Apr 16

KYLIE MINOGUE – “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”

Popular63 comments • 9,895 views

#910, 29th September 2001

kylie head Between its two writers and its performer, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is the sound of over seven decades’ pop experience. It’s better heard as distillation than prediction. Maybe its bright, brisk pop-dance sensibility comes from Cathy Denis. Maybe its moreish chunkiness, the crunchy stomp of its beats, comes from Mud’s Rob Davis. Its obvious comparison point, as a mantric, obsessive disco song, is Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love”. But “I Feel Love” risks goofiness in placing a wager on the future – I bet this isn’t a novelty record – while there is no risk of “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” being anything other than a classic. As Kylie Minogue knew, the second she heard the demo.

“Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is still sleek and clean, impeccably designed, full of beautiful textures. If “I Feel Love” was a kiss blown to an imagined future, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is an engineer’s fond response now that the imaginary has come true, more pragmatic but just as heartfelt. Moroder and Summer’s song was a jet pack. Dennis, Davis and Minogue’s is a map of flight plans. It’s a crystal of a record, an omnihedron revolving gently at the centre of pop, refracting and reflecting the 20th century’s music. In a context of Atomic Kitten, DJ Otzi and Blue, you might weep for joy on hearing it. It’s so well-arranged, so uncluttered, so satisfying. But the joy is partly one of familiarity. Ever since “Telstar”, people imagined 21st century pop would sound a bit like this. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” isn’t futuristic, it’s the fulfillment of a promised future.

But these were hard times for promised futures. Between the song’s release to radio and its reaching number one, another 21st century was cancelled, just as we were getting used to it. It crumpled into ash and smoke and broken glass, live on every television. In Grant Morrison’s Zenith, from 1993, an acid house robot announced that “Kylie is Vera Lynn for Third World War!”. One of Morrison’s glibly perfect one-liners, I couldn’t get it out of my head. It stuck there like a song’s hook until one day I realised it had come true.

How does pop react to history? There’s a respectable way: the path of overt commentary, song as a response to events. Protest music. Charity records. “Ghost Town”. “Candle In The Wind”. But the world doesn’t pause for the appropriate song to come along and you find resonance where you can. So there’s a less respectable way too, where history meets pop furtively, leaves lovebites or punctures on its neck. It’s the way where once you listen enough you can start turning every hit from the late 60s into a song about Vietnam, where critical alchemists can draw mischievous connections, trace aetheric lines of influence between the turning wheels of history and the minutiae of pop.

September 11th stymied pop on the first, more formal level. “Who the fuck knocked our buildings down?” yelled Ghostface Killah on the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Rules” that November – but such blurts of early, honest confusion were quickly forgotten exceptions. Even when more sombre, measured responses emerged, they carried most weight in their makers’ histories: here’s Springsteen’s take on things. Here’s Green Day’s.

But on the second level, where pop threads itself into events unconsciously, the game was more open. It may seem ludicrous to talk about Kylie in the context of 9/11, but within a day or two of the attacks, people I know had groped their way to a response, that response being “let’s put on a club night to raise money.” And on that night, the UK’s number one single was played at least three different times, even though if you’re not Kylie it’s a slightly clumpy song to dance to. So Kylie was there, part of the context, swallowed by faraway events like everyone else. But also something normal, something to agree on while the world tilted: a great pop record. So why was it great?

Kylie’s voice had worked on the PWL records, a cheerful squeak, thin enough to flatten itself against the tinfoil production and slice through the radio. But as her material turned more to pastiche – the opulent pop of mid-90s Kylie, the model disco of Light Years – I found her voice a nagging weak spot, whose reediness the painstaking production only emphasised. Those tracks were houses too big for her to live in. Her voice isn’t exactly stronger on “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, but it’s far more versatile, clucking the opening lines, rising to the big “set me free” moment, and finding a breathy register for “forever and ever and ever” that’s half-bewitching, half-bewitched. This is not a song designed for a singer to dominate, more to explore, and marvel at as it unfolds: Kylie is perfect for it, singing the “la la la” hook like she’s just thought of it.

