Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pink the Color, Pink the Person

Pink is underrated. The person, not the color.

Being a female pop star in today’s society is generally a hectic, ever-changing, and fleeting experience (or what the kids of today affectionately refer to as a “cluster-eff”). And yet somehow, Pink (or P!nk) has been able to secure over a decade’s worth of stable, consistent success, all while avoiding a public mental breakdown, blatant substance abuse problem, countless court dates, or any type of ridiculous stunt that involved shaving her head or wearing raw protein or turning her lady parts into a weapon. Any oddities or idiosyncrasies that Pink has displayed over the course of her career have come off as genuine and relatively understated, and have largely appeared to complement her musical talents, as opposed to overshadowing or supplementing them. It all makes her arguably the purest female pop star of the 21st Century. It’s also probably the reason she isn’t more eminent.

I was tempted to finish the previous paragraph by pointing to those characteristics as reasoning for why Pink isn’t more “popular” (as opposed to eminent), but that would be incorrect. She is obviously popular. She’s a multi-millionaire, Grammy winning pop singer with five platinum albums, ten singles all-time in the Billboard Top 10, and over 30 million albums sold globally. Her success is unquestioned. However, it is clear (at least to me) that her fanfare and prominence in American pop culture pales in comparison to peers like Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Katy Perry, Ke$ha and Rihanna. It’s certainly not for lack of achievement in Pink’s musical accomplishments, though, as her résumé is just as impressive (if not more so) than each of those girl’s.

Unless you are a hard core Pink fan, you probably couldn’t name ten of her songs. But, if you are even a casual listener of popular and mainstream American music over the past decade, you would probably recognize close to ten of her songs.  Her first album (Can’t Take Me Home) in 2000 went double-platinum in the US, but is now really just an odd, B2K-ish precursor to her slightly edgier, punk/pop-rock sound that has come to define her music over the years. Her second album (M!ssundaztood) went multi-platinum and spawned four hit singles, three of which landed in Billboard’s Top 10, one being in the Top 5. It also established Pink’s glitter goth-esque fashion style (yes, I had to look that up), which meshed well with her tough, rebellious punk personality and more masculine features. Pink is not what most would consider naturally pretty, which is something she embraced in her musical and fashion stylings.

After a third, less critically and popularly acclaimed album (which still managed to go platinum), her next two releases (I’m Not Dead and Funhouse) reaffirmed her prominence and brought about her first #1 single, leading to the release of her first compilation album in 2010, which also included two new singles (reaching #1 and #2 on the charts). By now, Pink has maintained a more consistent (and mentally stable) career than Britney spears, has continued to sell more albums and remain more relevant than Christina Aguilera, and has put in more time and built more credibility than the likes of Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Ke$ha, Rihanna, and Lady Gaga. Her most comparable peer is probably Beyonce. And yet, Pink is easily the most overlooked and underrated name on that list – the Tim Duncan of ‘00s Female Pop Stars…ya know, if Tim Duncan had radically dyed his hair and had a nose ring.

The comparison to Beyonce is probably the most interesting one when examining Pink. When I mentioned before that Pink is arguably the purest female pop star of the 21st Century, it was in reference to the fact that her popularity and success is a result of her musical talents and genuine personality, as opposed to some contrived shtick or kitschy persona. Beyonce is really the only argument that can be made in terms of a “pure pop star,” and to be honest, is most likely the winner. Beyonce’s celebrity may be slightly more contrived than Pink’s (see: her alter-ego Sasha Fierce), but is nowhere near that of her counterparts. The pair’s musical accomplishments are similar, personalities comparatively genuine (or at least generally perceived as such), and yet Beyonce’s popularity and prominence are far greater than Pink’s. It’s certainly understandable though, as Beyonce is extremely talented, naturally gorgeous, relatable to both white and black culture, married to the world’s most influential (and coolest) hip-hop mogul, and comes off as legitimately likeable. Pink, on the other hand, is slightly different and weird, more of an outsider. Nevertheless, this is more a praise of Beyonce than an indictment on Pink.  But compared to the rest of the field, Pink still remains somewhat of an afterthought, though not due to lack of merit or musical ability or even normalcy. The only logical explanation is that Pink simply isn’t outlandishly interesting enough. Or in other words, she is too naturally weird.

I in no way intend to diminish the music of Perry or Gaga or Rihanna or whoever, as they certainly have talent for their genre and know how to make hit songs that will earn plenty of play in bars, clubs and on the radio. I’m just curious as to why these artists seem so much more eminent and popular than Pink, despite similar (or even less impressive) bodies of work. And from what I can tell, a great deal of it has to do with the more contrived traits of Pink’s peers.  As discussed previously, Pink definitely isn’t “normal”, but her oddities are much more genuine and authentic, which in turn makes them inherently more reserved. Yeah, her style of fashion is a little different, but not in a deliberately verbose or litigious manner.

It would be pretty surprising to catch Pink in dress of raw meat (Lady Gaga), S&M inspired military gear (Rihanna), or shooting fireworks out of her boobs (Katy Perry). Pink’s songs also come off as much more personal and introspective, avoiding intentional shock value by using things like making out with other chicks (Katy Perry), the name of Jesus’ betrayer (Gaga), or ridiculously sexualized lyrics (Rihanna…have you ever actually listened to “Rude Boy”? I’m surprised it’s even allowed on the radio). Pink’s oddities in personality and appearance are just different enough that she can be overshadowed by someone like Beyonce, and yet those same oddities are reserved and under-exaggerated enough that she is again passed over for the extreme eccentricities of the Rihannas and Perrys and Gagas of the genre. Pink is too esoteric to be normal, and yet too natural to be bizarre.

Being weird or interesting or individualistic in some distinct way has been a staple of success in pop music since rock ‘n’ roll was born. But it becomes kind of disheartening when the impact of persona dwarfs that of music in terms of pop culture relevance. I honestly believe that Perry, Rihanna, and Gaga are all talented and would all be somewhat relevant regardless of their peculiarities. But to what degree would they be relevant? Certainly not the manner which they are now. When I heard Lady Gaga’s first couple songs back in early 2008, I (in retrospect, foolishly) assumed that she would be a fleeting flame in pop music, relegated to elevator tunes in a few years. But this all came before I realized how incredibly existential her celebrity persona could be, and how skillfully she could captivate her audience. True, her fans like her music, but she owes a huge portion of her popularity to the perpetuation of her “uniqueness.” I (now) think that she could remain incredibly popular and relevant for the next five years even if she did NOT release any new music. Perry and Rihanna, too. And yet I highly doubt anyone would venture to make the same argument for Pink.

Maybe Pink is happy with her level of eminence. Maybe she enjoys being underrated, enjoys being a rich pop star without having to wear inconceivable outfits or delicately plot song titles or incite excitement on Twitter. Maybe Pink is perfectly comfortable in her slightly off-kilter skin. But it doesn’t change the fact that her quirks and foibles have come to define her popularity: too odd to be regular, too simple to be strange.  It’s because of this that her career has never been given the respect it truly deserves.

Admittedly, it’s a little weird. Although probably not weird enough.

Thanks for reading

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