k.d. lang's Ingénue: 25 things you need to know about her breakout album

Desire continues to define the Canadian singer's standout album.

Desire continues to define the Canadian singer's standout album.

The singer's debut album, Ingenue, turned 25 in 2017. (Courtesy of the artist)

Originally published on March 16, 2017

Her voice is a full moon. The kind of moon that seems to swallow skies whole, whose luminescence doesn't so much erase the darkness, but rather absorbs the shadows with its silver glow, lighting up the night so that we may see ourselves — our hearts — more clearly.

In 1992, k.d. lang released her second solo album, Ingénue. That voice, people said, as "Constant Craving" blew up the charts and lang started to break new ground. "That voice" became about so much more because lang, formerly a small-town Canadian kid, was about to become an icon, and her record the soundtrack to an important cultural and artistic revolution.

Here are 25 things you need to know about Ingénue on its 25th anniversary, and about k.d. lang — the groundbreaking Canadian artist who changed the world by being herself.


k.d. lang - The Mind Of Love (Video) (Narrative Version)

1. Ingénue, released on March 17, 1992, was k.d. lang's first all-original album. She co-wrote most of the songs with her longtime collaborator and bandleader, Ben Mink.

"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 Mat Snow in Q magazine in April 1993, a year after the record's release. "It comes out very quickly. Ingénue was written in a week and a half, though we agonised for ages over the arrangements, and she over the lyrics. We sit down with a couple of acoustic guitars and talk, but we'll start off a song with anything. If the kitchen clock falls to the ground and clanks in a certain key, that can give us enough of an idea to start something."

2. The reviews were largely positive, particularly Betty Page's in New Musical Express: "You will fall in love with Ingénue. In fact, you will want to have its children."

3. The album's focus on sex was referenced in many of the reviews, though perhaps none as vehemently as Phil Sutcliffe. In Q magazine he described the record as "something completely different; normal on the surface, very strange underneath" and "carefully non-gender-specific, Ingénue is head over heels in love with love and sex." According to Sutcliffe, "the moment she starts singing, she's off into the high planes of seduction," though he criticized stylistic elements of lang's balladry as "the pleasantly unsettling sensation" of "lusty sweat cooled by the all but Sinatra-like sheen" before concluding that Ingénue is "open, self-assured and sexy as a cobra."

4. But not everybody was a fan. Entertainment Weekly's Stephanie Zacharek gave the record a C grade, writing "most of the songs sound pale, pinched and tired. It's as if lang and songwriting/producing collaborators Ben Mink and Greg Penny strove so hard to get 'sultry' right that they pooped themselves out."

5. The beautiful album opener, "Save Me," proved to be lang's transition out of her country past and into her crooner future, exemplifying the sonic spectrum of Ingénue.

6. A few months after Ingénue's release, lang came out publicly on the cover of The Advocate, American's biggest LGBT magazine.

7. In the interview — which is archived here — lang reaffirms that Ingénue is, at least in part, about her love affair with a married person.

8. In the same interview, she talks about why she's waited so long to publicly confirm what she's known most of her life.

The Advocate: But your mother must know that you're a lesbian.

Lang: Oh, yeah, she does. I came out to her 13 years ago.

The Advocate: So that's not a truth that's going to be a surprise to her.

Lang: No.

The Advocate: But it's still something that people in that small town where she lives are going to care about. She's going to have to deal with that part?

Lang: Yes, she is. And that's gonna hurt our relationship. And that's why I've always hesitated to be really, really out. I'm still worried about this article, you know? It's taken me a long time to say yes to The Advocate because I know the repercussions are gonna be there. It's like, I want to be out. I want to be out! Man, if I didn't worry about my mother, I'd be the biggest parader in the whole world.

The Advocate: Has your mother ever said to you, "Please, k.d., don't come out."

Lang: Yes.

The Advocate: Still?

Lang: Yes.

The Advocate: Recently?

Lang: Yes.

— The Advocate, 1992

9. The inspiration behind "Constant Craving" was all forms of love, not just desire for another human.

Lang: When I talk about unfulfilled desire, it's not just human physical love. It's the love I feel for animals; it's the love I feel for trees. You know, the video is loosely based on Waiting for Godot.

The Advocate: Which video?

Lang: "Constant Craving." You might not have seen it yet. I'm talking about constantly craving this person I'm in love with, but I'm also talking about why I feel I need another person. You know, I've never seen a blue heron with another blue heron, have you? You know blue herons? They're always alone. But they must mate.