The song she’s wandering through is a stately home of disco: half palace, half museum. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is never overdone – it chooses its sounds sparingly and each has a role. The string line accentuates the singer’s yearning. An electric piano wanders through the mix, quizzical and playful, a counter to the track’s unflappable rhythmic glide. And then there are the song’s keyboard lines, rigid to the point of being comical: stiffly ascending, tick-tocking away for a few beats then just as precisely descending. It’s alienating and comforting at the same time, like Kraftwerk robots playing “The Grand Old Duke Of York”. And it makes me think of one of the song’s antecedents, Daft Punk’s temple to repetition, “Around The World”.

Michel Gondry’s video for “Around The World” took the ‘dance’ in ‘dance music’ and smuggled ‘interpretive’ in, turning the abstraction of techno into figurative delight. The clockwork busywork of its costumed performers found a beauty in routine and an odd joy in loops. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is that song’s cousin, its surreal phalanxes of dancers making Daft Punk’s bewildering abstract representational. Now the loops are about something – the unceasing lock-groove of obsession. Now the dance revolves around someone – impossible princess Kylie. But the loops and the dance are still beautiful – charming and soothing.

As a song about obsession, though, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” is deceptive. It threatens to take an easy but effective route, obsession as an undertow pulling you down to madness. “There’s a dark secret in me” – but this also seems like the song’s biggest lie. Where is the darkness? Nowhere you can hear. The song is a labyrinth with no centre and no minotaur. “Set me free” sings Kylie. In its maze of loops, the song inverts itself. “Stay forever and ever” sings Kylie. The obsessive stops being the singer, starts being the listener, the hooks swirling round their head. The substitution hardly feels unpleasant.

Outside Kylie’s dream city, George W. Bush was issuing pop culture with its draft papers. “Get down to Disney World in Florida,” he implored American families, “Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed”. The pleasurable was now political. After shuddering for a few weeks, the world economy took Dubya’s hint. The next few years of Popular, the fever years of a false boom, see pop at its most giddy and glitzy, its most shirt-rending and sanctimonious, its most cynical, and often its most divisive. From reality TV to blogosphere feuds, pop was a zone of argument. But “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” stands apart from all that, everybody’s sweetheart and nobody’s cause. At once seductive, enigmatic and cosy, “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” was a hit people could get lost in, complete in itself. An unshaken kaleidoscope.



1 2 All
  1. 31
    katstevens on 7 Apr 2016 #

    I love this video and have written a fair chunk of words about it over the years – I think it stands out from its early-2000s peers as managing to separate the sexual from the sensual. Compare the sleek white hooded robe to the previous year’s infamous gold hotpants: Kylie is graduating from sequinned assistant to master illusionist. Having a woman director doesn’t automatically save the video from #MaleGazeProblems, but to me the subtle differences in tone helped CGYOOMH feel like a breathing space in a sudden ballooning of music videos purely focused on booty – a trend to eventually be mercifully punctured into parody by one Mr B Benassi.

    ALL THAT SAID I think I prefer both song and video for Come Into My World, which are both astounding.

  2. 32
    Ed on 8 Apr 2016 #

    Haha Tom: the objection you forestalled @1 was literally just forming in my head as I read your comment.

    A propos of nothing in particular, here’s Julian Cope from Krautrocksampler:

    “Four years ago, I had dinner with a very successful journalist who told me that he’d had to review Love’s “Forever Changes” for Q Magazine now that it was available on CD. Wow, I shouted. You lucky fucker! Yes, he said. But I know it so well I couldn’t summon up any real energy, so I just gave it 8/10. “Forever Changes” is a dark achievement. Were it an ancient text or a document it would be hidden from view and spoken of in obscure circles, But because it operates through the medium of Pop Music, it gets tarts like said Journalist giving it 8/10. This is a classic case of a man sleepwalking through life.

    So now I have to set to and tell you about the first Faust album, and I will not let you down. For a start, its a big 10/10. No, make that 11/10.”

