Pink: 'If it was a popularity contest, I’m not gonna win'
Pink talks to Craig McLean about tattoos, motherhood and why she’s ‘awesome, if not slightly psychotic’
Sunday 16 September 2012
Fifteen minutes early and cocking a wink to the barman, Pink blows into her favourite neighbourhood joint, a grungy seafront restaurant near her Venice Beach apartment, one of her two Los Angeles homes.
She thirstily eyes up the racks of booze behind the counter. Fifteen months after the birth of her first child, a daughter named Willow Sage, the gobby American singer who's sold a hefty 40 million copies of her seven albums is still breast-feeding. These are the early days of the gruelling worldwide promotional push in support of her new album, The Truth About Love. Her party-starting comeback single, "Blow Me (One Last Kiss)" – yes, there's a rude version too – is already gaining airplay "traction" in the US and the UK, and the promotional commitments are duly stacking up. So, she should behave tonight.
But Pink has spent the day doing photoshoots, a necessary evil of which she's no fan. Her brand of muscular, strident, radio-rattling pop may have directly begat Katy Perry and Kelly Clarkson. Her name is still stylised as P!nk, that exclamation mark there to telegraph her poppy! approach and middle-finger! attitude, but also suggestive of a punkily contrary past that included druggy! teenage years. But as an artist coming to terms with being in her thirties, she has less time for the silly circus of glamour and glitz with which women in music – especially mega-selling American women in music – have to contend. These days Pink knows where her priorities, and her strengths and her weaknesses, lie.
"I'm the old hand these days," the singer/writer who recorded her first album at 15 will reflect, "and I'm totally OK with that. I have a really good family, I have the best manager in the business – he manages Sade, Cher, myself, Janet Jackson, Joe Cocker… So, a bunch of strong women… and Joe Cocker!" she laughs her raspy laugh.
"We do fucking awesome, we play crazy places, I'm a headlining bitch, and I'm happy. I'm never gonna be on the cover of a bunch of glossy magazines. If it was a popularity contest, I'm not gonna win, and I'm so fucking cool with that," she insists.
"Five years ago I might have been a little salty about that – I wanted to feel pretty and popular. I guess I still felt like I had something to prove. Now, life is good. Let me go on tour and those guys can do the photoshoots. I hate getting my picture taken. Now I look at the big picture. And I can't be mad. Cos all you can hope for as an artist these days is to be a touring artist."
Hells yeah! So, a drink it is. This is a night off for Pink. Her husband, recently retired motocross rider Carey Hart, is at home with Willow. He can easily dispense those bottles of pre-expressed mother's milk. Pink will have a glass – actually, make that two – of the barman's finest red. Some chips'n'dips too, please.
Shortly thereafter, the girl born Alecia Beth Moore on the outskirts of Philadelphia 33 years ago is talking me through her huge array of tattoos. They offer, if you like, a psycho-dermatological road-map of Pink's life. Or evidence that you should never get drunk in the company of a tattooist.
"Sir Corky Moore 89-03," she says, fingering the body-art on her left arm. "He was my childhood dog, West Highland terrier. And this was Elvis, a bulldog. Next to it him is a Bible verse: 'A time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, a time to dance, sleep in peace my darling, I release you' – he drowned in my pool. I wasn't there," she wants to clarify, lest we think she's a careless pet-owner. "He was being babysat."
Inked on her left wrist is a razor blade. Next to it is the word "'insecurity'… And that means to me that insecurity will kill you," nods the kid whose parents divorced when she was nine, and whose wayward teenage years were a cycle of boozing, partying and experimentation with drugs. "Then I have half of a best friend's necklace with my friend Lara. Then I have a button [badge] on my right arm that I got with my friend Butch – we got done early in the studio that night. We had been drinking. Obviously. I got this on my right wrist when I was 17: 'What goes around comes around'."
She and Hart also have matching "True Love" tattoos, inked on their second date together 11 years ago. They were married in 2005; true to form, she proposed to him. "Then I also went and got his name done the weekend we started trying for Willow, which was the weekend I got pregnant. When I want something, it fucking happens!" she cackles, joking, but also, not. "And I was like, 'Well, I guess if I'm gonna have his baby, I should get his name.' Cos he has my name three places."
On to her shoulder, the location of Pink's second-ever tattoo. She had it done when she was 15. It's an angel chasing a shooting star. Pink is the speeding heavenly body, the celestial figure is the guardian angel she addressed in her soul-baring song "Dear Diary", from her second album, 2001's Missundaztood.
