Pink dangles in the air, upside-down and 25 feet above solid ground. The only thing preventing her from falling and cracking open her skull is the large fishing net that she’s wrapped around her body. She writhes and gyrates. Still upside-down, she does a perfect split. Her greasy electro-pop tune “Fingers” blasts over the sound system, reverberating in the empty Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. The lyrics are about masturbating late at night next to a sleeping lover: “I need more than you are gonna give.” Balancing her torso the way the song balances lust and frustration, Pink snaps her legs shut. Then she swings around, slingshots herself out the net, and executes an elegant dismount.
On solid ground, Pink grins and says, “Fan-fucking-tastic! Now I just need to see if I can sing it while I’m doing all that. I’m trying to make the number as sexual as possible but not get my boots caught in the net.” She discusses costume options, concluding, “I really need to wear a bikini and I don’t know if I’m ready for it.” She protrudes her abdomen so it bulges between her tank top and her black leggings, and caresses her belly like a hungry four-year-old.
“I’m a walking contradiction,” Pink likes to say, and she’s not wrong. Weeks away from her 30th birthday, she has contempt for the notion of being a pop star, but works really hard at being one. She’s an avid PETA supporter who wears leather and eats fish. She celebrates her freedom, but has “the most regimented schedule of anyone I know.” She describes herself as shy, yet she shares intimate details of her life with anybody who turns on the radio: her 2008 album Funhouse is basically a diary about the dissolution of her marriage with professional motocross rider Carey Hart. (This year, they got back together.)
At home in the States, Funhouse, her fifth record, went platinum behind her first Number One single, the triumphant “So What!” But in Australia, she’s way, way bigger: the Funhouse tour, which combines her biggest hits with Cirque du Soleil-style aerial acrobatics, has played for an astonishing 58 arena dates, including 17 in Melbourne alone. On September 15th, the tour lands in the United States, where Pink has never headlined arena shows before (although she did serve as an opening act for Justin Timberlake in 2007 and impressed early arrivals by performing “Get the Party Started” while twirling high above the stage). “The best I can gather is that Australia likes their artists to be rugged and raw and authentic, and America likes their artists to be glamorous and a little more packaged and glossy–like the difference between me and Beyonce,” Pink says. “She’s beautiful, she’s multitalented, and she lives this jet-set lifestyle. And then there’s me: you would picture me out in a field boxing a kangaroo with makeup running down my face, crying about something that happened a week ago.”
Post-rehearsal, Pink stands onstage with eight musicians, five dancers, and one aerialist, giving a play-by-play of the previous evening, when the female performers had a girls’ night out. “I thought you were going to wear a skirt and heels so you could come with us,” Pink teases French trapeze artist Sebastien Stella. “We went to this cool rock ‘n’ roll dive bar,” she informs the men. Somehow, the drinking devolved into Twister, and Twister devolved into lying on the floor and talking blow jobs. “The consensus was that you don’t have to spit on it before, just go for it,” she says. “We’ll see when I get home–I have a couple of weeks to think about my strategy.” She envisions coming home to her husband: “Carey, get in here! I’ll be back from the supermarket in three hours. Be naked!”
Dancer/choreographer Leo Moctezuma sidles up to me. “My boss is cuckoo,” he whispers. “But I love her.” Cuckoo, maybe–but she’s also warm, unaffected, charming, and smart. She’s capable of contradicting herself within the space of an hour, but never seems two-faced–it’s just that she genuinely believes the opposite of what she used to. Physically, she’s smaller than you might guess. “It says five foot five on my driver’s license, but that was just my fantasy,” she says. “I think I’m five foot three. And right now I’m weighing in at a very strong, diesel 128 pounds.”
After a pre-show dinner (salmon, steamed vegetables), the singer returns to her dressing room. The walls have been painted hot pink in honor of her historic run of shows. “I have so much shit in my teeth,” she complains, inspecting herself in the mirror. “I have eyebrows in my teeth.” A stylist arrives with possible wigs for “Stupid Girls,” a hilariously bitchy 2006 single about the vacant space behind the eyes of many pop starlets. “Am I going to be Paris or Jessica?” Pink wonders. She channels the inner monologue: “Oh my God, you guys, I totally had more than 300 calories today! I had a sandwich for lunch and it’s still in my tummy!”
