Radio 2 in the Park: Kylie, a mere nostalgia act? Don’t you believe it

Kylie at Radio 2 in the Park
Kylie at Radio 2 in the Park - Cameron Smith/Getty

“This is their first ever pop concert!” beamed a father arriving with his two young children to Leicester’s Victoria Park on Sunday afternoon. They’d come to the right place. Since 2010, Radio 2 has offered a particularly family-friendly live music weekender, with line-ups that orbit pop’s comfort zone and wrap up by 9pm. After three years away due to the pandemic and the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the location may have changed – it’s no longer Hyde Park, in London – but the day festival seemed as reliant on nostalgia as ever.

Simply Red’s perfunctory opening performance, featuring patchy vocals from Mick Hucknall, drew a large crowd ready for an afternoon of half-hour doses of music, from the unbearably cheerful Sam Ryder (last year’s Eurovision runner-up) to breezy, charming sets from Rick Astley, Shalamar, and The Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde – her voice in remarkably good nick – and Jessie Ware were by far the worthiest Kylie warm-up acts: Ware’s full-hearted performance led Kylie to later describe her as a “joy-giver” when Ware joined her on stage for Kiss of Life.

Kylie is an equally generous supplier of joy. She’s also a perfect Radio 2 headliner, embodying cross-generational appeal without surrendering an ounce of spirit or sophistication. When she took to the Leicester stage, the weekend ascended to a higher plane of pop.

As the first female artist to achieve consecutive No 1 albums across five decades, a high-octane hour of hits came easily, bookended by Spinning Around and Can’t Get You Out of My Head. Her unbridled enjoyment of the night was endearing, too. “In my dreams, that was what it was like!” she gushed, surveying the sea of phone torches that met an acoustic version of Say Something from her last album, Disco.

Slow (from 2003), a career and live highlight, fell in seamlessly with Tension and Padam Padam, the new singles from Kylie’s imminent, highly anticipated 16th album. Padam has become the song of the summer: her first Top 10 hit since 2010, adopted by teenage TikTokers and the LGBTQ community, it’s also a rare welcome instance of a female pop star in her 50s singing openly and playfully about desire.

Rick Astley at Radio 2 in the Park
Rick Astley at Radio 2 in the Park - Cameron Smith/Getty

All of that power translated instantly to the stage. Although this was Radio 2 in the Park, Padam is as much a Radio 1 song, playlisted on the station after fierce petition from younger fans. It was perhaps this fresh energy that saw Kylie both fit the evening’s brief and blow it sky-high, ultimately rescuing the weekend from the sluggish clutches of nostalgia.

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