Glastobury’s Sunday “Legends” slot is often considered to be the festival’s highlight, but it’s tricky to get right. Coming early in the evening, it’s often the festival’s most-watched appearance; it’s the home of long-established acts who are not relevant enough for headline material, but have a well-loved and extensive back catalogue. It needs to be fun and accessible to the full range of attendees, but have cultural weight beyond disposable pop. It’s a slot that’s been shared by acts as varied as Tony Bennett, Lionel Richie and Kenny Rogers (in my view, it peaked with Dolly Parton’s 2014 appearance).
It’s bittersweet, then, for Kylie to make her Glastonbury debut in this slot. She was booked to headline the festival in 2005, but had to pull out following her breast cancer diagnosis. But having just released a Nashville record, 2018’s Golden (which owes more than a small debt to Parton herself), she’s clearly not pushing to enter yet another era of pop superstardom. In 2019, Kylie is content to take a step back, an earlier – if much-lauded – slot, and make it home in time for dinner.
The size of the crowd, at least, suggests that the booking hasn’t hit a bum note. It’s by far the biggest mainstream crowd I’ve seen all weekend. Brought on stage by pastel-trousered, white-shirted dancers in a white flared suit, she opens with “Love at First Sight”, adding country inflections to her sugary early Noughties pop, like a disco ball at a barn dance, a treatment sprinkled on songs throughout the set.
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But this is not the slot for real experimentation – and fortunately, Kylie has never been one to shy away from her brand of school disco pop, no matter how dated or novelty. “We weren’t going to make you wait for this one,” she shouts as the unmistakable notes of “I Should Be So Lucky” began. If that isn’t enough cheese, giant white letters spelling out KYLIE are dragged on stage and waved side to side, as though we are actually watching a Sesame Street spelling segment. In a following interlude, mimes dressed in oversized bow ties and lapels take to the stage, like a waiter transformed into a napkin, Beauty and the Beast-style.
At one moment, she seems genuinely emotional. “I just want to take a moment to – this is really hard”, she says, welling up, before recounting her scheduled headline appearance and how Coldplay covered one of her songs when they filled in her slot. “Wow I didn’t cry too much, that’s good,” she laughs, introducing Chris Martin for an acoustic rendition of “Cant Get You Out of My Head” – which after one verse and chorus, thankfully reverts to its original glitterball dance origins, with a little extra country twang. In an odd if not exactly surprising cameo, Nick Cave joins her for a sensual duet of their 1995 collaboration “Where the Wild Roses Grow”.
Dressed variously in a shiny magenta trench and matching mini-dress beneath, a cherry red boilersuit with bubblegum pink stripes, and a slinky gold dress (there are four costume changes in total), Kylie also offers some real wedding dress patter. “No, the kids aren’t just alright – the kids are amazing!” she beams on “Kids”. “Is there a direct train to Glastonbury?” she shouts as she introduces her version of “The Loco-Motion”. “Dance like it’s 1990, or 1991?” she asks on a medley of “Shocked”, “Step Back in Time” and “Better the Devil You Know” – astonishingly, backed by giant novelty wiggly arm inflatables.
Sometimes the cheese is such that she veers towards self-parody. “Je Ne Sais Pas Pourquoi” and “Hand on Your Heart” sound irredeemably naff, and her uncomfortably pitchy vocals don’t exactly help. But the strength of her mid-Noughties material shines through: “Slow”, “Kids” and “Spinning Around” sound ecstatic in the afternoon sun.
And in any case, she hardly has much choice. Kylie is as saccharine as a Bacardi Breezer, and the family-friendly Legends slot Glastonbury is hardly the time for elegant restraint. Pass the alcopops.