How P!nk is pop’s most astute businesswoman.
P!nk. She’s got a new song out. And it’s more or less, what you’d expect.
It’s emotional and beautifully sung. There’s no shortage of big imagery about isolation and the search for connection, a little angst and anger, and a relentless pop beat and hook that you won’t forget; should you be so insolent, Top 40 radio will gladly drill it back into your brain for the next six months.
P!nk wasn’t always the prima diva of radio airplay, though. At one time she was the alternative to the pop cookie-cutter -at least from the outside, and now, ironically, she’s become the establishment she was always snarling her teeth against. Not that such a move is an insult, quite the opposite. P!nk’s formula for longevity has been a twisty, turning road of very wise career choices that (less intelligent) contemporaries with bigger egos wouldn’t have made.
Today, you can rely on her for your fix of foot-stomping, Max Martin brand of mainstream bangers. She’s a producer’s dream, unbridled by the restrictions of vocal range (her’s is impressive, with rare timbre) ,P!nk’s brand is now fully powerhouse pop which transcends age, gender and preference thanks to the sheer broadness of it’s sound and portrayed empowerment of it’s content. That intoxicating combo has made her one of the most reliably charting artists in history.
An astute businesswoman.
Described by industry circles as ‘astute beyond belief’, P!nk has no real qualms in embracing whatever’s going to be huge – so long as it meets the bar of quality she sets. An artist who seemingly flirts with creative greatness to then settle with ‘Creative greatness in the terms of what will be a top 10 hit for the next six months’, there have been flickers of something much more powerful than the factory line likes of ‘So What’. After all, she started out as the anti-thesis of what she ended up becoming – generic top 40 pop.
Back in the early 2000s’ P!nk was launched as an anti-teen pop idol by aligning her into the (also very popular) Pop/R&Bsub genre, with her label recognizing her look would mesh with the sound more convincingly than some of the softer female singers trying to broach the ground. Her lyrics were sassy, defiant and refreshingly feminist. She brought what young women were missing, a role model with a voice. A ladette of sorts who didn’t give a fuck. She wasn’t here for the makeup or the celebrity, she wanted to rock out hard and party! Or did she?
Not really. P!nk wanted to work her arse off and ascend the charts harder and faster than her peers. As Pop/R&B began to fade, P!nk got ahead of the curve and moved towards another genre on the ascent – Pop-Rock. She managed to emote ‘outsider’ in her presentation alone. Her lyrics? More honest and unhinged than her contemporaries; damaged-by-love but emerging stronger than yesterday. Relatable. Her looks? Rockier, edgy, short-hair-before-it-was-cool, bold colours, I’ll do what I fucking want and no label stiff is going to make me change….but still look beautiful anyway.
That early sound of manufactured rebellion mixed with undeniably powerful vocals, resulting in combined sales of over 20 million of her first two efforts, “Can’t Take Me Home” and “Misundaztood” .
But when P!nk tried to extend the formula to her third record, 2003’s under-rated ‘Try This’, the commercial reception was lukewarm. The biz was tiring of the image that both she and Avril Lavigne were getting mileage out of; being the antithesis of the mainstream by…being a different kind of mainstream. Selling 3 million units worldwide, Try This was considered a commercial failure.
P!nk knew she needed to make a statement and a change it up to keep fans engaged. Her peers were able to shift their image and sound to remain relevant. In the same year, Britney had just released In The Zone which shifted 10 Million and Christina Aguilera was wrapping the release of Stripped which logged around 13 million copies, so it was back to the drawing board, and time for a brutal spring-clean of her loyal producers.
Definitely Not Dead.
Gone from her team were rock-pop pioneer Linda Perry and Trouble producer William Orbit and in their place was Britney’s star-maker Max Martin and the controversial Dr Luke. They worked towards a 2006 release of her comeback record.
To announce that she was back, P!nk opted for the title ‘I’m Not Dead’; both a nod to the fact that it was around four years since she’d had a top ten hit, and that her new sound represented a shift in formula.
At the time the buzz for P!nk had evaporated, and so, ever the PR person, she looked to the media landscape to create noise.
The genius lead single Stupid Girls hit the top 20 and dominated the airwaves and tv stations. It was a pop song which reminded the public why they fell in love with her – because she’s not like those other, boring girls!
