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Dannii vs Kylie [April 8, 1991]
The sisters weren't at war, it just felt that way
This week’s Number 10: “Love and Kisses”, Dannii Minogue
Binary oppositions are a fundamental part of pop culture. Marvel vs DC. The Beatles vs The Stones. Britney vs Christina. Brian Harvey vs baked potatoes.
Most of these oppositions are total nonsense. Either they’re PR stunts dreamt up to boost both sides, or they’re invented by a press desperate for a catchy narrative. Sometimes the public just sees these oppositions because it’s an easy way to organize information in our brains.
That’s perhaps why the early 90s narrative of Danni Minogue vs her big sister Kylie was so irresistible.
Let’s start with the most basic difference between the pair: Kylie was blonde, Dannii was dark-haired. The 80s were a strange time when everyone was obsessed with blondness, like we were collectively possessed by the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock. Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Pamela Anderson were our paragons of beauty. James Bond slept with the blonde girl and murdered the brunette.
Both sisters had a TV background. Kylie had come up through Neighbours, the better of the Australian soap operas. Her fictional wedding to Jason Donovan had been a cultural event as significant as the Challenger explosion. Dannii was an alumnus of the inferior Home and Away, where she only lasted a year and failed to make an impression on the narrative of Summer Bay.
(I watched Home and Away at the time and I always referred to her character, Emma, as “Kylie’s sister”.)
By 1991, Kylie had reached a certain level of career maturity in the UK. It would still be a few years before she became a true pop colossus, but there had been some big hits and her recording career overshadowed her time as an actor.
Dannii’s debut album actually came out in 1990 in Australia, then gradually migrated to Europe over the following months. The lead single and title track, “Love and Kisses” is the one that sounds most like Kylie.
It’s a slightly meatier sound than Kylie, with more of a hip-hop and R&B influence than the Stock Aiken and Waterman sound. Dannii’s whole thing was that she was a little sexier than her big sister, and looking back now it’s clear that she understood the importance of a gay audience to the Minogue family’s fortunes. But the record invited comparisons to Kylie’s work and the general consensus at the time was that she wasn’t quite as good.
Dannii doesn’t say like to say bad things about her sister, but she did a grim interview recently where she said that many people told her that the main difference was that Kylie was the thin one and she was the fat one. It must have been excruciating to spend your 20s under that kind of pressure, always just a few inches short of perfection.
I dimly recall that we spent most of the 90s waiting for Dannii to implode like a post-E.T. Drew Barrymore. There was an almost a gleeful anticipation. This was another part of the celebrity cycle that people have always loved, right up until a few weeks ago when that Britney documentary made us all feel guilty.
(I’m not even going to get into how society likes to see binary oppositions between women.)
Dannii’s 1995 appearance in Playboy seemed to be the beginning of a meltdown. It’s impossible to imagine Saint Kylie doing something so tacky. There were rumours (that were true) that she was only doing the shoot because she was so broke.
Actually, it appeared to be a turning point in the Dannii narrative. She released some more confident dance music, appeared in the West End, and eventually returned to Australia to live what seems to be a content life. She says she’s glad she did Playboy, and that it ultimately helped her feel better about herself. I think she deserves credit for getting out alive.
Elsewhere in the charts
The boy Chesney continues his reign at the top for the third week, holding off James and The Waterboys.
Another new entry at Number 6 with the very fun and bouncy, “The Size of a Cow” by The Wonder Stuff. A golden age of nonsense indie disco songs.
The Simpsons return to the top ten with “Deep Deep Trouble”. This is exactly what white people thought rap sounded like in the early 90s (i.e., absolutely terrible). DJ Jazzy Jeff tries to help make it work.
Madonna was going through one of the wildest periods of her career in the early 90s. Subscribe for the next issue!