It’s been 16 years since Pink released her second album, Missundaztood, a record that shook off the label-imposed ‘white girl does hip-hop’ constraints of her 2000 debut Can’t Take Me Home, and introduced the punky pop-rock that has been her very profitable calling card since.
But the singer born Alecia Moore still feels misunderstood at times, she says over the phone from LA, where a day of “really nice” publicity for her seventh album Beautiful Trauma is taking the sting out of a shitstorm on her Twitter feed the night before.
“I’ve seen people change and turn their lives around. There’s still hope for you @POTUS. It’s what the world needs,” Moore, 38, had tweeted to President Trump.
Hundreds on Twitter interpreted this as, among other things, an expression of solidarity with the President. Moore, who’s as known and loved by her fans for her take-no-shit attitude as she is for her music, was not in a mood to let the comments slide.
“I went in, I had time last night while I was pumping [breast milk],” laughs Moore, mother to daughter Willow, 6, and son Jameson, 10 months.
The haters were responded to, the record set straight, but it was disheartening for the singer, who said she was just trying to replace anger with kindness for once.
“Someone said on my Twitter last night, ‘Oh, you must be a PR nightmare.’ I’m not doing this to sell records, I’m doing this because this is who I am and this is what I believe in and it’s not lucrative, and sure, a few less people will buy my records. Fuck you!”
Her laugh sounds like whiskey and cigarettes, and it comes, like her expletives, freely and frequently. Fire in the belly has served Moore well over the years, but she rues her short fuse on occasion, pointing to Ellen DeGeneres as a model of someone who is forthright, but expresses her opinions with humour and kindness. “One regret about being the fighter person I am, sometimes I do wish I could just not fight and lead with kindness, and that is my work and that’s what I’m working on.”
Moore, a self-described “motherfucker”, was raised in Pennsylvania by a nurse mother and Vietnam vet father. She was a tearaway teenager, abusing drugs before giving them up completely at 15, but her parents instilled in her both toughness and a strong sense of justice that comes through in songs like Beautiful Trauma‘s lead single “What About Us”, which tackles the U.S. government head-on.
“It’s a song I feel really proud of, I feel really proud of the video we made, it feels like my voice is being heard in the world and it feels really good,” says Moore, who has historically introduced new albums with upbeat workout tracks like “Get the Party Started” or “So What”. It’s not the first time she’s taken aim at the country’s leaders, however — she penned “Dear Mr. President” for George W. Bush back in 2006.
“We’ve come to this point in our country’s history where shit is hitting the fan, and your country as well, shit’s hitting the fan, and we’re fighting about the wrong things,” she says. “And I have an opinion, I have many of them, and I believe in justice and I cannot tolerate the ‘isms’. I cannot stomach racism and sexism and the gay marriage debate, I cannot stay quiet on these issues. I just can’t.”
“What About Us” aside, the majority of Beautiful Trauma centres around more familiar Pink fare: relationships, particularly with her husband and ‘muse’, ex-motocross rider Carey Hart (from whom Moore famously split in 2008, and reconciled with two years later), and “what it is to be a woman who’s engaged in the world and with her family”. The album arrives five years after The Truth About Love, making it the longest break Moore’s taken between records. During that period she enjoyed being a “soccer mum”, moving her family to a country town 140 kilometres north of L.A.
“I’ve figured out what size you have to make Rice Krispie treats to get $2 for them at the bake sale,” she laughs. “It’s funny because I was the kid that did all the drugs and no parent wanted their kid to hang out with me, and now parents come up to me and say, ‘I love that my kid loves you’, and I’m like, ‘Wow, that came full circle.'”
Some of Moore’s usual big-hitting collaborators (Max Martin, Shellback, Greg Kurstin) were back for Beautiful Trauma, but she also recruited new blood — Jack Antonoff, of pop bands fun. and Bleachers and, lately, the go-to producer for the likes of Lorde and Taylor Swift; American singer-songwriter Julia Michaels; and Canadian singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr.
Antonoff, Moore says, is “this loveable human just like I knew he would be”, while Michaels is “fuckin’ marvellous. She’s 23 years old and she’s so talented.” Jesso Jr, a “crazy young super genius”, had boundless energy.
“I walked into the studio and he was like, ‘I used to date your friend’s daughter!’ And it just made me feel so old. I was like, ‘Thanks, bro’,” she laughs.
Polished as the songs on the record might be, from the power-pop of the Antonoff co-written title track to the spare elegance of the Jesso Jr-assisted “You Get My Love” (Moore considers it her finest recorded vocal performance ever), Moore’s the first to admit they’re “not reinventing the wheel”.
“There was no real goal for me other than to try to write the best songs I can write,” she says. “I am only as useful and good as I can be when I’m being vulnerable and honest and that’s where it is.”
In Australia, Moore has broken solo artist touring records — in 2013, she sold out Melbourne’s Rod Laver Arena 18 times — while in the U.S. she occupies a curious space, not quite on the same tier as Beyoncé or Taylor Swift, but hugely consistent over her career to date. In 17 years, she’s had 15 U.S. Top 10 hits as a solo artist.
She came up at the same time as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Jennifer Lopez, but few would have suspected she’d be the one to outlast them all, especially not off the back of the slinky R&B of Can’t Take Me Home. There were hits, but it was very much of its time, with a limited palette indebted to co-executive producer Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds and his work with the likes of TLC.
