Pink: The outspoken pop star on fame and growing up
She took up smoking aged nine, graduated to pot a year later and had a near-death narcotic-cocktail incident at just 16. But now Pink is 26 and married, and her party pop has come over distinctly folky. So, asks Craig McLean, has the ladette laureate finally grown up?
Saturday 25 March 2006
Think Pink - if you think about her at all - and you might think about the feisty young pop star with the kick-ass attitude (well, she swears a lot) and tattoos to match. The gurning glamourpuss with the bra top and platinum-blonde quiff who was meant to snog Madonna at the MTV Awards but couldn't make it, so Britney Spears stepped in. The vaguely punky rocker who's sold 23 million albums and won two Grammies. The wayward kid from Philadelphia who got on mum's pip so much that first she sent her to a therapist, then kicked her out of the house, aged 15. Who was rescued from a runaway teenage life by signing a record deal when she was 16. Who, in Costa Rica early this year, married her boyfriend, a handsome but wild-looking motocross biker named Carey Hart.
For better or for worse, there' s even more to Pink's backstory than that.
Her "bad ass" former self, she says, was nothing compared to her dad. He was a serious, authoritarian figure who left Pink' s mum, a nurse, when the little girl they knew as Alecia Beth Moore was seven (she also has a brother, Jason). Jim Moore had served in Vietnam. Is that what made him a bad ass?
"No, he was always like that. He was an abused child, he went to Catholic school, then he volunteered for Vietnam to get away from it. Yeah, he was a bad ass," she repeats, as if to underline just how intense dad was. "Full-contact karate. Guerrilla warfare. He's insane. I grew up with rocket-launchers in my garage."
There's no time to ask why dad had rocket-launchers in the garage because full-throttle Pink is racing on with her story. Dad, she continues, refused to talk about his war experiences until he was 40. "That was when he started this Vietnam Veterans Chapter 210 of Bucks County. He sought out all of the veterans that he knew who were in the county and asked them to join this thing where they would get together and have fundraisers for homeless people and senior citizens. And they would get together and they would talk. It was like group therapy."
Pink attended these meetings, when she was six, seven, eight years old. "Seeing these grown men get up and weep in front of 20 other men. And women!" she exclaims in her occasionally staccato, grammar-hostile style. "To see military women - my stepmother was an army nurse in Vietnam. We would march on Washington, march for people's rights when I was eight years old. I'm like, 'And I wanna be a pop star! What the fuck am I doing?'"
Pink cackles maniacally.
That must have been pretty heavy stuff for a child to experience, I suggest. "It was, but I loved it. It put the fire under my feet." Eighteen years later, bad-ass Pink and her bad-ass dad get on like a blazing house on fire. They still fight, and she's not above flipping him the finger. "He's definitely not the easiest guy. But I can get to him like no one else can. And I push his buttons and we've had falling outs and he left and I didn't speak to him and I was on drugs and he was over there and ..." Pause. Exhale. Continue. "We've had our times."
Their new-found understanding finds form on a hidden track on Pink's new, fourth album, I'm Not Dead. It's called "I Have Seen The Rain" and it's a duet with Jim Moore, who wrote it while he was serving in Vietnam. It's like a James Taylor song.
It's quite a departure for Pink, brassy singer of party-hard songs like "God is a DJ" and "Trouble". It was, she says, the first song she ever learnt, and provided her first exposure to a stage - she would sing it with her dad at Vietnam vet rallies. Still, that must have been tedious and cheesy for a little kid, getting up and performing in front of those intense, damaged old blokes?
Pink gives me an "are you kidding?" look. "God," she breathes. "It was awesome."
Pink is a see-no-shit, speak-no-shit, take-no-shit kinda gal. It's there in the angry letters she fires off as a spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta): Prince William (animal-killer) and Anna Wintour (fur-lover) have both felt the lash of her Biro. It's there in the thigh-high green leather boots she's wearing today, and in the way she confidently stretches her swimmer's body along the sofa in her London hotel room.
She called her new album I'm Not Dead because "I had an awakening. My dad had a heart attack, I turned 25, I started reading the New York Times. I started caring less about my drama and more about the world around me."