    I’ve always loved that passage. The ultimate example of people taking review scores much too seriously…

  3. 33
    Phil on 8 Apr 2016 #

    True, but be fair – Forever Changes really is a 10. I bought it at the age of 42 or thereabouts, out of idle curiosity – let’s see what the fuss is about… Shocking – makes me wonder what other epochal masterpieces I’ve missed.

  4. 34
    Shiny Dave on 8 Apr 2016 #

    On Kylie’s voice; I’m thinking that perhaps the best way to describe it is that it wasn’t just her body that was small and cutely beguiling. Perhaps that was the idea behind Indie Kylie, besides the obvious one of reputation-changing; hers is at its best as a gentle, playful instrument, and in one alternate universe I can imagine it turning up in a Sarah Records compilation.

    That’s not to say she can’t play the belter on occasion, but even there, on something like “Your Disco Needs You” it sounds almost like she can’t or won’t shake off the cute completely (outside of that French-language bridge, anyway!), never sounding wrong, invariably sounding like the song’s too big for her. Which, of course, is at least as much feature as bug when your template is quite obviously the “Go West” PSB cover – Neil Tennant wasn’t someone many would refer to as “cute,” but he too had a voice that didn’t have nearly the resonant power of an archetypal disco or house diva, and made a career out of building his songwriting craft around the possibilities that could arise from not just working around this but embracing the curiosity that left.

    He did that, of course, with more than a little help from his cannily-deployed falsetto, and similarly it’s notable that Kylie’s vocal palette here is making a lot more use of what some teachers would call ‘head voice’ than the vast majority of other female pop singers of the era, most of whom seemingly just didn’t go any higher than they can belt. (Female singers of musical theatre – whose training very much includes but isn’t limited to belting – invariably have a good few extra notes above that in their range. In related news, female-sung pop skews spectacularly low, a theme I expect to return to in future.)

    Not much to say on this song that hasn’t been said, other than to wonder whether we’d think of it differently (for whatever value thereof) if it had been a summer 2001 smash instead. An instant classic that has worn that title well, I don’t come back to it all that often but it wouldn’t have outstayed its welcome even if I did. Don’t think I quite love it enough for a 9, but it’s at least an 8.

  5. 35
    Adam Puke on 8 Apr 2016 #

    #7 hints at how I’ve always felt about this- it seemed to take aesthetic tips from a recent wave of ‘intelligently bland’ acts chasing a Space 1999 bachelor pad vibe (Air, Ladytron, Black Box Recorder and others), which worked beautifully but as a result there’s something a bit too reactive and knowing about the end product.

    For me that’s why it’ll always score lower than trailblazers like I Feel Love (with its honest-to-goodness futurism and sensuality) or Blue Monday (with its incongruous dark/comic aspects)- there’s no way it could have had their innocence.

  6. 36
    Phil on 8 Apr 2016 #

    #31 – I think I’d rather avoid the topic of the male gaze wrt this video… But the interesting thing about the rather unseemly state of slack-jawed fascination which early-2000s Kylie reduces me to is that it is just Kylie – I really dislike the kind of videos you’re referring to, don’t even care to look at Cristina A. or Nicki M., and a certain 2013 bunny just makes me want to throw things. I guess the key difference (whether it’s deliberate or not) is that Kylie’s always just that bit aloof – she’s never saying “come and get me, boys”, or for that matter “I’m going to come and get you, boys” (which isn’t much of an advance in terms of empowerment, IMO). More “here’s what you want to watch – just keep watching”.

    Something to do with putting sexual allure on display, but just putting it on display… Hard to define, but it seems like a huge difference. I can’t think of another performer like her in that respect – certainly not Madonna, probably not GaGa. (Maybe Bowie?)

  7. 37
    Adam Puke on 8 Apr 2016 #

    As an aside, I saw the dress up close at the Kylie exhibition several years back- nothing special at all, it looked like it had been fashioned from an old Tesco Value bed sheet. Light years (soz) from the “sleek white hooded robe” of the video, achieved by the vast array of filters and treatments now available in the newly digital editing suites of the post-videotape era. Maybe that’s where the innovation lies here.

    So in terms of the male gaze, possibly only a female director would’ve taken it this far technically/artistically- a bloke may’ve been all “her arse looks ok, time to go down the pub”.

