Pink: 'Monogamy is work. You have times when you haven’t had sex in a year'

Her daughter may think she’s a ‘total dork’, but the singer – back with her seventh album – has become an outspoken idol to millions of young women. She’s come a long way since being banned from friends’ houses as a rebellious kid.
Photograph by Kurt Iswarienko

MTV’s Vanguard award, now named after Michael Jackson, is given to the biggest names in pop. Over the past 10 years, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Beyoncé and Rihanna have been handed the honour, and traditionally, it is a celebration of a solid stint at the top, an excuse for a greatest hits medley and a gracious speech at the ceremony, thanking all of those who made it possible. This August, it was the turn of Alecia Moore, known since she was a teenager as Pink.

When she came up on stage at the VMAs to accept it, she didn’t do the usual thank-yous. Instead, she dedicated it to her six-year-old daughter, Willow, and told a story about accepting one’s flaws and the power of being a weirdo. Willow had come home from school one day and announced that she was the “ugliest girl I know”, Moore said. She responded by making her daughter a PowerPoint presentation of androgynous pop stars such as David Bowie, Prince and Annie Lennox. “We don’t change,” she declared, at the end, to the apparent joy of the celebrities watching in the crowd. “We help other people to change, so they can see more kinds of beauty.”

The speech was a neat distillation of Pink’s career so far, an emotional and fired-up mix of self-deprecation and sincerity, and it ended up being a huge viral success. A few weeks later, in a hotel room overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica, California, Moore says she has mixed feelings about that moment’s substantial online afterlife. “I think it’s beautiful, because it was an experience that my daughter and I had, and if it can make somebody else feel better about themselves, then I’m all for it. But it’s sad that it resonated with that many people. I hate how much we hate ourselves, and I hate how young it is now. It’s hard to watch.” Still, one person was unmoved by the fanfare around it. Willow, she chuckles, was distinctly unimpressed. “She thinks I’m a total dork.”

Watch the video for What About Us

Moore has always been an anomaly in the pop world. She was never quite polished enough to be a straightforward starlet, despite giving it a go on her first album, Can’t Take Me Home, an under-appreciated classic of late 90s R&B-pop. But it was her second album, 2001’s Missundaztood, that laid out the template for what would become her calling card: candid diary-entry lyrics mixed with slick, arena-friendly pop-rock. She has gone from being the druggy teenager raising hell in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, to a married, settled 38-year-old with two kids, who has been clean since she was 15, and who claims she no longer parties when she is on tour, preferring to take her crew and children to local parks and museums instead. “Other people’s parents wouldn’t let me come over when I was a kid,” she remembers. “I was the shithead. No one wanted their kid anywhere near me. I was the runaway, I was the fuck-up, I was the one that had the mouth, I was always in trouble. And now, moms are like: ‘I love that my daughter loves you.’” She leans back on the sofa, with a Cheshire cat grin. “How the world turns.”

Pink with husband Carey Hart
Moore with her husband Carey Hart in 2002: ‘Monogamy is work’ Photograph: Jean-Paul Aussenard/WireImage

She is here to talk about her seventh album, Beautiful Trauma, which follows the same glossy-confessional path as much of her previous work, and on some tracks, hints at working through issues within her 11-year marriage to her husband, Carey Hart. The pair first got together in 2002, and had a second child, Jameson, a boy, last year. Moore is happy to talk about her marriage. She is pleasingly candid, and little appears to be off-limits.

“There are moments where I look at [Hart] and he is the most thoughtful, logical, constant … he’s like a rock. He’s a good man. He’s a good dad. He’s just the kind of dad I thought he’d be and then some. And then I’ll look at him and go: I’ve never liked you. There’s nothing I like about you. We have nothing in common. I don’t like any of the shit you like. I don’t ever wanna see you again. Then two weeks later I’m like, things are going so good, you guys. Then you’ll go through times when you haven’t had sex in a year. Is this bed death? Is this the end of it? Do I want him? Does he want me?” She takes a breath. “Monogamy is work! But you do the work and it’s good again.”

She says she has always been open like this, in both her lyrics and her life. The only thing she has decided that she won’t talk about is “girl-on-girl violence” – when journalists ask her about the latest pop feuds, she has realised that she is now happier not to say anything at all. “I hate [the feuds]. I despise how readily available they are,” she says. “That’s the only thing I’m a little more thoughtful about.”

Still, when it comes to everything else, she just can’t help it. Confessional songwriting is nothing new, but long before social media chipped away at the majority of people’s personal boundaries, Moore was laying it all out there – the drugs, the turmoil of her parents’ divorce, even a temporary split from Hart, which became a punchline on the single So What: “Guess I just lost my husband, I don’t know where he went.” (The pair reunited when she asked him to appear in the video for it.) She calls this, jokingly, “a vomiting of truths”.