Pink, whose career took off at the same time as Britney’s and Christina’s, has a complicated relationship with the phrase “pop star.” “It could be factual, it could be a compliment, it could be demeaning,” she says. Her preferred job description is “group therapist.” She explains, “My job is to be comfortable enough in my own pain to share it with others and help them. Around the second album, I wasn’t singing about boy-meets-girl, I was singing about divorce and drugs and pain, and I was getting letters that were more devastating than my own story. I just happened to be getting my shit together and holding the microphone.”
Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Pink, born Alecia Moore, started smoking when she was nine. “It was fucking cool when I was 12,” she says. “But now I’m turning 30, so I’ve given it up. It’s just not that cute anymore.” Her parents split when she was seven; Pink nominally stayed with her mother, an ER nurse, but the singer, who by early teens was gobbling large quantities of acid, Ecstasy, and ketamine, kept running away from home. When Pink was 15, Mom finally kicked her out of the house. This ultimately inspired her hit single “Family Portrait,” where she tapped into her childhood anguish, throatily singing “Can we be a family? / I promise I’ll be better / Mommy I’ll do anything.” Pink now has a good relationship with her parents, both of whom have visited her in Australia.
Her original dream was to be an Olympic gymnast–but she got kicked off her team for having “a non-teamlike attitude.” “I was trying to explain to my coach that gymnastics was an individual sport,” she says. “He didn’t agree.” She admits now that she probably would never have made it to the Olympics, but through her teens she was able to bust out a killer party trick: doing 18 back-handsprings in a row.
Pink grew up with music: Her dad, a Vietnam vet and insurance salesman, played guitar and wrote songs as a hobby, and she’d sing along. Later, she fell in love with Stone Temple Pilots, Billy Joel, Bad Religion, and Bette Midler. She especially identified with Janis Joplin and 4 Non Blondes–who scored a monster hit in 1993 with “What’s Up.” “I wasn’t listening to the lyrics, necessarily,” she recalls, “but I know that pain–that’s mine.”
When Pink was 16, she joined the TLC-inspired girl group Choice, which signed to LaFace Records and broke up without releasing an album. Recognizing her as a breakout talent, LaFace head LA Reid signed her to a solo deal. Pink might not have been an alumna of The Mickey Mouse Club, but her 2000 debut album, Can’t Take Me Home, released when she was 20, did nothing to set her apart from Britney and Aguilera.
As her solo career began picking up, Pink relocated to Venice, California, and got an apartment next to an Italian restaurant. “I didn’t have an alarm clock,” she says, “but they played ‘That’s Amore’ every day at 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. That’s the only way I knew the time.” Against the wishes of her label, she picked her new collaborator: 4 Non Blondes leader Linda Perry. The album they wrote together, Missundaztood, created a new template for Pink’s music: radio-ready pop-rock with singing that was unusually impassioned, because the lyrics, whether joyous or shattered, were drawn directly from her own life. Powered by the single “Get the Party Started,” the album went quintuple-platinum. Pink’s record company learned not to advise her against any course of action, because she would only defy them. Back in Venice, people started recognizing Pink and she had to move to a nicer part of town. “Fame fucked it up,” she says with a shrug.
“She’s raw,” says Perry. “She doesn’t make decisions based on fear. A lot of artists are concerned with what everybody is going to think, where Alecia just does it and worries about it later–if at all. And that’s what makes her a rock star.” The gritty pop sound Pink pioneered was quickly adopted by everyone from Aguilera (who co-wrote her 2002 hit “Beautiful” with Perry) to Avril Lavigne, and more than once, her career has seemed on the verge of washing away. But she’s always managed to bounce back with another hit single. Her songbook covers topics ranging from the failures of the Bush administration (“Dear Mr. President”) to how an unwanted suitor should just masturbate instead (“U + Ur Hand”). She has sought out a remarkable assortment of songwriting partners: from Rancid’s Tim Armstrong and No Doubt’s Tony Kanal to Swedish pop genius Max Martin. “I’m not subtle or poetic as a songwriter,” Pink says. “But I have my moments.” Adds Funhouse collaborator Butch Walker, “If I come in with an idea, we pass the laptop back and forth, and the song is done in five or 10 minutes. You actually can’t shut her off.”