For album number two, Moore reached out to her idol Linda Perry of rock group 4 Non Blondes, left a demanding but charming voicemail, and when Perry called back, she decamped to Perry’s LA home where they spent the next six weeks writing Missundaztood.
“I wanted Linda to help me find the thing I thought music was — lying on the carpet, crying, sharing intimate stories with another person and making music out of it,” says Moore. “And I would have rather gone back to working in McDonald’s than not do that.”
Moore’s label boss Antonio “L.A.” Reid, an “awesome” and “passionate” mentor and friend who’d singled out a 16-year-old Moore in R&B trio Choice as a talent worth nurturing, was not enthusiastic about her new direction.
“We fought. He was like, ‘You can’t abandon your fans.’ And I said, ‘I want to take them with me’, and he said, ‘Fine, I’m going to give you the opportunity to fail.'”
Reid soon received a whopping serve of humble pie — the record spewed hits (“Get the Party Started”, “Don’t Let Me Get Me”, “Just Like a Pill”, “Family Portrait”) and went on sell over 15 million copies worldwide. “I think it all became his idea,” Moore jokes. “It worked out for him.”
For Perry, who had spent years shunning the spotlight, Missundaztood‘s success wasn’t so welcome. “I think it changed Linda’s life, it kind of burst her bubble,” says Moore. “She’s sort of a tortured artist, she’s the real deal. And it wasn’t easy on our relationship and it wasn’t easy for her.”
The success was strange to Moore, too, who at 21 was more concerned about “whether or not her boyfriend was calling her back”. And in spite of Missundaztood‘s success, she would continue to fly under the radar in the U.S., opening for Justin Timberlake seven years after she opened for N’Sync, while producing more of her own hits on albums three and four.
Meanwhile, Moore had a burgeoning Australian fan base that expanded with every record and tour. She recalls her manager Roger Davies’ face (the Australian has previously managed Tina Turner, Cher and Janet Jackson) when she sold out 10 shows in Sydney on her 2009 Funhouse tour.
“He was so proud and I felt so happy, we ordered a really good bottle of wine and ‘cheers-ed’ to that,” says Moore, who would later write the chart-topping “Raise Your Glass” to commemorate 10 years of hits in 2010.
“I cannot stomach racism and sexism and the gay marriage debate, I cannot stay quiet on these issues.”
Few in the business could ignore Moore after her jaw-dropping display at the 2010 Grammys, when she demonstrated what her live shows had looked like for the past four years with an aerial performance of ballad “Glitter in the Air” that involved silks, staggering acrobatics and being dipped into a bowl of water like baby Jesus before being raised above the crowd again, spinning around and raining droplets on the stars below. “I just wanted to get all the important people wet,” laughs Moore. “But yeah, it was a moment, I loved that night. Seeing people like Santana stand up for me… I saw his face and he was genuinely clapping and I felt so good inside.”
Moore knows how to sock it to the haters. When it was announced she would be receiving the MTV Michael Jackson Video Vanguard award this year, some were critical, questioning her contribution to the film clip canon (they might do well to watch “Stupid Girls”, in which Moore riotously sends up the likes of Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan).
On her husband’s advice, she tore up the fiery retort she had planned and instead made a speech directed at her daughter Willow, who had recently said to Moore, “I’m the ugliest girl I know.” The speech went viral.
Willow and Hart both attended the awards — the entire family, bar Jameson, came dressed in matching three-piece suits — and a nervous Willow can be seen wiggling her tooth during her Mum’s speech as the cameras swoop.
The night was a bit overwhelming for a six-year-old to absorb, but Moore, who made a slideshow of androgynous artists to show Willow that beauty comes in many forms, says it was David Bowie who helped bring the message home.
“We watched Labyrinth, and she was like, ‘Is he a boy or girl in that movie?’ And I was like, ‘Exactly, who cares?!’ And she was like, ‘Yeah, he’s the Goblin King, he’s awesome!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, he’s awesome!’
“And the other part that made it click was hearing that people hate me. She’s six, she still thinks I’m awesome, she doesn’t yet hate me, she was like, ‘People make fun of you?’ I was like, ‘Yeah babe, all the time.'”
When Willow was one, she accompanied Moore on her biggest tour to date, something the singer jokes took six years off her life. But the response to her show — an enduring trifecta of spectacle, self-empowerment anthems and Moore’s raw, honest delivery — made it all worth it.
“It feels like group therapy,” says Moore. “When it’s just me and a guitar and I do ‘Fuckin’ Perfect’ and I see grown men crying and mums hugging their daughters, it’s real, it’s real shit.”
Next year, it’ll be double trouble when both Willow and Jameson (a chubby, cherubic baby who Moore affectionately calls “Meatball”) accompany their mum on the Beautiful Trauma tour.
“It’s cos I’m a crazy person,” laughs Moore, who admits she still feels like she has “shit to prove”. “I want to prove to myself that I can do this and still raise a daughter that likes me when she’s 12, and that I can have a marriage that lasts, unlike anyone in my family, and I can be played on Top 40 radio as a woman over 35, and I can become a better person than I was last night on Twitter,” she says. “I am a person that seeks to be better.”
That goes for her daredevil live shows, too.
“I’m racking my brain thinking of all the dangerous things I can throw together for the next one.”
From issue #793 (December, 2017), available now.