The title song, a chugging rock anthem that sounds like Bon Jovi fronted by Bonnie Tyler ("I'm not dead just floating"), is "the first song I've written that's sort of subtle, or poetic, if you wanna say that. Usually it's very much more cartoon-y and blunt, the way I write songs. I don't really know diplomacy or subtlety."
On her new single, "Stupid Girls", mile-a-minute, mouth-almighty Pink poses some questions. What happened to the dream of a girl President? (Apparently, "she's dancing in a video next to 50 Cent"). Why do airhead celeb chicks travel in packs of three, accompanied by "their itsy-bitsy doggies and teeny-weeny tees". And: "where oh where have the smart people gone?" And: "if I push up my bra like this, will the guy call me back?"
"I'm all about options," Pink says, "and alternatives and choices. There's such a lack of tolerance for diversity in the world as it is, that I thought it would help if the rest of the women, and the rest of the girls, were represented as well. If it could be like: 'If I'm smart and I read a lot of books and I spend my money on charity instead of shoes, I could be in the tabloids too. Or I could be important. Or I could have a cuter boy. Or I could change the world.' You know, you need examples when you're young."
In the song's video, the 26-year-old mega-selling singer gleefully parodies the silly little rich girls who totter round her adopted hometown of Los Angeles, flitting between pillar and post, parties and paparazzi. There's a bathroom scene too. A girl is sticking her fingers down her throat, trying to make herself sick. All things considered, as mainstream pop videos go, "Stupid Girls" is both very funny and a bit disturbing.
Yep, acknowledges Pink in the breezy way that she acknowledges everything, responses to the clip have been "conflicted".
"I have always had the same message," she says in her forceful, throaty speaking voice. "I'm a girl and I speak for me and my friends and the girls that are like me. But it always goes down better with humour. Bulimia and anorexia and eating disorders are diseases and they're very, very serious." A beat, a thought. "And scary, and rampant! And I make fun of it - but really, I'm making fun of the idea that a girl feels like she needs to do that in order to be important. And I have the same issues. That's why I can write about this stuff. That's why I have to make it ridiculous - 'cause I have to get over it myself as well."
You've had body and self-worth issues? "Always! You can't be a girl and not have some sort of issue with yourself. I think it's genetic. You see people like Oprah, a lot of different women who have these struggles, but they're so important and so smart that you think, f why the hell would you worry about that? And women in Africa who don't have time to worry about how they look because there's more important problems."
Pink has another socially conscious song on her new album. It's a largely acoustic protest number called "Dear Mr President", sung with The Indigo Girls, the cult neo-folk lesbian duo. Sample lyrics: "What do you feel when you see all the homeless on the street? / How do you sleep while the rest of us cry? / How do you dream when a mother has no chance to say goodbye? / What kind of father might hate his own daughter if she were gay? / You've come a long way from whiskey and cocaine!"
Simple, shouty stuff, for sure - Bruce Springsteen won't be thinking "Curses to Pink! My new album of Pete Seeger songs is now redundant!" But equally, it's hard to imagine Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan or any other huge-selling, teen-friendly junior diva having the gumption or wit to (co-) write such a song.
The funny and sometimes disturbing "Dear Mr President" is, says Pink, a product of her new mental-fitness regime, of reading the big newspapers instead of - OK, as well as - the glossy mags. "And just a product of my own experiences. I don't hang out with celebrities. I hang out with real, nine-to-five people. My family are working-class people. I'm very much in tune with what's [going on]. I don't sit holed up inside my mansion with my poodles and think that everything's fine. I have people that are in Sri Lanka, in Iraq, in Africa working with the UN. I have women in Philadelphia, friends that are poor, they're single parents.
"I like," Pink says by way of concluding the first of today's full-blooded, occasionally topsy-turvy rants, "stirring things up and creating dissent and creating discussion and highlighting the ridiculousness of it all."
Funny and Disturbing: it could be the title of Pink's autobiography. It might apply to her musical life, in the remarkable way she coolly and skilfully moved from teenage R&B diva (on her first album, Can't Take Me Home) to diary-reading soul-barer (on her second, Missundaztood), to mohawked punk-lite party-gal on her third (Try This), and now to politicised agit-pop on I'm Not Dead.
