor, or LOOKED poor, you bet those same commenters that were praising her would call her things like “trashy” and “slutty.” Wealth is part of her appeal. And not just hers. Music is aspirational. Musicians have always flaunted their wealth. But with the ubiquity of smartphones and the ability to become a YouTube star after recording a song in your bedroom, you no longer have to be rich to become a music sensation.

But classism is real, and for some reason it’s still semi-acceptable to mock poor people (e.g., the “People of Walmart” blog). Even Taylor Swift’s new video for You Need to Calm Down glamorizes an unrealistic, glittery vision of a trailer park while stereotyping lower-class, blue-collar people. If you’re poor and/or uneducated, chances are your sexual expression (and much of your life, for that matter) will NOT be celebrated. And vice versa, in Kylie’s case.

So while I LOVE Kylie Minogue, and I hope her breast cancer never comes back and she tours in the U.S. soon so I can give her all my money, I’m not here for comments that police others’ sexuality while praising Kylie’s. Not her fault, but she doesn’t in a vacuum.

Let women, hell, let everyone be vulgar and crass and trashy if they want! Everyone should get to decide for themselves how they want to express their sexuality, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, physical or mental ability, or anything else. ❤

P.S. OMG I didn’t even touch on how she’s super-skinny! And how sexuality interacts with fatphobia. D’oh. Always still learning.

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