  8. 38
    Girl with Curious Hair on 8 Apr 2016 #

    Interesting that you say that about The Dress, because when I watch this video I’m struck by how, err, unsupportive it is. Makes me a bit nervous just to watch it. So I suppose the female gaze for this video is a little bit like that of a worried structural engineer…

  9. 39
    Phil on 8 Apr 2016 #

    #38 – I’m just glad someone else has noticed – some of the reactions on this thread have been so ho-hum that I was starting to feel like a Sun-reading caveman, a relic of the bad old days when men still took an interest in women’s chests. I feel like Rip van Winkle most days for one reason or another, but that did seem odd.

  10. 40
    JoeWiz on 8 Apr 2016 #

    Echoing many of the previously expressed thoughts that this isn’t quite the masterpiece it was instantly hailed as, it’s just a degree too cold for me, a centimentre too distant.
    This is of course emphasised by the wonderfulness of the other singles from Fever. Was this her best post Indie album?

  11. 41
    katstevens on 8 Apr 2016 #

    I wonder how many dudes decided Kylie was acceptable as having ‘sex goddess’ status after Neil Morrisey and/or Martin Clunes had a poster of her on the wall in Men Behaving Badly (ie uncool 90s Kylie era).

  12. 42
    Tom on 8 Apr 2016 #

    When I worked in a bookshop we used occasionally to get copies in of the limited edition book/magazine thing Kylie did with lots of saucy shots in – kind of her equivalent of Madonna’s Sex. It was VERY in demand so the “sex goddess” angle wasn’t unique to this era by any means.

  13. 43
    Adam Puke on 8 Apr 2016 #

    Didn’t this kick off around 1991 with certain male music journalists getting their knickers in a twist over how “Shocked” apparently sounded like “fucked”* and declaring her late S/A/W material ‘perfect pop’ (while pointedly not extending similar, er, privileges to Jason Donovan)?

    *did it fuck

  14. 44
    Mark G on 9 Apr 2016 #

    It wasn’t that, it was the line “Rocked to my very foundations” which had a drumbeat obscuring the first syllable.

  15. 45
    Neil C on 9 Apr 2016 #

    #44 – Mark, just had a listen and you’re right – it’s hilarious! I think it’s less a drumbeat, more the backing singers singing “Shocked” over the top that obscures Kylie; but it sounds remarkably like the f-bomb, and it’s only common sense telling me she’s really singing “rocked”…

    Anyway, I’ll never be able to hear it as anything else from now on, so thanks for that :)

  16. 46
    Adam Puke on 9 Apr 2016 #

    I stand corrected, clearly been listening to the wrong bit all this time :)

  17. 47
    ThePensmith on 13 Apr 2016 #

    I’ve followed the Popular blog for about a year – it’s in fact been the inspiration for a column I write on the website Buzzjack, reviewing every girl group top 40 hit of the 21st century in a similar premise as to on here. I felt this was a good entry to start offering my thoughts on.

    ‘Can’t Get You Out of My Head’ is, without question, Kylie’s crowning moment of glory. It’s hard to think, ‘Love at First Sight’ and ‘I Believe in You’ aside, of another single she’s released in the last 15 years which comes close to the majesty of this. Cathy Dennis penned too, no less – an easy 10 for me thus.

    I’m surprised however that, for all the talk of Michael Jackson being held off in this single’s fourth week at the top, no mention has been made thus far of an equally highly publicised chart defeat made on this single’s opening week – namely, that of Victoria Beckham, whose debut solo effort proper, ‘Not Such an Innocent Girl’ was also released that same week following her close but no cigar antics with the True Steppers the previous summer, coming off slightly worse than last time, debuting at #6 before swiftly falling.

    I mention it because, as has been pointed out on a couple of entries prior to this – cf. the Five/Blue ones – that this really was the ushering in of a brave new pop future. Out with Posh and the Spice Girls’ dominance of the summit by default regardless of if the single in question was half decent or not, in with Kylie’s highly sexed, highly forward thinking, future pop that pretty much set the template for every similar artist in the years that followed.