“I’m the constant underdog in America,” Pink says. “It’s been this constant fight to prove I have some kind of talent. Sometimes it’s really frustrating, but fuck it. Every two years I hear, ‘Oh, this new girl’s going to knock you off your pedestal,’ and two years later, she’s a waitress again.”
Backstage in Melbourne, Pink attacks her peroxided hair with a crimping iron as her iPod plays a wide-ranging mix: Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour,” Nouvelle Vague’s cover of “Too Drunk to Fuck,” “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” (Mercifully, she skips that last one.) While her makeup artist works on her face, Pink gives her advice: “No couple that wants to stay together should ever play Monopoly.” Other games are no better in the Pink-Hart household. “Carey cheats at Scrabble,” she says. “He makes up words and then gets mad because he doesn’t know as many words as me. We can’t play anything that requires a winner.”
Pink and Hart, who met at the 2001 X Games, had been dating for four years when she proposed to him in the summer of 2005. He was racing in the motocross finals at Mammoth Lakes, California; standing on the sidelines, Pink held up a sign reading “Will You Marry Me?” He kept riding. The next lap, she held up another sign that read, “I’m serious!” Hart stopped his bike and swept Pink into his arms. They got married in Costa Rica the following January.
From the start, their relationship had a dangerous edge. “I set my bedroom on fire once!” Pink says. “Carey wanted to have a quickie and I left a cigarette burning on an oven mitt.” Couldn’t she have taken a moment to stub it out? She shrugs. “When Carey says ‘quickie,’ I get excited.”
One Thanksgiving, the couple celebrated with Hart’s family. “My father-in-law decided to bring three bottles of Patron,” Pink says. After a long afternoon of drinking, she decided that the sweet potatoes would look better on his head. A “total food fight” ensued. When Hart wanted to leave, Pink thought he was too drunk to drive, so she tried to slash his tires but ended up cutting her hand open instead. “Carey had to drive me to the hospital anyway, so my plan backfired,” says Pink, who had to get 13 stitches. She pauses, as if she’s looking for a moral to the tale. There doesn’t seem to be one. “Oh well,” she concludes.
Pink and Hart kept two separate residences: hers in Los Angeles, his in Las Vegas. They were pushed apart even further by their careers, and on Valentine’s Day of last year, they decided to split up. There hadn’t been a specific transgression or a final argument. “We were just two tired people,” Pink says. “It was years of us being apart, and being stubborn. We were like rams, not knowing how not to butt heads.”
The day the split was announced, Pink was in New York City. The first paparazzo that she saw greeted her with “How’s the divorce going?” The answer was “not well.” Pink did everything she could to purge the sorrow, including a sweat-lodge ceremony in Arizona. She moved out of her Sherman Oaks house–too many memories–and rented a second house in Malibu. “It was my divorce present to myself,” she says. “I was seeing how much money I could flush down the toilet.” After five months, she visited Sherman Oaks late one night. She didn’t have a key to her own house, so she crawled through the doggy door and then walked around, turning on lights and flinching at all the memories. “I’m a masochist,” she says, “I went through our wedding album.”
She decided to pour all of the pain into a new record. Funhouse–the album she made about the split– kicks off with “So What!”: “I guess I just lost my husband,” she sings. “I don’t know where he went / So I’m gonna drink my money / I’m not gonna pay his rent.” Pink’s label wanted “So What!” to be the first single, but Pink wasn’t sure. She worried it would come off as bitter, when it actually came from a complicated roil of emotions. “There’s loneliness, there’s fear, there’s hurt, there’s sarcasm, there’s empowerment,” she says. Finally she relented: she would release it as a single if Hart would agree to be in the video. “It took a lot of convincing,” Pink says. When he showed up on the set, it was the first time they had seen each other in six months. “I was nervous,” Pink says. “It was 7:00 in the morning, but I had to drink a beer.”
