Pink Quietly Became Pop Royalty. Here’s How She Made It Last.

Pink Quietly Became Pop Royalty. Here’s How She Made It Last.


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 will perform on “Saturday Night Live” on Oct. 14, the day after the release of “Beautiful Trauma,” her seventh solo album.

Pink – “What About Us” Video by PinkVEVO

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 artists — unless you’re Beyoncé.”

And yet here she is again — “What About Us” is currently 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 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 at her kitchen island. “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.

Tom Poleman, the chief programming officer for iHeartMedia, the largest operator of radio stations in the U.S., said that the singer’s longevity in pop’s upper tier is “an anomaly” owing to her consistency.

“She doesn’t disappear for five years,” Mr. Poleman said. “She always stays in the forefront, so people have been able to move and grow with her.” And though Pink has been outspoken on social issues, “her songs test equally well in the red states as the blue states,” he added, citing her Everywoman persona. “She is the kind of person that a listener looks at and says, ‘You know what, this person is like me.’ She’s not fake, she’s not superficial, she’s the real deal.”

Born Alecia Beth Moore to working class parents in Doylestown, Penn., 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 favorite nonconformist, 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 the newcomers Julia Michaels, Jack Antonoff and Tobias Jesso Jr.

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 reload her concert set list and get her back on the road.

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Being the mother of two young children has complicated the touring life of a pop star. “There’s 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.”

Credit
Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

The album’s second single, “Revenge,” features Eminem, another once-controversial survivor from the industry’s turn-of-the-century boom time. (“I told my daughter he’s saying ‘you’re a horse,’” Pink said of the rapper’s angry verse, directed at an ex; he is not saying horse.) An elaborate music video shoot for the song the day after dinner, which included around 20 enormous, bloody eyeballs hanging from the ceiling of the Los Angeles Theater, also recalled the MTV glory days. “Everybody needs to gain 10 pounds to be in this video,” Pink, in classic form, told her backup performers upon seeing them in costume.

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. But Mr. Davies pointed to a “pretty large core audience” that will still go to concerts. “We’re slowly getting there” on streaming, he added, noting bonus promotional content that will be exclusive to Apple Music.

“I’m a ticket-seller,” said Pink, crediting Mr. Davies, who has managed Tina Turner, Cher, Joe Cocker and Sade, with conceptualizing her live-centric strategy. Though she’d had hits and sold millions, Pink was still opening for Justin Timberlake well into her career; she pointed to an airborne, water-soaked 2010 Grammys performance of the non-single ballad “Glitter in the Air” as a turning point, when people woke up to her strong voice and showmanship.

And yes, she’s seen the memes about her reliance on flying stunts. “How many times do you see the same artist get up and lip-sync and dance?” she countered. “And you’re mad at me for doing something none of them can do? And I sing live!”

Pink On Oprah (After Glitter in the Air Performance at Grammy 2-5-10) Video by 791610sg

Being the mother of two young children, however, complicates the constant 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’s 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.”

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In a business not known for its sensitivity to women’s lives, Pink turns to humor to cope.

Credit
Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York Times

In a trade not known for its sensitivity to women’s lives, Pink turns to humor to cope. She laughed heartily while telling a story about the miscarriage she had before getting pregnant again with Jameson.

“I’ve had several, but this one snuck up on me,” she said. “The funniest part of all of it was my record company was super excited because I was pregnant. They were like, ‘Oh, this means we’re getting to the goal’” — a new album. “So when they found out I had a miscarriage, they were like, ‘Ah, we’re so sorry.’ They’re a bunch of men in suits — they have no idea what to do. And I could just see their wheels turning: ‘So, yeah — you’re going to try again?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to try again.’”

Though she denied experiencing much overt music-business sexism firsthand — “People think I’m insane and aggressive and I’ll bite them,” she said, pleading ignorance about the sexual harassment allegations made against her former mentor, the executive L.A. Reid — Pink was less magnanimous about the super-producer Dr. Luke, with whom she last collaborated in 2006.

“I don’t know what happened,” she said of Kesha’s much-publicized claims that Dr. Luke was sexually and verbally abusive. “But I know that regardless of whether or not Dr. Luke did that, this is his karma and he earned it because he’s not a good person.”

“I have told him that to his face and I do not work with him,” she added. “He doesn’t do good business, he’s not a kind person, he doesn’t do the right thing when given ample opportunities to do so, and I don’t really feel that bad for him.” Dr. Luke declined to comment.

Mr. Trump stirred similar anger. “It’s not even about politics anymore, it’s just about human decency,” she said, noting that her father, a Vietnam veteran, voted for him. “‘So you hate me?’ That’s the last thing I said to him about it. ‘You don’t respect me as a woman. You wouldn’t mind if someone walked up to Willow at the mall and grabbed her?” (She added Mr. Trump’s infamous vulgarity.)

P!nk Accepts the ‘Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award’ | 2017 VMAs | MTV Video by MTV

It was also with motherhood in mind that Pink wrote the MTV V.M.A.s speech that she delivered last month 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.”

That wasn’t her first draft. Initially, Pink said, she wrote a speech responding to those online who said she didn’t deserve the lifetime achievement trophy, a throwback to a time when her “anger was everywhere” and “I couldn’t hold my tongue,” she said, with added expletives.

But getting older and gaining perspective has its advantages, even in a youth-oriented business. “I can choose my battles now,” she said. So after reading the original speech to her husband and being told it sounded bitter, she ripped it up and started again.



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