  18. 48
    Andrew Farrell on 14 Apr 2016 #

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by their dominance of the summit by default, all of the girls except for Mel B missed the top on their first track?

  19. 49
    Patrick Mexico on 14 Apr 2016 #

    Sorry I’m a bit late to the party. Was planning a double whammy of posts, the other liveblogging TOTP but it doesn’t seem to be on tonight.. or the night after…

    I can only give this an 8, as I wasn’t engaged enough with this genre at the time to get that hit of great memories, and I walked a tightrope between fancying her then and having a huge existential crisis, because I couldn’t believe it was the same person who was Charlene from Neighbours, and also would hate to inflate marks by writing from the perspective of a pervy Sun reader (on Popular there may be trouble ahead!), but that’s what happens when in 2001 you’re a cloth-eared, spotty teen who thinks the defining band of the 2000s will be…. Alien Ant Farm**.

    I can’t really add a great deal to this one, it’s clean, determined and assured, genuine 21st century pop, and the peak of one of the best comebacks and reinventions in pop history (Kylie’s “imperial phase?”) Sure, it’s been exhausted a tiny bit by the “I am a pop fan first and an indie fan second!” crowd but not massively, and credit to Tom for discussing it in a wider world context – I don’t think it’s ludicrous to talk about Kylie in the context of 9/11 – some of my favourite records of all time are because they’re total escapism when the present just seems horrible. But escapism without being naff, on-the-nose or forcing you to have a good time, and this is why CGYOMH still gets such sincere goodwill.

    Plus, let’s be honest, from any angle of her fanbase – it’s pretty difficult to dislike Kylie in any way as a human being*.

    *Though I do remember in Cornwall, on August Bank Holiday weekend 2001, my dad replying to a primary school teacher’s assertion of a raft of new pupils being called Kylie, “They’re going to regret that in 15 years’ time, aren’t they.” That must be because of SAW, I haven’t heard her name maliciously taken in vain by anyone since. Apart from one of the Mullet Man’s trademark rants on Scuzz TV (remember him?) to his young, aspiring metalhead apprentice: “Heavy beats? HEAVY BEATS? You can listen to Kylie and get some heavy beats!” Though I’m sure that was more a joke at the expense of Linkin Park…

    ** I still maintain their cover of Smooth Criminal, which leapt from #79 to a peak of #3 on the first week of CGYOMH’s run, IS better than Michael Jackson’s. Just. We’ll try not to think about the unfortunate chorus which got it banned from US radio after 9/11, but on its own terms, it’s cocky, confident, irreverent to any notion of “cool”, and beats any indiesplaining Live Lounge bollocks out of the ballpark any day. Would have given either had they hit number 1 a 9, twice the score of the same hypothesis for You Rock My World…

  20. 50
    AMZ1981 on 14 Apr 2016 #

    #47 I always thought that Not Such An Innocent Girl was one of the better solo Spice singles and actually deserved better than number six. I suppose that she was the last Spice Girl to launch her solo career proper so being a solo Spice was hardly a novelty and it was harder for her to find a distinctive brand. We already had RbB Spice (Mel B) and Mel C had scored her biggest hit with a not entirely dissimilar song.

    A couple of things were against Victoria Beckham. It was perhaps unfortunate that she had long been eclipsed as an international celebrity by her husband (believe it or not there was a time when David Beckham was just Posh Spice’s `footballer boyfriend`). Also the Spice Girls always owed a lot of their appeal to being very quintessentially British; there was a variety act element at their peak they never quite lost. The further they distanced themselves from it (only Mel B did so more than Victoria, Geri least) the worse the singles did.

    Another new entry at five in Kylie’s first week, one place above Victoria, was Shaggy’s Luv Me, Luv Me which broke his number one run although he was suffering the effects of an available album by then.

  21. 51
    AMZ1981 on 15 Apr 2016 #

    Just checked and Not Such An Innocent Girl had a chart trajectory of 6-18-33 so it was a fanbase concern. Also doing well at this time was City High’s hard hitting RnB track What Would You Do which was a relatively rare climber.