Positioning itself as feminist, Stupid Girls was anything but (another story for another time), but for those who tired of the vapidity of reality TV and tabloid media, a much-needed injection of ‘truth’ was back to slay the phonies. P!nk sexualised herself in the video for the track, but did so in a tongue-in-cheek way which allowed her to profit from her beauty as well as profit from the image and popularity of others. This marked a continued habit of name checking the competition and dismissing their approach as negative, thereby implicitly placing herself in a positive light by contrast.
As for the album, I’m Not Dead was a very, very, very good pop album.
What made it better than the solid, if not samey follow ups ‘Funhouse’ or ‘The Truth About Love’ was her freedom to experiment. The back-to-the-drawing-board till we get this right approach allowed room for flickers of true artistry emerging from the cracks. Dear Mr President, I Have Seen The Rain and Runaway all hinted at a reflective folk singer who could be shifting into country or soul on her follow-up. But the banging, unrivaled pop veneer from Haus Max Martin on U+Ur Hand, and Who Knew ended up being so irresistible (And incredibly successful) that the path correction was all but sealed. This was P!nk’s new wheelhouse.
Enter Kelly Clarkson, already sitting firmly within said wheelhouse. Upbeat, angsty pop rock filled with attitude, sass and buzz. Juxtaposing ridiculous or angry lyrics with pop formulas so perfect that there was no room for failure. Clarkson & Pink continue to be the most comparable artists in this space, and perhaps the subsequent pursuit of safety that plagued P!nk’s follow up records was a result of Clarkson’s failure at artistic expression when her My December album became a disastrous catchword for “Pop stars who overstretched” and “how labels punish women for fighting for creative freedom”.
Finely Tuned Mix.
Pink’s following years adhered to a strict, predictable formula, mixing sounds she’d already perfected in a careful measure in order to cater to as many quadrants and fan-bases as possible in a single release.
Fun, wink-wink nudge nudge pop like So What, Stupid Girls and Blow Me One Last Kiss play off against angsty power ballads like Sober, Who Knew, Please Don’t Leave Me, I Don’t Believe You, empowering feminist smashes like Try, Fuckin Perfect, Just Like Fire and the foot-stompers of U+Ur Hand, Raise Your Glass. P!nk’s content is so broad that she’s hitting every base with every release. She can be the funny girl, the angry girl, the angsty girl, the lonely girl, the vulnerable girl and the defiant girl all in a record, and by the end you’ll never really know who she really is.
As a new era on her career dawns, P!nk will soon be celebrating the 18th anniversary of her debut single.
Where many of her peers in the space have moved on to reality TV, Vegas shows, or legacy act status; P!nk is still charting hits. Yet, she’s also becoming notably keener to dip her toe into cross-genre collaborations with other artists. Of course, these collabs could be chalked up to serve a need for positioned marketing to further expand her base, but for fans, those collaborations continue to hint at a frustrated folk musician with alternative musical preferences behind the popstar career. (See – You+Me).
Indeed, her new single is notable because it’s not produced by Max Martin, signalling another switch up might be on the way. But in collaborating with writers such as Johnny McDaid, perhaps we’ve reached a course-correction, bringing back the I’m Not Dead mix of the musician she wants to be, and the musician who pays the bills.
Outlasting the Critics
Moving towards the third decade of her career, the biggest critique P!nk faces is the similarity of her sound. Her back catalog is far less diverse than her competitors, and that’s why she finds herself overlooked for the breadth of her achievements. But let’s soak it in for a minute, she’s one of the only mainstream artists in the past fifteen years to reverse the trend of declining sales – and is now one of the most successful touring artists in history.
She’s released 34 singles and six studio albums with three live albums and five compilation sets, shipping over 70 million singles and 45 million albums over her career. Her Funhouse tour sold over $200 Million in tickets, and the following one? Another $185 Million. Those numbers are impressive by any measure, and in terms of current commercial viability, P!nk readily outstrips Britney, Christina…and even Beyonce.
Her endless cycle of relevance is largely down to her raw talent, electric stage presence and that crisp business savvy which continues to open her music up to new generational bases. For example, Just Like Fire was her recent top 10 billboard hit and Adult Contemporary #1, but it, importantly, topped kids radio too. A new generation are about to get their fix, as P!nk continues to prove she knows exactly what she’s doing.