The Truth About Pink, The 21st Century’s Most Underrated Pop Star
Posted by Newson 09/21/2012 at 2:39 PM
Think about this: If you were an aspiring young female pop star, whose career would you rather have had this century than Pink’s? The statistics are impressive, certainly. She’s had five platinum albums in five tries, with over 10 million sold total in this country and far more abroad. She’s had 12 top ten singles, three of them going all the way to #1, spanning the course of 12 years and counting. She’s won three Grammys, five Video Music Awards, and both a Kids’ and Teen Choice Award. At the end of the ’00s, Billboard named her the artist of the decade.
As impressive as her numbers are, her creative resume is just as staggering. She’s had hits in hip-hop, dance, pop, punk, R&B and songs not easily classified. She’s worked with Max Martin, Dr. Luke, Tricky Stewart, Dallas Austin, Linda Perry, Scott Storch, Missy Elliott, William Orbit, Tim Armstrong, Jeff Bhasker, Butch Walker, Danja and Babyface. She’s guested on songs by Eminem, the Indigo Girls, Herbie Hancock and Naughty By Nature. She’s done love songs, breakup songs, kiss-off songs, ballads, rave-ups, party anthems, outcast anthems, protest songs, social commentaries and eulogies. She was on friggin’ “Lady Marmalade.” She’s swung from trapezes and done gymnastics in mid-air. By nearly every definition of the phrase, she has been there and done that.
But just as noteworthy as what she has done in her career is what she hasn’t done. She’s never allowed herself to be pinned to any one sound or trend or moment in time. She’s never really dipped in popularity, and she’s never really released a flop, with the arguable exception of 2003′s Try This, which still went platinum. She’s never seemed out of date or behind the times, and she’s never seemed like a bandwagon-hopper. And though she’s certainly gone through a great deal of drama, she’s never really been part of any sort of public scandal, largely because she’s so out there in her professional life that it’s hard for her to ever really seem exposed in her personal life.
This all needs pointing out, because when you think of the great pop stars of the 21st century, Pink’s probably not one of the first names who comes to mind. She’s never been one of the two or three biggest or most obvious pop stars at any one point in time—at various points in her career, she’s been eclipsed in profile, if not necessarily radio airplay, by the likes of Britney, Christina, Avril, Beyoncé, Kelly (Clarkson), Fergie, Rihanna, Katy, Gaga, Taylor, Ke$ha and Adele. But while most if not all of those artists have gone through lulls and lows in their pop stardom, Pink just keeps on plugging away, a consistent and never-unwelcome presence in the Top 40. Like Hank Aaron, Pink may have never hit 50 home runs in a season, but we’re gonna look back on her career one day and say to ourselves goddamn, she had a lot of dingers.
It’s worth bringing up this week, as Alecia’s excellent new album The Truth About Love appears on its way to being the first chart-topping LP of her illustrious career. It’s just about the last pop star benchmark Pink had to knock off her checklist, and it feels like the hard-earned achievement of a life’s work in popular music. Truth may or may not be the best album of Pink’s career, but it’s hard to argue against it being a definitive work. The mastery on display in the nearly every aspect of the album, from the songwriting and production right down to the pacing and structure of the album itself—usually an afterthought, if that, in the iTunes era—belies Pink’s incredible experience in the field, and the skills and lessons she’s learned over her fruitful career.
What’s remarkable about Truth About Love, as in Pink’s career at large, is the range of songs she finds success with. “Are We All We Are” is a true kick-down-the-door opener, an anthemic scorcher, and when it’s followed by lead single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” you wonder if this is gonna be a 13-song pop-punk blowout of an album. But there’s plenty of variation to be had, from bubblegummy (though far from naive or innocent) pop songs like “True Love” and “Walk of Shame” to spine-tingling vocal-showcase ballads like “The Great Escape” and “Beam Me Up,” and…well, plodding Eminem collab “Here Comes the Weekend” is the set’s one obvious misstep, but it’s more variety, at least.
Of course, anyone can be diverse in pop music these days. What really sets Love apart is that the entire thing has an impressive maturity to it, a sort of world-weariness that feels honest without being cynical or exhausting. Take album highlight “The Truth About Love,” an all-angles meditation on the obvious set to a grooving girl-group-style beat with handclaps and awesome backing vocals. The observations are funny and occasionally insightful, alternately defining the titular sensation as “wings and songs and trees and birds” and “sandwiches without the crust,” “regret in the morning, the smelling of armpits,” and they’re all delivered in a distorted, gravelly growl, like Pink was the long-retained house singer at some dingy blues club.
It’s one of the best songs of the year, and it wouldn’t be nearly as good as performed by any other contemporary pop star. That’s because the song speaks to an incredible amount of experience with the subject matter, one that we believe coming from Pink, not just because she’s proven herself such an invested and soulful performer, but because we’ve gotten to know both her and her personal story over the years—most specifically her on-again, off-again partnership with one-time husband and recent baby daddy Carey Hart, with whom she’s shared a touchingly honest warts-and-all public relationship, even in Pink’s own music videos.
When Pink preaches the Truth About Love, we listen, because we know she’s lived through the highs and lows, and lived to tell about it in an intelligent and self-aware manner. Much as we adore Taylor Swift’s high school breakup songs, “Truth About Love” is a song for a grown-ass woman, and neither she nor the majority of her Top 40 peers would be able to handle it. Only Pink carries all of the emotional gravity, the real-world credibility, the vocal flexibility and the pop chops to walk the tight rope between the song’s swinging giddiness and its bluesy down-to-earthness. Needless to say, it’s an achievement that should not be overlooked.
Twelve years into her Hall-of-Fame-worthy career, Pink only appears to be getting stronger as both a pop star and an artist, something precious few musicians on her level have ever been able to claim. After becoming a mother for the first time a year ago, Pink hasn’t come close to losing her verve or passion from making music, and from what we’ve come to know about her throughout her career, the additional life experience should lead to nothing but more excellent, touching, and imminently relateable popular music. We raise our glass to you, Alecia.
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