A rebel who's never faded away

A rebel who's never faded away
An invitation to visit Pink in Venice, a few blocks from the beach, for a home-cooked
Monday night dinner could seem like a contrived play for authenticity. But it’s hard to remain sceptical when faced with a giggling baby.

Faux-intimate or not, the domestic scene recently featuring Top 40’s long-reigning rebel was disarmingly unpolished: an entryway cluttered with roller skates, stuffed animals, kites and bike helmets; a chicken in the oven; and the singer’s second child, the nine-month-old Jameson, making only a moderate mess with his spoon-fed mush.

Pink, who has spent nearly two decades selling her relative edge and honesty from within the pop machine, is not quite Martha Stewart. She wore tattoo-baring overalls and diamond earrings as she passed the baby to his nanny, and began dressing a salad with the uncertainty of a 20-something playing dinner party. Slide sandals emblazoned with the words ‘Frigid Whore’ sat nearby.

Not the one
This is the life of a well-adjusted veteran star, who’s not quite sure how she’s survived this long and stayed this sane. A vestige of the Y2K, peak-CD, MTV ‘TRL’ generation, Pink, now 38, hasn’t melted down or ever really gone away, a fact she owes to never having been “the one.”

“I’ve never won the popularity contest,” she said. “I was never as big as Britney or Christina. If you look at any paragraph about pop music, I don’t get mentioned — my name doesn’t come up. And yet, here I go again, right under the wave, duck-diving.”

It’s not that she’s been ignored, or burrowed in a niche. Since her debut, ‘Can’t Take Me Home’, in 2000, Pink has sold more than 16 million albums and some 45 million digital songs in the United States, according to Nielsen Music; she’s had 23 songs in the Billboard Top 40 (including her current single, ‘What About Us’), with four No. 1 hits and 11 more that reached the Top 10. She headlines arenas around the world and recently performed on Saturday Night Live, the day after the release of ‘Beautiful Trauma’, her seventh solo album.

Still, “I had the whole sit-down, you know: ‘Just be prepared, they don’t play girls over 35 on Top 40 radio,’” the singer said. “There are exceptions, but they’re songs, not artistes — unless you’re Beyoncé.”

And yet here she is again — ‘What About Us’ is No. 15 on the pop airplay chart — a beacon of longevity in an industry obsessed with the new and nubile.

Generally more brash, more aggressive and more androgynous than her contemporaries, Pink has managed to become a populist stalwart known for her self-esteem anthems (‘Raise Your Glass’, ‘______ Perfect’, ‘Just Like Fire’) and modern power ballads (‘Just Give Me a Reason’, ‘Try’), not for the intra-pop feuds and other tabloid dramas that dominated her early years.

At the same time, she has kept the reputation of a progressive truth-teller, dissecting beauty standards in a viral speech dedicated to her daughter at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards and speaking openly about her disdain for President Donald Trump. (‘What About Us’ may sound like a relationship song, but it’s about the current political moment, she said.)

Pink’s career has also provided a workable blueprint for the female pop-outsider archetype — embodied now by Halsey, Kesha, Alessia Cara and more — a role she claimed explicitly in 2001, when she sang: “Tired of being compared to damn Britney Spears/She’s so pretty/That just ain’t me.”

In Pink’s world, such concerns never really fade. “I can’t win the game of ‘I want to be on every magazine cover and I want to be the prettiest and the best singer and the best dancer’ and all that,” she said. “It’s not fun, and it doesn’t feel good.”

Instead, she has focused on honing her live performances — including the acrobatic aerial dancing that has become a trademark — using regular tours, soundtrack songs and guest appearances as lily pads between pop eras. Since 2000, she has released a single every year except one.

Born Alecia Beth Moore to working-class parents in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Pink was signed first as part of an R&B group to the urban-oriented, Atlanta-based LaFace Records. While her debut single, ‘There You Go’, recalled a Destiny’s Child leftover, it was the injection of some Lilith Fair into her sound — as well as the performed defiance at having subverted her label’s expectations — that made her a star.

On ‘Beautiful Trauma’, Pink is once again playing the part of the mainstream’s favourite non-conformist, singing of insecurities and imperfect relationships replete with drinking and fighting, but with an idealism that shines through and ensures maximum marketability.

She’s always been a savvy collaborator; Pink recruited Linda Perry of 4 Non Blondes to write with her on ‘Missundaztood’, her defining and most popular album, released a year before Christina Aguilera put out the Perry-written ‘Beautiful’. Here she mixes work by established hitmakers like Max Martin and Greg Kurstin with newcomers Julia Michaels, Jack Antonoff and Tobias Jesso Jr.

In changing times
Still, the music is hardly a reinvention, with Pink’s manager, Roger Davies, calling it “just a continuation of the previous records” — that is, 13 well-crafted pop songs that can get her back on the road. But as much as she’s remained steady, the business has changed. The rise of streaming — the biggest shift since Pink’s previous solo album in 2012 — presents a fresh challenge. “I don’t think 35-year-old moms are really streaming that much,” Pink said of her audience.

Being the mother of two young children, however, complicates touring. After Willow’s birth in 2011, Pink promptly made an album and returned to the road, daughter in tow, though the experience “definitely took like five years off my life,” she said.

She plans to repeat the arrangement with both kids and more managed expectations. “There have been many mornings when I look at myself in the mirror with tears in my eyes and I’m like, ‘You can’t have it all,’” she said. “There’s always a compromise.”

It was also with motherhood in mind that Pink wrote the MTV Video Music Awards speech that she delivered in August while accepting the Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award. Motivated by her daughter’s admission that she felt ugly, the singer relayed what she told Willow: “We don’t change. We take the gravel and the shell and we make a pearl. And we help other people to change so they can see more kinds of beauty.”

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