As anyone who’s seen her on tour or watched a music awards show in recent years knows, P!nk has a bit of a second career, moonlighting as an aerialist and trapeze artist. But in a sense, that kind of describes her primary vocation, too. Over the course of five groundbreaking albums, she’s lived dangerously, achieving a high level of self-revelation unmatched by anyone else currently flying in the world of No. 1 pop hits and international multi-platinum smashes. Cockiness and self-doubt run hand-in-hand in her highly autobiographical confessionals, which can just about make you gasp with their candor, as if you really were watching a high-wire act.
At the same time, “working without a net” doesn’t quite apply when you’ve got the kind of sonic net provided by the likes of Max Martin, Dr, Luke, Billy Mann, Linda Perry, and Butch Walker. Working with these top-flight collaborators, combined with her own unerring ear for hooks, has helped make even P!nk’s most emotionally naked moments into undeniable top-of-the-pops bait.
If “brutally honest ear candy” might seem like an oxymoron in anyone else’s hands, Greatest Hits… So Far!!! proves that P!nk is the woman to make the contradictions work. The 16 songs on the standard edition (18 on the deluxe) offer a history of a superstar who embodied all sides of what a woman could be in the 2000s: ballsy and bashful… glitzy and grounded… angry and apologetic… self-effacing and unabashedly spectacular… and, true to all the connotations of her name, pretty and raw.
All the songs presented here are diary entries. “Since I signed my record deal at 16, I've been basically growing up ever since, and just happened to be putting out albums that marked each chapter of that growth,” P!nk (Alecia Moore) says. “I sum up each chapter of my life with a record, and I never set out to do any certain thing. I'm growing up with my audience, and I'm driven by what’s going on inside and around me.”
Right now, clearly, she’s in a toast-making mood, judging from the first of the two new songs being presented, “Raise Your Glass,” a celebratory anthem from a performer rather recognized for her ability to get this party started. The other new track, “F---in’ Perfect,” turns out to be less risible than its title might at first suggest: It’s another esteem booster in the great P!nk tradition of platitude-eschewing, warts-and-all empowerment. Both songs were co-written with P!nk and produced by Max Martin and Shellback, the team that came together in 2008 for “So What,” her biggest single to date.
“Working with Max and Johan [Shellback’s real name] is like stepping into an ongoing party that I've always loved being at,” says P!nk. “We all feel really comfortable with each other and are friends. That's the most important thing to me about collaboration. It's really a very laid back atmosphere with us in the studio, and we aren't ever ‘searching’ or ‘trying too hard.’ If it’s there, it’s there, and fortunately, with us, it always is. And so is the wine—really, really insanely good wines.”
She shall serve no record before its time. But go back to her first solo album, 2000’s Can’t Take Me Home, and it’s clear her identity was still fermenting. Successful right out of the box, the urban-leaning debut went double-platinum in the States and established P!nk as a sales force to be reckoned with in territories around the world—and also gave her first two Top 10 hits, one of which, “There You Go,” is represented on the new collection. But it wasn’t as personal or idiosyncratic as the work to come.
“For the first album, I was genuinely so excited to not be clocking in at McDonald's, to be living on my own, and I had come straight from the streets of Philadelphia,” she recalls. “While I was very green, and being carted around to all of the ‘hot producers,’ that album was still very much me exploring music— I love R&B and hip-hop— and trying to navigate this new world. For part of that time, I was basically homeless, living in the Bronx, where I got myself my own publishing deal at age 18, and lived with songwriters; three of those songs ended up on my record. I was not all puppet.”
But if there were any strings attached to what she did at all, she cut them with M!ssundaztood, which has to count as one of the biggest sophomore surprises in pop history. It represented a sharp turn toward the personal that not everyone was certain was the savviest commercial move… until it turned out that it actually was, with the album going platinum five times over in America, as well as reaching the 12 million mark worldwide. Linda Perry, the ex-4 Non Blondes singer who’d recently turned to producing, helped confirm P!nk’s instincts to lay her life as well as lungs out on the line, and it quickly became apparent that audiences worldwide preferred P!nk wriggling out of a mold to her squeezing into one. “Get the Party Started” lived up to its name (and inevitably leads off this hits set), but the naked admissions and bold declarations of “Don’t Let Me Get Me,” “Just Like a Pill,” and “Family Portrait” really established P!nk’s new gold standard.
“Missundaztood was my ‘coming-out party,’” she says. “I knew I was capable of more. The world had no idea who I was or what I was made of—and to a certain extent, they still don't. But I had a lot to say, and so I didn't want others to be speaking for me. I was 21 years old, and daring and bold and was ready to tell the entire universe that this was me, my good and my bad, and if they didn’t like it they could kiss my ass. Which I successfully did.”
As it turned out, it was her next album that really was misunderstood. The aptly named Try This is remembered in some circles as her “rock album,” and was primarily collaboration with Tim Armstrong of the punk band Rancid. It ended up being her least successful album, sales- and radio-wise, but was successful in establishing—via songs like “Trouble”—that the singer still pegged by some as a dance-oriented diva had a Joan Jett side, too. If it wasn’t as openly confessional as the albums that came immediately before or after, that was okay with her.