When the video wrapped, she played Hart the heartbreak ballad “I Don’t Believe You,” her testament of faith in their marriage. “It was such an emotional moment for both of us,” she says. A month later, but they went on a motorcycle trip together, but didn’t see each other for months. Pink went to Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve, divorce papers in hand, determined either to get back together or to break things off permanently. That night, she performed at Wasted Space, Hart’s nightclub at the Hard Rock. “He told me he couldn’t live without me, and I told him to tell me in the morning,” Pink says. “And when we woke up, he pulled me over and said, ‘It’s morning–I love you.'” They’ve been together since. When Hart, who joined the Australian tour for a while, performing motocross stunts in the parking lot before shows, was recently asked about their future, he predicted that they’d have children. “Ten years down the road, hopefully I’ll be moto’ing or surfing with my kids and wife and relaxing. She’s my best friend and my wife. I got lucky there.”
“There’s still wounds,” Pink says. “But that’s how we heal them–we pour salt in them. ‘Does that still hurt? Just checking. Does the lemon hurt? Love you, baby. Let’s try sandpaper next time.'” I ask Pink what they’re doing to avoid situations like her tequila-soaked assault on Hart’s tires. She looks at me incredulously, as if I’ve completely missed the point. Grinning, she says, “There’s nothing wrong with passion.”
The Pink show kicks off with “Bad Influence,” an uptempo ditty about how Pink’s friends use her presence as an excuse to overimbibe. Like many of her best songs, it’s exuberant, catchy, and a little melancholy. Pink makes her entrance through a trapdoor, clinging to a rope. As she floats over the stage, singing, “I can’t help it, I like to party / It’s genetic,” she trails a 20-foot feather boa behind her. The set list omits her first album but provides an eclectic bunch of covers: AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell,” Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” don’t really add anything in the way of interpretation, but Pink belts the hell out of them, demonstrating that her vocal abilities compare favorably to the prodigious gifts of Robert Plant and Freddie Mercury. Halfway through, Pink stops the action for an acoustic interlude that includes quiet takes on “I Don’t Believe You” and “Trouble.” “Don’t clap along,” she warns the audience as she straps on an acoustic guitar. “I’m not good enough to keep time.”
After the show, she’s amped to hit the town. “The demons start talking late at night: ‘Come play with us,'” she hisses. When she finally gets to sleep, around 4 a.m., she has disturbing nightmares. One recent example: “I got the back of my head shot off and I was trying to put newspapers in to keep my brains in.” When she arrives at the arena around five the next day, she’s subdued. “I skipped the gym and had a cry,” she says quietly. “Just bullshit at home. I hadn’t had one of those days in a while, so I was probably due.”
Her bad mood fuels her performance that night. (“I had forgotten how anger can power a show,” she says afterward.) She adds “Dear Mr. President,” her open letter to George W. Bush, to the acoustic segment. She hadn’t performed it this year; she didn’t want people to think its bile was directed at Obama. The final number of the concert is “Glitter in the Air,” a ballad about surrendering to love. While Pink sings, three of her dancers spin overhead, clinging to sashes. Then Pink is hoisted beneath them in a silky white hammock before being lowered through a trapdoor into a tank of water. When the rigging crew lifts her back up, she’s soaking wet. Metaphorically reborn, Pink floats and spins over the stage, scattering water everywhere. “That’s my favorite moment,” says dancer-choreographer Alison Faulk. “When she comes out of the water, she smiles at us, and she finally gets to relax. It sounds silly, but it’s good seeing her happy.”
Article by Gavin Edwards. Originally published (as “A Darker Shade of Pink”) in Rolling Stone 1087 (September 17, 2009).