Who’s Philadelphia’s biggest pop star?
It’s gotta be P!nk.
OK, let’s lose the exclamation point, even though that’s how the singer, aerial acrobat, and mother of two has been stylizing her stage name for more than a decade.
Pink, the Doylestown native born Alecia Moore, is back in the spotlight with Beautiful Trauma (RCA ***), her seventh album and first in five years, released Friday. Next spring, she’ll launch a tour that comes to the Wells Fargo Center on April 13.
With her reentry into the marketplace, which began this summer with a show on the beach in Atlantic City and the release of Trauma’s first single, the vaguely political underdog’s anthem “What About Us?,” Pink is being positioned as an enduring star who’s been a fixture at the top of the charts since the start of the millennium — her first single, “There You Go,” came out in February 2000.
At this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, Pink was awarded the career-coronating Video Vanguard Award and went viral with a speech that touched on androgyny and spoke out against bullying, in light of comments her daughter, Willow, 6, made. Her return was announced last week with a promo schedule befitting an upper tier A-lister, with performances on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, and a 25-minute film premiering on Apple Music on release day called On the Record: Pink — Beautiful Trauma.
As far as Philly-birthed music careers go, Pink’s pop imprint is unequaled at the moment, with rappers such as ascendant Lil Uzi Vert and resilient Meek Mill her prime competition. Among many others who play on a national stage are Fallon house band the Roots, newly inducted Philly Walk of Fame songstress Jill Scott, rising rock band the War on Drugs, and longstanding name brands like Will Smith and Hall and Oates.
But in terms of pure pop happening now, you can’t top Pink, who has sold more than 16 million albums in the U.S. and more than 45 million worldwide, putting her on a plane with Philly-identified boldface names like Bradley Cooper and Kevin Hart, and in the same concert arena as Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, and Lady Gaga.
So, how did she get here? How has a now-38-year-old singer who signed her first record deal in 1995 with a girl group called Choice and who was initially marketed as an R&B act with cotton-candy hair endured and prospered in an unforgiving, ageist pop marketplace?
Here’s how: By carving out a mainstream space as a tough but tender rebel soul who’s not likely to make nice, but who carefully chooses collaborators that keep her on top of pop trends without smoothing out the nonconformist rough edges central to her appeal.
That continues on Beautiful Trauma’s first singles. “What About Us?” portrays Pink — who gave birth to son Jameson, her second child with motocross rider husband Carey Hart, in December — as a maternal figure in solidarity with the dispossessed. It calls out politicians in nonspecific terms: “What about all the times you said you had the answers? … What about all the broken happy-ever-afters?”
The next likely hit is “Revenge,” a battle of the sexes that pits the singer against Eminem, the rapper who last week issued a pointed political song of his own, with his ferocious anti-Trump freestyle “The Storm.”
Pink does some semi-rapping on the peppy, vindictive “Revenge,” a relationship song written with hit-makers Max Martin and Shellback. It’s one of three Trauma tracks with the successful Swedes, who are joined on the project by such in-demand song assemblers as prolific songwriter Jack Antonoff and Adele producer Greg Kurstin. Not to mention busy Nashville songwriter busbee, who cowrote the power balled “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken,” in which Pink sings, with impressive lung power, “There’s not enough rope to tie me down / There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth.”
That refusal to quiet down or behave in a demure manner has helped Pink build a fan base as a hard-bodied feminist pop heroine. From the beginning, she’s carried herself with swaggering self confidence, from when she was signed as a teenager to LaFace Records by exec L.A. Reid. (In a New York Times interview, Pink was asked about sexual harassment allegations made against Reid and said she’d avoided music industry sexism for the most part because “People think I’m insane and aggressive and I’ll bite them.”)
When Pink made her debut with the feisty Can’t Take Me Home in 2000, she was a 20-year-old whose stage name derived in part from her favorite character (played by Steve Buscemi) in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. Then living in an apartment in Roxborough — she now makes her home in Venice Beach in Los Angeles — Pink was quite sure where her career was heading: “We’re going to take over the world.”
She’s done a pretty good job of it since. Her first No. 1 hit was with Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, and Mya via a remake of Patti LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” for the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge.
But the key building block to eventual superstardom was that year’s Missundaztood. Teaming with 4 Non Blondes songwriter Linda Perry, she broke away from the R&B-diva stereotype and recalibrated herself as an attitudinal party girl and teller of home truths.
The album remains the biggest of her career. “Get the Party Started” still kicks off her concerts, but just as important was “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” in which she copped to being “my own worst enemy” and told of defying her idolmakers. “L.A. told me, ‘You’ll be a pop star, all you’ve got to do is change everything you are,’ ” she sang, as though that were the most absurd suggestion in the world, then complained of being compared to Britney Spears: “She’s so pretty, that just ain’t me.”
Since then, there have been unexpected turns, as Pink has smartly navigated the mainstream with an unpredictability and intelligence that’s allowed her to remain relevant. She’s still at the top of the charts, while her more conventional pop-star competitors from the early ’00s, like Spears, Aguilera, and Mandy Moore have moved on to Las Vegas, reality TV music competitions, and acting, respectively.
Instead, Pink went punk, pairing off with Rancid leader Tim Armstrong on 2003’s Try This, then came back with the defiant smash I’m Not Dead in 2006, with the cheeky and crude kiss-off “U & Ur Hand” and anti-Bush “Dear Mr. President.”
Lots of pop stars float above the crowd on flying stages. Pink’s niche is that she twists and spins and sings in gymnastic routines worthy of Cirque du Soleil. That obvious effort puts Pink’s apparent realness — her Philly-girl grit, if you will — on display.
And, of course, she does all that high flying while appearing to remain down-to-earth. That side of the pop star was apparent on her You + Me project, in which she teamed with Canadian songwriter Dallas Green (who has the same name as the late Phillies manager, but there’s no relation). As You (or was it Me?), she lost the leotards and sang mostly acoustic songs using her birth name.
That forthright singer-songwriter approach rubs off on Beautiful Trauma in grand productions that aim to communicate simple human themes. In the piano ballad “But We Lost It,” she rues the loss of passion; in “Barbies,” motherhood makes her mourn her own childhood while she sees impending mortality in the lines on her father’s face: “I know that time will have its way / Where did it all go?”
Pink brings it all home on “I Am Here,” written with longtime Philadelphia songwriting partner Billy Mann. Putting to use a choir recorded in Aston, under the direction of Bill Jolly, it’s a gospel pop rouser that contemplates the afterlife (“Where does everybody go when they go?”) while reveling in the place that Pink finds herself in the here and now: All grown up, at the top of the pop world.