"Then I have a barcode on the back of my neck, which was my Missundaztood present…" She stops. "Do I have something on my teeth right there?" she asks, baring her gums and sticking her mouth in my face. I'm relieved to report that she doesn't. Although, up close, I can see the hole where her nose piercing used to be.
"OK then. I have a heart right here," she continues, pointing to her upper groin area. "Then I have a dragon on my leg." She was in Australia at the time, a place where she is hugely popular ("I've broken every record you can break in Australia – I don't know how, it was a fluke"). The elaborate illustration "was a seven-hour piece, and I think dragons are good luck. And it looks hot. I think!
"And then I have all kinds of Japanese kanji down there," she says, pointing down below. "One is my very first one when I was 12. My mom didn't know; she freaked out; she was always freaking out. It says, 'Good luck and happiness.' Then my mom and I got matching ones – her first, when she was 55! Mine says 'Mother'. Then there's 'Strength' and 'The will to live'.
Are we nearly there yet? Not quite.
"Then I have a frog on my foot cos I Iove frogs. Then on the other ankle I have my dad and my brother's dog tags." Pink's dad Jim served in Vietnam, and had the rocket-launchers in the garage and psychological issues to prove it. The first song she ever learnt and ever performed was "I Have Seen the Rain", a song he'd written while in Vietnam. Pink used to sing it at Veterans' rallies, and covered the song on her fourth album, I'm Not Dead. She is relieved that her brother, Jason, has never been deployed to a combat zone, but he's a trainer with the Thunderbirds, a "Top Gun" pilot with the US Air Force's equivalent of the Red Arrows.
"And then I have bows on the backs of my thighs. Why? In my head I'm a really talented stripper. And," she beams, "I think that's it."
Her favourite, she reflects, is "What goes around comes around". Will she be having Willow's named inked soon? "Nah," she says, shaking her head and slugging her wine, "I don't like tattoos. If I had an eraser, wooch," she says, miming the rubbing out of two decades of ink.
Is this a post-birth realisation? That a cacophony of tattoos is not a good look for a thirtysomething mum?
"No, I can explain every single one of 'em and have a good laugh. But if I could start over, I'd do just one big back piece and have a clean [front]. I'm into balance."
Ding ding, round (of drinks) two, and here's to a force-of-nature, self-confessed mouthy dame who adores Lily Allen and is bosom buddies with Eminem. Both make rare guest appearances on Pink's The Truth About Love.
"I'm such a fan of Lily," gushes Pink. Their collaboration, the sassy, hand- clapping "True Love", was expedited by Greg Kurstin. The hit-making American writer and producer is a long-standing cohort of Allen (he's currently working on her long-awaited third album).
"I've loved every lyric she's ever written," Pink continues, "especially the song 'Fuck You'," she adds, perhaps unsurprisingly. "And I just thought she would be perfect for the song – she's funny and clever and witty and has a beautiful tone to her voice. I like her a lot, I kinda love her, and I've never met her." In fact, it transpires, they've never even spoken. Why not?
"She's a mom, I'm a mom, I get it," Pink shrugs. "But when Lily sings about getting shit-faced in a bar, I know it's for real. And I knew she'd write this fucking sarcastic thing like I did [Pink sent her the part of "True Love" she had already written, and Lily added her part to it]. And it's so cool what she wrote." Pink plays me the song on her iPhone, singing along: "I wanna wrap my hands around your neck, you're an asshole, but I love you, and you make me so mad I ask myself…"
Pink's humour is of the crude, brash kind. That's how she likes it, out-there and in-your-face. On The Truth About Love she calls herself a slut and a whore. Her 2008 single "So What" was her response to the split she and Hart were going through at the time. There were rumours that another woman was involved. Pink's response was to ask her at-the-time ex to appear in the accompanying video.
He agreed. On the day of the shoot, she made sure she was looking her hottest for his 8am arrival onset. Then they shared a beer. It was the start of their reconciliation. "It took another seven or eight months, but [the video] was definitely a reminder of when it was good. Look," she frowns, "when shit is tough and you're travelling – I was seeing him a week every five weeks, because of our schedules. And if you have a problem in May, you don't get to work on it till July, for a week, then you don't see them again till September. It's not gonna work."