Pink performing in Switzerland in 2004
Pink performing in Switzerland in 2004. Photograph: Andreas Meier/Reuters

“I process out loud, and I guess I didn’t realise the magnitude of it until Family Portrait.” The single came out in 2001, and Moore recalls a fan handing her a letter detailing a horrific life of abuse, who said that if it weren’t for Pink’s music, she would have killed herself. “I’m sitting there bawling my fucking eyes out and I sent somebody outside to go get her. I did not want to let her go back to her house. But she was gone, and I never saw her again.” She had more situations like that, more emotional interactions with fans, more letters. “I started to realise that when I am the most uncomfortable and the most vulnerable and saying the most honest, shameful shit, that’s what’s getting to somebody else. And I’m basically having therapy and somebody else is getting something from it. That’s the only thing that was meaningful to me. I didn’t care about winning awards or being on the cover of magazines or people liking me,” she says. “That was never what moved my needle.”

In 2012, Moore gave an interview to gay magazine the Advocate in which she addressed years of rumours and speculation over her sexuality, describing herself as “a mixed bag” when it came to who she liked. In her early pop-star days of the early noughties, there were occasional stories in the tabloids implying that she had something to hide. Fifteen years later, and an ambiguous sexual orientation is part and parcel of the modern pop star. Again, how the world turns. “But I think people like Miley [Cyrus] … I feel like people are just less inclined to be labelled now, which I really like,” she shrugs. “That’s where I was always coming from. Just, leave it alone. I just wanna live my life. I don’t need you to put me in a box or to figure me out or to figure out what I am. Cos I don’t know yet.” She cackles, amused. “And I never say never …”

After Can’t Take Me Home put her on the radar, Moore declined to make another record in the same mould. “I just didn’t want to just be one thing. I didn’t want to be in a box, and I knew that was putting me into a box. It was late 90s, LaFace Records, and I just wanted to do more. I wanted to scream a little bit. I couldn’t forget the 4 Non Blondes in me,” she laughs. She was such a fan that she famously tracked down 4 Non Blondes’ lead singer Linda Perry and the two wrote together on Missundaztood, though they fell out shortly afterwards. How is the relationship these days? “Cordial,” says Moore, curtly. That’s neutral. “Well, it’s better than it used to be. I just don’t believe in grudges any more. I’m too tired. I have two kids.”

Watch the video for Family Portrait.

Moore is a likable blend of bullishness and empathy. She admits she’s “highly sensitive”, which in turn leads her to put on a tough act that sometimes gets her into trouble. “IRHBA,” she laughs. “Instant Red Hot Burning Anger. It’s like IBS, but different.” She says her father, a Vietnam war veteran, taught her to stand up for what’s right. “His nickname was Mr Cause. He raised me on ‘to thine own self be true’. Sometimes you have to stand alone for what you believe in and you have to stick up for the little guy. I’m very Rocky Balboa; I’m from Philadelphia, I have a fighter mentality.”

In 2006, she put that into practice with Dear Mr President, a heartfelt anti-war ballad directed at George W Bush. At the time, criticising the president wasn’t as commonplace as it is today, and the backlash was immediate. “I was booed on stage. I had everything but tomatoes thrown at me. I stopped in the middle of a show and said, ‘Do you hear that?’ and everyone said ‘Yeah.’” She pauses for dramatic effect. “I was like, ‘That’s the sound of powerlessness’. Fuck you!” she roars, sticking up a middle finger. She’s still proud she put it out there. “It was really polarising, but I think ultimately whether people agree with me or not, they can never say that I’ve been inauthentic. I’m OK with that because that’s more important to me. I don’t want necessarily to be agreed with, I want to learn.”

Pink in 2017
‘Because I can be dark, I try to remind myself there’s more good than bad.’ Photograph: Sølve Sundsbø

While nothing on the new album is as explicitly political as Dear Mr President, it is, she explains, still rooted in what’s happening in the world right now. “That’s why I named the album Beautiful Trauma, because life is fucking traumatic. There’s natural disasters at every turn and there’s kids starving and there’s Trump and there’s all kinds of stuff going on, but there’s beautiful people in the world that are having a blast and being good to each other and helping others. Because I can be dark, I try to constantly remind myself that there’s more good than bad,” she says, sincerely.

For Beautiful Trauma, she has collaborated with pop’s most in-vogue writers and producers, from Jack Antonoff, who has worked with Lorde, St Vincent and Taylor Swift, to Max Martin to Julia Michaels. There is also a very special guest. Pink has worked with Eminem before, and his rap on Revenge, a hooky fantasy of getting one’s own back on a lover who betrays you, sees him calling Pink’s friends “sluts”.

Does she anticipate that people might object to … “Him calling me a whore?” she interrupts. Well, yes, that. She bats it away. It’s her mother’s favourite track on the album, she laughs. “The reason I love Eminem is, number one, I think he’s a lyrical genius, I think he’s one of the best that ever did it. I think he’s funny as shit. I don’t think he believes in any of the shit he says. Otherwise, why would he respect a woman like me? Which he does. And I think he’s one of those people that likes to take the piss out of all the shit we hold so precious and so dear. I think all of us get a little too serious at times and that’s why I think it is hilarious that he says, ‘You’re a whore, you’re a whore, this is war.’ I’ve called Carey a whore like 50,000 times.” Does he mind? “I don’t care!” she cackles.

Parents may no longer be worried that Alecia Moore is a bad influence on their kids, but Pink is still happy to cause a bit of trouble every now and then. “Look,” she says, “there’s a part of me that’s a fucker, and this is that.”

Pink’s Beautiful Trauma is out now on RCA Records.


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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