Talkhouse Contributing Writer Elizabeth Sankey is a writer and actress from London. She is also 50% of the band Summer Camp. The Summer Camp that wasn’t featured on Buffy. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Here are a few things you might not know about Pink. She was dropping acid aged 12. At 13 she was cooking up K in the kitchen while her mother was at work. During a showcase with her first band she told Sony Music chief Tommy Mottola, “Can you at least act like you’re paying attention, and not look out the fucking window when we’re singing?” In 2008 she sang about her broken relationship with husband Carey Hart in “So What” — and then put him in the video. In 2010 she appeared at the Grammys, spinning in silk above the audience, dripping with water, singing live and pitch-perfect. Afterwards she went on Oprah and said, “After ten years it feels like people still don’t know what I do.”
This is an odd statement, coming from an artist as successful as Pink. She has won three Grammys, and has sold over 40 million albums and 70 million singles worldwide. This does not seem to be an artist struggling for recognition. And what’s more, she’s achieved this huge success in the mainstream market without being religious, sweet, pretty or tragic. Instead, her songs are a platform that she uses to openly discuss her hatred for Lindsay Lohan, the Olsen twins and other girls she thinks are stupid. She is brash, a commercial punk, singing, “So what, I’m still a rock star” over sickeningly sweet and unmistakably pop beats, and calling her husband a tool. She’s aggressive and androgynous, angry and liberal. Yet she claims to be pop’s outsider, the weird kid no one cares about. But with such a massive fanbase and critics lauding her work, who is it that Pink is feeling ignored by?
Perhaps she’s just desperate for a Pitchfork review. While the likes of Britney and Christina have profiles on Pitchfork and find their singles placing high on their end-of-year lists, Pink’s name is mostly absent. One of the very few mentions was a sentence damning her as a “minor player”. It does seem strange that the blogosphere will fill pages on Britney — a Christian girl from the South — but ignore this liberal from a Philadelphia suburb with a much more interesting backstory. Pink perches on the huge mountain of her success while bloggers look the other way.
It feels like Pink is lost somewhere between two poles: unlike her pop star peers, she desperately wants to be cool; unlike, say, Robyn or Kelis, she’s not. Just compare the way NME’s Dan Martin described her 2003 album Try This — “like being sold a dog-worming tablet” — to the plaudits his colleague Luke Lewis piled on Robyn’s Body Talk Pt. 1: “suffocatingly great pop.” But on the face of it, Pink and Robyn aren’t so different: pop melodies, electronic music, emotions worn on the sleeve. On the other hand, Pitchfork described Britney’s 2003 single “Toxic” as “just too damn irresistible.” Tellingly, writer Rob Mitchum signs off, “Thanks a lot, Britney, now who the fuck am I gonna irrationally hate?”
Maybe it’s because, more than the pop acts she competes with, Pink seems desperate for blog recognition. The hip kids are fine labeling Britney, Christina and Kelly Clarkson as the token pop artists it’s OK to listen to, perhaps because those artists don’t seem to be trying to engage with the indie/blog world. As always, nothing exudes cool like not trying to be cool.
Perhaps the hip kids are put off by Pink’s attempts to reach out to an indie audience, for example, sampling a Modest Mouse track on recent hit single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” and covering an unreleased Beck song for the Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle soundtrack. Or maybe they feel she has abandoned her cred, that she has given up the indie career she could have had – singing in grunge bands as a teen and cooking up drugs – for the glitter of the mainstream. It is interesting to think what she would have become if she’d resisted the lure of pop; would we have another Carrie Brownstein or Kim Deal?
One wonders why approval from the indie world would even matter to Pink. Even amongst other pop stars, her influence is far-reaching. Just look at Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, and even Rihanna, all of whom have taken inspiration from the way Pink infuses punky rebellion with wit and emotional accessibility, then drops it over dance beats. Even Adele cites her, stating in 2010 that seeing her play Brixton Academy in London was one of the defining moments of her life.
Maybe Pink’s new album The Truth About Love will finally tick the blog box. It should do, it’s brilliant. Bright and shiny, it cites every conceivable pop genre, along with a brave attempt to re-appropriate the word “slut.” The production is big and beautiful, and the guest spots, from Lily Rose Cooper and Eminem among others, fit perfectly.
After dabbling in R&B on her first album, Pink re-plotted her career with the help of veteran commercial hitmaker Linda Perry, basing her songwriting around raw, honest lyrics. Sometimes on this album she strays away from that ethos and the outcome is frivolous and awkward, for example, “Walk of Shame,” which comes off more as a cheap joke than a deep outpouring. But most songs display very relatable emotion. “True Love,” featuring Mrs. Cooper, is witty and romantic, with a ridiculously catchy chorus that taps against your frontal lobe for days afterwards.
Her political side elbows forward (albeit vaguely) on “Are We All We Are,” a stomping call to arms on which she sings, “Cue the future, sing it out, and take the power back.” A self-confessed hater of Sarah Palin and strong believer in gay marriage, she hollers with conviction, “We are the people that you’ll never get the best of/Not forget the rest of.”
In general, with the exception of first single “Blow Me (One Last Kiss),” The Truth About Love feels like mere snapshots of emotions, as opposed to the tell-all biographical record that was 2001’s Missundaztood. Rather than her Blood on the Tracks, it’s an electro-pop 69 Love Songs, if you will. (Having said that, it’s unlikely that Stephin Merritt will ever dye his hair pink — although we live in hope.)
As for the track on the album that promises to propel her furthest towards blog approval, it has to be “Just Give Me a Reason,” her duet with Nate Ruess of fun. Perhaps his restrained and Auto-Tuned vocals alongside her growl will make more people take notice of what she’s been doing for the last ten years. Good news for her if so, but it’s a shame if she still feels she needs the cool vote. Perhaps deep down she’s still that wayward 13 year old, desperate to be accepted by everyone, but always on her own terms.