It applies even better to her personal life, a narrative arc that goes from appalling teenage strife to mind-bending adulthood success. Pink talks freely about how she began smoking cigarettes at nine, weed at 10-and-a-half, "then it was just downhill from about 12 to 15".
She took loads of acid. On Thanksgiving in 1995 she overdosed inside a Philadelphia club. She'd been smoking marijuana and drinking beer, and had also taken cocaine, ketamine, crystal meth, angel dust and nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas). As she lay on the floor she thought she was going to die. It was, to say the least, a wake-up call. "Then I was clean," she snaps her fingers, "at 15."
Her anecdotes are brilliant, but often come with a sting in the tail, one she quickly shakes off with a husky, roof-rattling laugh. You can ask her anything, and be sure that she won't be offended; nor will she try to hide the truth.
Like: was she ever - as the short hair and bullish attitude and her own hints were deemed to construe - a lesbian?
"No. I was never a lesbian. Look, I had a girlfriend when I was 13 and she left me for my brother! That kind of fucked me up. We held hands and we kissed and that was my girlfriend, that's what you do when you're 13! And she left me for my fucking brother! It was bizarre and twisted and fucked up and gross. I think women are beautiful, most of my friends are gay, and I've had my moments ..." Wistfully, almost poignantly, Pink grabs at her boob area.
Pink was pressed into therapy by her mother when she was 14 and is still cheerfully attending to this day. "I like people, I like talking!" she hoots. So nothing is private, everything is out, on the surface, ready for dissection. Or for picking at, like a scab. Or for writing a song about.
What about "Fingers", a bonus track on the new album - is it really about her videotaping herself masturbating? "Absolutely! Hah hah!"
Why would you want to write a song about that? "Why not? Hah hah! Everything to me is a visual. My favourite songwriters are those who can paint a picture with their words. Maybe I don't do it as dramatically or deeply or as poignantly. But I like to paint a picture."
For I'm Not Dead, she wrote more than 40 songs - "I wrote a song about everything I could possibly think of." So there exists more extreme material than "Fingers"? "Oh yeah. I have the album that's put out, and I have the album I listen to - Alecia's Bedroom Only album!" she says with a lusty bellow.
Pink was never bottled-up enough to be an angst-ridden performer. Her troubles course through her and her songs, and over her surface. Literally, she carries them with her: in a backpack, full of every journal she's written since she was eight. Better out than in, you might say.
On I'm Not Dead she opens her wounds for inspection in "Long Way To Happy", a song based round a poem she wrote aged 13. "I know a lot of people that have been abused and/or molested and/or fucked over by someone close to them. And I'm no exception. And that's that song." On "Conversations With My 13 Year Old Self", she addresses her "pissed-off, complicated" younger self.
But there are also firecracker party songs such as "Cuz I Can" and "U/Ur Hand", written with Swedish turbo-pop supremo Max Martin, writer of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You Been Gone" and Britney's "Baby One More Time".
Think Pink and think the female Robbie Williams. A performer who celebrates her own neuroses. Who lays all her baggage on the table, then dances round it. A tricksy, forthright, perhaps brave songwriter who, by hiding nothing, leaves less ammo for her detractors. Hey, yeah, I know I'm a mess of conflicts and flaws! Funny, isn't it? In the meantime, check the songs I've gotten out of it.
This survival instinct - embrace the contradictions! Celebrate them! - kicks in within Pink's private life, too. She and Hart have been married two and a half months, "and I've seen him twice since the honeymoon", she says with a matter-of-fact shrug. He's on the road with his job, and so is she. "It will never change." He lives in Las Vegas and she lives in LA. "We see each other when we can. And it's good. I can't imagine seeing someone every day. It's completely unconventional and it's the only way that I could have it be. Him too; he's had some tough times as well. It's perfect."
"You know," says Pink, as she readies to leave London and take her journals, Maya Angelou book and ballsy new album round the hotels and record label offices of Europe, "I'm a work in progress. The point is, I'm a stupid girl too. But I'm trying to be better. I can respect anybody who can admit that they're wrong and is trying to be better. You can always be better."
Pink's new single, 'Stupid Girls', is out now
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