This time round, they're making a good fist of things. Although Pink can't resist picking at the scab – while, also, to be fair, poking herself. Another new song is called "How Come You're Not Here". It's about… "how I'm awesome, if not slightly psychotic.
"And I had this picture in my head like Carey's trying to leave me. And to me, it's a game of hide and seek – cos why would he ever try to leave me? It's this whole cartoon delusional thing."
She says she'd been waiting "years" to write the song. "You know, we had that break-up, and that second verse is my favourite second verse that I've ever written: 'I heard some rumours about another girl/ I heard she's cute but she stores nuts like a squirrel/ That's all cool/ I'll wait right here till you get bored/ And she gets carded for beer…'"
Pink guffaws with laughter, pleased with herself at her lyrical fight-back. But this stuff comes easily to her.
"That kind of shit I have in my back pocket. It's so easy to go back there." She wrote the song "Family Portrait", an unflinching account of the pain she felt at her parents' separation, "when I was 21, and my parents got divorced when I was nine. You can get over stuff, but when you're a woman you can forgive but you don't forget. And it's good that I don't forget, because I always need stuff to write about."
What do her nearest and dearest think of her airing the familial dirty linen? "To be fair I've never asked," she shoots back, kind of missing the point of the phrase "to be fair". But, she smiles, "Carey's a really good sport, he has a fantastic sense of humour. We're such good friends. I mean, he lives with me, he loves me, he gets me, he laughs at my jokes. These [songs] are parts of my jokes."
As for her parents, she's on better terms with her "intense" dad after covering his song. After the release of "Family Portrait", however, her mother sold her side of the story to the supermarket tabloid-magazine The National Enquirer, "which I forgave. She needed to have her side heard. Why she chose the Enquirer I'm not sure!" she laughs drily. "But she got it out. It's fine. It all creates communication!"
Will Pink be understanding if Willow, just like mom, gets caught up in drugs?
"No. But you know what I'm not gonna do? I'm not gonna teach my child to be a liar by telling her no, she can't do or be who she wants to be. I'm gonna to try figure out a way with Carey to safely allow her to navigate the world. No, she never gonna fucking touch heroin. I'm gonna make sure of it. And if she wants to fucking hate me for it, that's fine."
Would she wish her teenage life on her daughter?
"No, she won't have my teenage life because I've already been there. I'm prepared to be a lot stronger than my mom was. That's all. I'm never gonna know everything, but I know a lot."
Pink was discovered, as an adolescent, by LA Reid, the music-industry impresario and X Factor USA judge who also mentored the then-unknown Usher and Justin Bieber. She was transformed – by her own graft – from a member of a pre-packaged all-girl R&B trio called Choice into a pop/rock/dance/whatever solo hit-machine. She knows her strengths, and her weaknesses, and her scars, and puts them all into her songs and her live shows. It makes her a kind of people's pop star, albeit one with cartoon colours.
She's the first to admit that new single "Blow Me" is far from subtle. Yes, on one level it's "another break-up anthem for Pink. But also, you know those times when you're at a bar or a party, and you're so fucking frustrated over your day, and that one song comes on where it just makes you feel better, and you think it, 'Fuck it, why am I so uptight?' That's that song for me. I just wanna dance and fuck-what-you're-talking-about and fuck-your-fucking-problems. That's that song," she repeats in the emphatic way Pink does, well, everything.
Such blasting escapism is the function of good pop, or one of them anyway. It's what Adele heard when she was 13 or 14 and attended a Pink show at London's Brixton Academy, around the time of the Missundaztood album. It was one of "the most defining moments" of the young Londoner's life, Adele later recalled. "I had never heard, being in the room, someone sing like that live. I remember sort of feeling like I was in a wind tunnel, her voice just hitting me. It was incredible."
Big-voiced, big-performing Pink has heard this quote before. "I was so flattered that she said that. I loved that her of all people said that. Although!" she cackles again, "let's be honest – it dated me!
"But fuck yeah, that's the whole point, right? To make people feel like that. And I know I do that a lot. I don't know about recording – I've never been that good at recording," she blithely admits. "But I'm good live. That, I know about myself. I'm OK on records, and I'm an OK wife. And an OK daughter. But I'm a good mom. And I'm a fucking good performer!"
The single 'Blow Me (One Last Kiss)' is out now. The album 'The Truth About Love' is out tomorrow (both RCA). See pinkspage.com for more information
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