— The Advocate

10. According to co-writer Ben Mink, the album's second single, "Miss Chatelaine," was written in 15 minutes.

11. The song was inspired by Canada's Chatelaine magazine, which, in 1988, named lang its Woman of the Year. You can check out the cover here.

12. "Miss Chatelaine" is a sly send-up of gendered expectations, particularly since the main thing being written about lang's appearance at that point was an appraisal and examination of her androgyny, and whether that was code for something else. Lang embraced the character of Miss Chatelaine wholeheartedly in her music video, a tongue-in-cheek, high-femme treatment that was also a tribute, in part, to The Lawrence Welk Show.

13. In 1993, lang gave an incredible performance of "Miss Chatelaine" on The Arsenio Hall Show, complete with a full band, a chaise lounge, a bubble machine and an incredible formal gown. In the interview afterwards — which is interesting, if occasionally awkward — Hall calls out the audience's reluctant applause for lang's call for gay rights and equality.

14. In a 1993 interview with Rolling Stone, lang said she had some distance between the making of Ingénue and its release, which afforded her a different view point of the affair that inspired so much of the record.

"I was definitely a stalker. Obsession is a weird thing, like an unhealthy sort of exercise. Ingénue 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. Now that it's basically over, it's sort of going no, it's yours, Kathryn, it's yours. You wrote it, you sang it, it's your record, not hers."

15. In 1993, jaws dropped again at lang's unforgettable Vanity Fair cover. Lang is seated in a barber's chair, face slathered in shaving cream, with Cindy Crawford posed behind her, clad in black lingerie and spiked-heel booties, brandishing a razor. The photos that accompanied the interview inside only added to the excitement, and Barbara Walters came calling.

16. In the Vanity Fair interview, Torie Osborn, executive director of the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, applauded lang as "the first major woman pop star who's out and proud and fine about it…. The thing about k.d. is that she's Ms. Gender Bender. She's not afraid; that's always been part of her appeal. She's absolutely herself, and when you see her onstage you see a living example of how, when you step out of the closet, you become more whole and are able to be more powerful."

17. In "Performing k.d. lang," published in Canadian Women's Studies, Robin Elliott contextualizes Ingénue as a pivotal turning point for society. Elliott examines lang's legacy and influence, the importance of her career and creative achievements, and her "clever and inspired manipulation of the themes of resistance, subversion and displacement." It's a fascinating piece that looks at the social, political and cultural implications of lang's gender non-conformity.

18. In Q magazine in 1993, Chrissie Hynde called lang a "secret weapon; she's a freedom fighter for the oppressed, and animals are on the bottom rung. If she can get into the mainstream, then she's getting the message through and having a great, positive influence."

19. Lang turned down Bob Dylan's invitation to write with him.

"He was saying he wanted to write with me, and I really don't know if that was…. Sometimes these things are just something to say. I think the same thing about writing with people as I do about singing with people. Even though I think that Bob Dylan is a tremendous songwriter, it would be really hard to work with someone like him. It's like taking two distinct ingredients and putting them together, like curry and chocolate."

20. Ingénue won the Juno Award for best album in 1993, beating out a host of other albums that were also classics in the making: Celine Dion's self-titled record, the Tragically Hip's Fully Completely, Barenaked Ladies' Gordon and Blue Rodeo's Lost Together.

Lang was also nominated for several Grammy Awards in 1993, including album, song, and record of the year. She won best female pop vocal performance for "Constant Craving," and lost in the same category the following year for "Miss Chatelaine."

This was all the same year that lang helped pay tribute to Anne Murray, which included this clip of them singing together.

21. Lang found herself facing intense burnout following the success of Ingénue and her coming out. She told the Daily Telegraph about it in a 2004 interview.

"I remember being very disillusioned and disappointed with the Holy Grail. 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 Ingénue 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."

22. Ingénue is on the list of 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, as is lang's solo debut, Shadowland.

23. David Bowie said that lang was "fast emerging as the classiest, most stylish performer of the '90s."

24. In an interview with Q magazine in 1993, lang said she was "very into omens. A lot of decisions are made by flipping a coin. And I don't f--k with it. When I flip a coin, that's the way it is. The coin doesn't lie…. And if I see a crow somewhere where a crow wouldn't usually be, it's some sort of a sign. I consider myself a crow. I don't know why. I just feel I have an affiliation towards them."

25. Lang herself admits to being under her own spell:

"I think sometimes that I'll never be granted a lover, because I've got one. It's my voice. I don't know if that's just a really pathetic romantic artistic thing to say. Or if it's just a classic case of what a shrink might call sublimation."

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner


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