We reflect on Pink’s trailblazing punk-pop career and rise as a role model for female empowerment, ahead of her Abu Dhabi F1 Race Day concert
Pink: a life in the fast lane
One of Alecia Moore’s most significant moments took place at a motor race. The pop singer known as Pink performs at Abu Dhabi’s F1 Race Day concert on Sunday, which may just conjure memories of a much less glamorous motocross event, in California 15 years ago. There the singer proposed to her pro-motorcyclist boyfriend, Carey Hart, by writing “Will You Marry Me?” on a plastic noticeboard, but Hart kept riding. The next lap, she added the word “Serious!”, he abruptly stopped, and they married six months later.
It should come as no surprise that Moore did the asking, as this is not a woman who worries about following societal convention, whether it be a marriage proposal or how pop stars should “behave”. Almost 20 years into a successful solo career, the Pennsylvania-born singer continues to gleefully crash through barriers.
That uncompromising attitude has encouraged a generation of female pop stars to take a more distinctive, experimental path. The likes of Katy Perry and Kesha, even Lady Gaga and Rihanna, would arguably have experienced much less interesting careers without Pink. As for Christina Aguilera: well, that inspiration turned a little sour.
Moore does enjoy an occasional feud: this one began because of Aguilera’s allegedly diva-like behaviour on the collaborative single Lady Marmalade, back in 2001. Pink was the lesser name then but surged ahead later that year with the big hit album Missundaztood, which inspired Aguilera’s new material, notably the 2002 hit Beautiful. “I don’t think imitation is the highest form of flattery,” Moore responded. “I think it’s annoying.”
Moore’s vocal range was changing younger lives too. For a teenage Adele, seeing Pink in concert was a defining moment. “I remember sort of feeling like I was in a wind tunnel, her voice just hitting me,” recalled the British singer, in 2010. “It was incredible.”
That wide-reaching popularity continues. Now 38, Moore released her seventh album last month, Beautiful Trauma, and its first-week sales – more than 400,000 copies – were the highest for a female artist since Beyoncé’s Lemonade 18 months earlier.
The new record is a lower-octane affair than her trademark sound – as was her previous project, an unlikely country-folk pairing called You+Me with the acoustic musician Dallas Green – but Moore remains a compelling presence. Beautiful Trauma’s lead single, What About Us, could be the anthem for a revolution.
This career progression seemed unlikely when her first album, Can’t Take Me Home, arrived in 2000. Moore’s teen-girl R‘n’B group Choice was discovered by the legendary production team LA Reid and Babyface (TLC, Whitney Houston, Usher), and she was subsequently thrust into an R‘n’B-heavy solo career. Her debut album did well, but she swiftly rebelled.
The singer wrested control of her next record despite reservations from her label bosses, and made a giant leap for pop stardom. Missundaztood sold 15 million copies and established the punk-pop Pink sound, initially via the catchy, quirky single Get the Party Started (2001), plus a raw lyrical honesty elsewhere. Her image evolved too: snarling, bold and accessible.
One of Moore’s own role models was a unique, late-1960s pioneer: the late Janis Joplin, arguably the first solo female rock star. Joplin’s hard-living ethos clearly resonated, but this post-millennium star channelled her own love of excitement and excess in a more positive direction.
Motor racing looms large. You may recall her apt appearance as a motocross promoter in the movie Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, alongside Hart. They initially met at an extreme sports event in 2001, and the pop star was actually working with his pit crew the day she proposed. So it was perhaps inevitable that her live work would eventually involve risk-taking too. Moore started performing aerial dance at concerts in the late 2000s, and her high-flying appearance at the 2010 Grammy Awards was widely acknowledged as one of the finest performances in that ceremony’s history.
The high-flying act went scarily awry months later, however: at a gig in Nuremberg, Germany, she was thrown into a barrier when a harness malfunctioned. But her enthusiasm remained high. “I like flying around on stage,” she said in 2014. “People say, ‘Why’s she always in the [expletive] air?’ Because I’m having more fun than you.”
Her approach to making music is suitably full-throttle, too. Moore wrote the song What About Us with the rock musician Johnny McDaid, and impressed him with her approach.
“What was really interesting about Alecia is she doesn’t really inch forward.” said McDaid, “She leaps with kind of abandon into the fire and does it so beautifully that you have to go with her.”
Along Moore’s career path there have been bold choices and unlikely collaborations. Moore co-wrote much of the rock-infused Missundaztood album with Linda Perry, who had fronted one of her favourite bands, 4 Non Blondes. That album’s success launched Perry’s career as a prolific songwriter, although their friendship ended when she began writing with Aguilera. “I took it really personally when she started working with other artists, particularly artists I didn’t like,” said Moore.
Her collaborative choices tend to be less consciously cool than many of her pop contemporaries, a rare departure being the recent club hit Waterfall, in which she guested with Stargate and Sia. Elsewhere she has worked with the activist indie-folk duo Indigo Girls – on another protest song, 2006’s Dear Mr President, the comedy hip-hoppers The Lonely Island, and with Eminem on the bouncy track Revenge, from Beautiful Trauma. The singer has also penned songs for some surprisingly mainstream names: Cher, Celine Dion and the country singer Kenny Chesney.
Her frank songwriting can sometimes offend. The intensely personal 2001 single Family Portrait – about her parents’ divorce – infuriated Moore’s mother, who sold her story to sensationalist newspaper The National Enquirer. Seven years on, the upbeat single So What openly delved into Moore’s own separation, from Hart. “I guess I just lost my husband,” she sang, although ironically he only realised the song’s theme when filming a cameo for the video. They soon reconciled.
Moore has not mellowed but picks fights more judiciously nowadays: why feud with family and fellow artists when there are much worthier targets? Back in 2006 she made a memorable statement about negative female role models with the single Stupid Girls, and its video satirising seemingly vacuous figures such as Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. Now, as a mother of two, the singer is increasingly concerned with the unrealistic expectations placed on modern women.
Last year she posted a widely-shared Instagram post about how, post-pregnancy, her weight would be classified as “obese”. “I don’t feel obese,” she wrote. “The only thing I’m feeling is myself. Stay off that scale ladies!”
Then in August this year, one particularly powerful speech made worldwide headlines. Receiving the MTV Video Music Awards Vanguard Award, Moore recalled a conversation with her six-year-old daughter, Willow, who was worried about looking boyish. Moore admitted to often being criticised for being “too masculine, or having too many opinions,” but still fills arenas across the globe. “We don’t change,” she told Willow, the audience, and the world. “We help other people to change, so they can see more kinds of beauty.”
A decade on from her last appearance in the UAE, Pink may well inspire a whole new generation on Sunday.
Pink plays du Arena, Yas Island, on Sunday. Doors open at 6pm for Race Day tickets holders onlu. You can buy tickets at www.yasmarinacircuit.com or by calling 800 927