“Try This was actually an emotional break for me,” she explains. “I had spent two years touring and doing interviews, and every interview felt like a therapy session. I was tired of talking about my family's divorce, or drugs, or running away. I wanted to have some fun, and I wanted to go back to my punk-rock roots a little bit. Anything I did after Missundaztood was bound to be a ‘failure,’ but selling 4 million more records worldwide and realizing my dream of winning a Grammy for best female rock vocal was no failure to me.”
It all came back together in what was really the second redefining smash in her discography, I’m Not Dead—the title of which might have been read as a retort to rumors of her career’s demise. One of the real smashes of the album was “U + Ur Hand,” a quintessential Max Martin/Dr. Luke pop/hard-rock hybrid. But then again the album had so many breakout singles including “Stupid Girls”—the satirical video for which immediately reestablished P!nk in the public eye—or a sheer heartbreaker as hooky as “Who Knew.” “Dear Mr. President,” meanwhile, proved P!nk had not just a punk-rock shadow self but a slightly thwarted folk singer/songwriter side, too.
Personal revitalization and newfound teamwork proved an unbeatable combo. “When I'm Not Dead came around, I feel like I was at one of the most creative times in my life,” she says. “It all came very easy to me. I felt like I had woken up from a daze, I turned 25, I was politically minded, I read the New York Times everyday, and I was about to solidify some important relationships with this record. My relationship with Billy Mann, with ‘Dear Mr. President,’ ‘I'm Not Dead,’ ‘Runaway,’ ‘Stupid Girls,’ etc. My relationship with Butch Walker—‘Long Way To Happy,’ ‘Leave Me Alone.’ Max Martin: ‘Who Knew.’ ‘U & Ur Hand.’ It was an awesome time and I felt very connected, present and alive.”
Remarkably, despite having repeatedly topped the pop radio charts, P!nk had never had a solo single quite reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 until “So What,” the leadoff single from her fifth album, 2008’s Funhouse. Again, it was a case of the autobiographical trumping the generic, as the singer made open (and comic) reference to her marital separation in the lyrics and even gave her then-estranged husband a cameo in the video. The themes still read as universal ones, anyway: “So what, I’m a rock star, I got my rock move” read literally coming from P!nk, but had a figurative meaning, too, for millions of fans struggling to find their own confidence-restoring swagger in the middle of life’s maelstrom. The bravado of that song is almost completely at odds with the vulnerability of “Sober”—which asks, are you really experiencing life if you’re always the life of the party?—and “Please Don’t Leave Me,” an exploration of how too much strength can lead to weakness. Somehow all these emotions came together in “Glitter in the Air,” which will forever be associated with P!nk’s aerial appearance at the 2010 Grammys.
P!nk recalls how this triumph was born out of tumult: “After being on the road constantly, and watching my personal life unravel, there was only one thing to do. This was one of the darkest times of my life. So I called up my friend Butch, we moved into the Chateau Marmont, and we cried through some songs. I called up my friend Billy Mann, and we cried through some songs. I called up my friends Max and Johan, and I cried (and laughed) through some songs. Heartbreak is a motherfucker. I was also able to finally write some songs with (No Doubt’s) Tony Kanal, which had been years in the making. That's who I wrote Funhouse with.”
Even outside of these five landmark albums and their singles, there were a litany of sidelight successes: Her first shared No. 1 smash, 2001’s all-star “Lady Marmalade;” compositions recorded by Mya, Faith Hill, Lisa Marie Presley, and Hillary Duff; collaborations with Eminem, Herbie Hancock, John Legend, and Beck; high-profile tours with ‘N Sync and (after they’d both done some musical maturing) Justin Timberlake; and, after she’d graduated to arena headliner status, a DVD of her dazzling Funhouse tour. Awards came her way, too—nine Grammy nominations and two wins; eight MTV Video Music Award nominations and five wins; and additional trophies from the ASCAP Awards, BMI Awards, Billboard Awards, Brit Awards, even the Nickelodeon Kids’ Choice Awards.
After all that, it’s no wonder that the 31-year old Doylestown, Pennsylvania native, who’s been known to use an exclamation point in her name, had to add three to the So Far!!! subtitle of her hits collection. Beyond the 14-track standard edition, which includes 12 existing hits and the two new songs, fans can get the deluxe edition, which comes with two additional vintage tracks on the CD and adds a DVD full of music videos and live performances. When it comes time for her next best-of, in a decade (or, at this rate, less), she may require five or six !!!!!-es.
The 2010s are going to require P!nk every bit as much as the 2000s did, for the warm-hearted defiance of her words, and the hooks that practically defy radio programmers not to play them. Back in 2008, P!nk sang a song about the overly stimulated life and asked the musical question, “How do I feel this good sober?” Not to be too glib about a query that had some serious intent, but it’s easy to come up with an answer: You get that high by playing P!nk.