In 2001, nearly 15 years into her music career, Kylie Minogue met a period of reclamation. On her eighth studio album Fever — released 20 years ago today internationally and Feb. 26, 2002 in the United States — Minogue reached her definitive cyber-groove era, launching the most noteworthy Australia-to-America disco export since the Bee Gees took over the pop charts in the late 1970s.
After first coming to fame as a teen actress on long-running 1980s Australian soap opera Neighbours, in 1987 Minogue pivoted to music, debuting with a cover of “The Loco-Motion” by doo wop vocalist Little Eva. The single was accented by kitschy beatnik pop and soon became popular in the UK, US, and Down Under. With an international crossover hit to her name, Minogue became arguably Australia’s answer to Madonna, venturing into a saga of character reinventions that spun off hit after hit internationally even as a repeat of her “Loco-Motion” success eluded her in the US.
On Minogue’s third and fourth albums Rhythm Of Love and Let’s Get To It, she transitioned into dance-pop melded with provocative house and new jack swing ambitions. By the mid-’90s, she channeled an indie phase on her 1994 eponymous album and 1997’s Impossible Princess; in between, she duetted with Nick Cave on the Murder Ballads single “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” the biggest commercial hit of the post-punk luminary’s career. As she explored her way through a wide range of styles, Minogue fans and critics weren’t able to pin down her target audience, prompting a brief decline in commercial success — though given Minogue’s stature in the UK, the slump amounted to her singles only hitting the top 20 instead of the top 10.
By 2000 she was resurgent. Minogue adapted to the Y2K-era global pop landscape on her seventh album Light Years, which critics hailed for introducing disco-pop to a younger crowd with a sophisticated edge. Light Years topped the Australian albums chart and became the design that launched Minogue toward her 2001 statement album. Fever would be the definitive release of her career, a euphoric metamorphosis so compelling that Americans couldn’t ignore it — including me.
Before discovering that the foundations of disco were originated by queer Black artists during the 1970s, as a child, Fever was my second taste of the genre. (Ironically, my first was another Fever from Down Under: the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack by fellow Aussies the Bee Gees.) When I saw the Fever album cover on a promotional billboard outside my local, now-defunct Virgin Megastore, I was hypnotized by its minimalism and Minogue’s smoldering, icy gaze; like the song says, it was love at first sight. As a young Black girl who regularly opted for early-2000s hip-hop and R&B, Minogue was the first white artist I remember listening to unapologetically. While dance and electronica were worlds away from the genres I was used to, Fever opened my ears to a spectrum of experimental soundscapes from early-2000s international dance acts like Daft Punk, Jamiroquai, Basement Jaxx, and Röyksopp.
Though repetitive at times in production and lyrical content, Fever was an ultra-sleek turn into the wonders of millennial pop futurism. The aesthetic was best reflected by Fever’s rhapsodic lead single “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” the song that sent the dance-pop world into Minogue mania. Co-produced and co-written by former Mud glam-rock guitarist Rob Davis and British pop singer-songwriter Cathy Dennis, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” began in Davis’ garage-turned-makeshift studio in South East England. They initially offered it to former British pop group S Club 7 and indie pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, both of whom passed on the demo. It thus serendipitously landed on Minogue, who wanted the song within 20 seconds of hearing it.
Balancing in-your-face ubiquity with a more elusive seduction as it built to an infectious “la la la” refrain, “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” launched Minogue into icon status. The song became her biggest hit in the US since “The Loco-Motion,” peaking at #7, and her bestselling single overall, with worldwide sales of over five million copies. The visual for “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” looked just as glossy as the song sounded — Minogue’s razor-sharp jawline stole the show alongside robotic choreography by an army of clones with cutout tops that would give Mean Girls‘ Regina George a run for her money.
There was more where that came from. Veering towards discotheque futurism, Fever arguably made Minogue the global queen of nightclubbing. Opening track “More More More” throbbed with a rapturous, tech-y hotline tone and a deep house bassline courtesy of British producer Tommy D. Second track (and third single) “Love At First Sight” pulsated with an adrenaline rush of optimism as Minogue cooed about passionate reverie. The title track was an alluring, flirtatious escapade that brought the steamy album cover full circle.
Breathy vocals ran rampant throughout Fever, notably on the lush, nearly-inebriated sounding “In Your Eyes” and “Come Into My World,” which won Best Dance Recording at the Grammys three years later. (It was released as a single in November 2002, placing it within the eligibility window for the February 2004 ceremony.) “Come Into My World” was a follow-up collaboration between Davis and Dennis, who spun it out into a hallucinogenic disco utopia, paving the way for releases decades in the future like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia.
Later tracks like “Love Affair,” “Your Love,” and “Burning Up” opted for more analog instrumentation, but the legacy of Fever lies within its synth-powered Europop menagerie. Those electronic dance hits were the songs that pushed Fever to a #3 debut on the Billboard 200 and helped it sell 6 million copies worldwide. It remains Minogue’s highest-selling album and a testament to her eternal nu-disco appeal. All these years later, I still can’t get it out of my head.