  22. 52
    Mark G on 15 Apr 2016 #

    Well, by anyone’s reckoning, a single success rate of “2/6/6/3” (including the True Steppers) isn’t bad going by anyone’s standards, even the solo spice girls’. The last one being one side each from two possible albums to come. (They could have released both as per Outkast which wasn’t much before then).

    Actually, the main reason it seemed to me was that she was less bothered about having an ongoing singing/music career, and used the “didn’t get to number one” excuse to not devote the whole year to promotion, touring and so on.

    I think it worked out for her, mind.

  23. 53
    Duro on 15 Apr 2016 #

    I’m not sure if someone has posted similar before, but artists that had a run of number 1s (reasonably) prior to 9/11 and didn’t have one afterwards are:

    Mel C
    All Saints
    Geri Halliwell
    Craig David

    Farewell, sweet princes and princesses.

  24. 54
    AMZ1981 on 15 Apr 2016 #

    #52 Victoria Beckham’s solo career wasn’t a flop by any means and to be entirely fair she would have her second child in September 2002 which meant her focus was elsewhere. Also the Spice Girls had pretty much been at it non stop since Wannabe hit big five years previously and they were due a break. However none of their solo careers hit big enough to build anticipation for the comeback when it came.

    #53 at least three of the bands listed would split shortly afterwards and this ties into another observation around the failure of the Spices to sustain a solo career. The next cultural zeitgeist comes in the form of two Spring 2002 bunnies which usher in a new pop generation.

  25. 55
    Auntie Beryl on 15 Apr 2016 #

    #53 it’s not beyond the realms of fantasy that Craig David might get himself removed from that list this year with the right song. He seems to have shed all of the baggage he had, and his Canadian impersonator is currently atop the standings.

  26. 56
    Erithian on 16 Apr 2016 #

    And there’s All Saints with the number 3 album this week…

  27. 57
    Andrew on 21 Apr 2016 #

    #53 Destiny’s Child too, although two of them would go on to have at least two solo number ones each

  28. 58
    Kordian86 on 25 Apr 2016 #

    Lovely memories of catwalking to this song during Mister School pageant in my junior high. More popularity contest than talent show, I was predestined to finish third out of six and I did. Loved the song, then loved In Your Eyes even more (this one got overplayed in Poland very quickly), then loved Love At the First Sight a lot more. I wasn’t such 80s buff then, now I’m coming back mostly to some of SAW stuff and “On a Night Like This” (oh, and In Denial! – shame it wasn’t a single…). My alternative friends, naturally, tried to convert me to her middle 90s phase, quite successfully.

  29. 59
    Tommy Mack on 25 Apr 2016 #

    I actually went did this the courtesy of a re-listen on YouTube: don’t think my feelings have changed much over the years, a sleek, impeccable joy of a pop gem: this was one of my go to records whenever I was accused of not liking pop music: I can’t imagine ever objecting to hearing this. Not much to say beyond that I remember it being everywhere at the time. I didn’t associate it with 9/11, I must say, it was just something that seemed to crop up most times you went out dancing, which I actually did a fair bit back then, being a yoot an’ ting.

  30. 60
    Rikkie on 8 Jun 2017 #


    Blue Monday was inspired by a few songs, one of them was Donna Summer’s Our Love.
    Although it did feel completely new and fresh and futuristic, it still was build from different songs before.

  31. 61
    benson_79 on 11 May 2021 #

    I definitely preferred Not Such An Innocent Girl at the time, while this left me rather cold. The passing of time and the accumulated wisdom of age (such as there is) have revealed CGYOOMH to be an objectively better song, but there are still lots of Kylie singles I find way more fun.

  32. 62
    Gareth Parker on 6 Jun 2021 #

    Best #1 of ’01 to my ears. 8/10.

  33. 63
    Rory on 7 Oct 2021 #

    Ed Power on CGYOOMH at the Independent: Kylie’s thrilling chart banger is the best pop song of the 21st century.

1 2 All

Add your comment

(Register to guarantee your comments don't get marked as spam.)

If this was number 1 when you were born paste [stork-boy] or [stork-girl] into the start of your comment :)


Required (Your email address will not be published)

Top of page