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25 Years Ago: k.d. lang’s ‘Ingenue’ Turns Songs of Longing Into Sudden Superstardom

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By the time Ingenue arrived on March 17, 1992, k.d. lang was ready for a change – and change was just what she got. The album marked a seismic career shift, as she switched from old-time country to torch songs, came out as a lesbian and shot to magazine-cover status. The catalyst for it all was something decidedly elemental.

“Let’s focus,” lang memorably said from the Radio City Music Hall stage in 1992, “on the subject of desire.”

Lang had fallen in love with a married person, and the emotional conflict surrounding that time sparked her first-ever all-original album. “I was definitely a stalker,” lang admitted in a 1993 talk with Rolling Stone. “Obsession is a weird thing, like an unhealthy sort of exercise. Ingenue was this great work of art, this great gift, this great gesture. ‘You see, I’m really in love with you; look what I’ve done.'”

The songs, written with longtime collaborator and bandleader Ben Mink, arrived in a moment of furious invention – though, in truth, that was nothing new. “The fact is that in our eight years of collaboration, we have only got together four times to write her entire body of work,” Mink told Q magazine in 1993. “It comes out very quickly. Ingenue was written in a week and a half, though we agonized for ages over the arrangements, and she over the lyrics.”

The difference was one of style, of a newfound sense of narrative focus, and of being in the right moment at precisely the right time. An entirely new group of fans gathered around polished tributes to romantic longing like “Save Me,” “Constant Craving’ and “Miss Chatelaine,” as Ingenue became lang’s first Top 20 Billboard hit – and her first (and, thus far, only) multi-platinum release.

Lang was suddenly a hot ticket on talk shows, a cover subject for publications like Vanity Fair, and the topic of glowing notices from superstars. David Bowie told the Independent that she was “fast emerging as the classiest, most stylish performer of the ’90s.” Madonna also famously quipped, “Elvis [Presley] is alive and she’s beautiful.”

Watch k.d. lang Perform ‘Miss Chatelaine’

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Lang later credited a contemporary interview with the Advocate in which she first publicly proclaimed herself a lesbian with triggering this sudden outpouring of interest in a career that, after all, had begun back in 1984 with A Truly Western Experience.

“I don’t think Ingenue would have been a hit without me coming out,” she told the Guardian in 2008. “I wouldn’t have got on the cover of Vanity Fair.”

Soon, however, all of this new attention began to take its toll. She started to withdraw from the media glare, to feel constricted by her sudden fame – both as a singer and as a pioneering figure in gay culture. Touring obligations meant she wouldn’t issue a follow up to Ingenue until 1995’s All You Can Eat, and it proved to be a slighter, less satisfying effort.

“I remember being very disillusioned and disappointed with the Holy Grail,” lang told The Age in 2005. “You experience some pretty cruel lessons when you get to the top, and I guess that my ideals or my disillusionment plus coming out. … The whole Ingenue experience, it’s really hard to say which was fame and which was coming out and which was working too hard — you know, we toured for 18 months. There was a culmination of a lot of things going on. I was kind of angry, and I was tired. When you get tired, you get curt. Every interview I did for three years straight was about being gay.”

She turned inward for a while, learned Buddhism, met a new partner, lived in a wood cabin with their dogs. A gorgeous album of cover songs by famous Canadian songwriters seemed to embolden her, and lang finally got back on track with 2008’s Billboard Top 10 hit Watershed. By then, time had brought perspective to the period surrounding Ingenue.

“You can think you have the capacity to deal with it but nothing prepares you for it,” she told the Guardian. “I really thought I didn’t care, that I could be famous and not be altered by it – but you are. You get caught up in it, and some of it is real, but for the most part it’s superficial and very fragile or temporary.”

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